In conversation with anat cohen and duduka da fonseca
By Ted Panken
On the face of it, there would seem to be few points of intersection upon which 57 year-old Brazilian drum master Duduka Da Fonseca and 30-something Israeli woodwind virtuoso Anat Cohen might base a fruitful musical relationship. Yet appearances can be deceiving, as was evident during this yearís edition of Umbria Jazz Winter. The festival booked Da Fonsecaís Samba Jazz Quintetóof which Cohen, featured on tenor sax and clarinet, is a charter memberófor a full week. As documented on the 2006 album Samba Jazz in Black and White [Zoho], the unit (which also includes pianist Helio Alves, guitarist Guillerme Monteiro, and bassist Leonardo Cioglia, with guest trumpeter Claudio Roditi and singer Maucha Adnet) addresses a repertoire by a broad spectrum of Brazilian popular and art composers with effervescence and nuance, upholding the Samba Jazz imperative of, as Da Fonseca likes to put it, ďmixing Brazilian rhythms with jazz that has a Blue Note vibe.Ē
Cohen is an active bandleader and recording artist in her own right, releasing four CDs as a leader (most recently Notes From the Village) on her own Anzic imprint. The label recently added to its catalog a reissue of Da Fonsecaís Samba Jazz Fantasia. Recorded in 2000 and the recipient of a 2002 Latin Jazz Grammy nomination, the album had been out of print since its original label, Milandro, went bankrupt.
Da Fonseca may not be a household name, but he has earned the deep respect of the jazz community. Consider the response of fellow drums-and-cymbals master Kenny Washington (who does not dispense praise lightly) to Da Fonsecaís brush playing on ďBala Con BalaĒ from Samba Jazz Fantasia: ďThe drummer is very good. That's a true art, to play brushes on a samba. Was that Duduka Da Fonseca? Duduka Da Fonseca is a bad dude, man. Nice man, too. The whole feeling of the thing was nice. He kept it light with the brushes, and it just floated along. It had that feeling. Of course, he knows about that.Ē
Curious about the roots of their simpatico, I spoke with Cohen and Da Fonseca on New Yearís Day, between SJQís soundcheck and their evening concert at Sala dei Quattrocento, an upstairs performance space in Palazzo del Popoloóa 13th century structure that eight centuries ago served as Orvietoís meeting hall.
Duduka, how did you start incorporating Anat into your groups and into your sound?
AC: Well, it started with me calling him for a gig. The first time we played was in a little music festival in Astoria, Queens, in 2001.
DDF: I fell in love with Anatís playing and her interpretation of Brazilian music. For a number of years in downtown Rio thereís been a movement of choro music, that semi-classical Brazilian form, and Anat is friends with a lot of the best musicians who play this style. Anat has been to Brazil many times, and speaks Portuguese fluently. In my opinion, she plays Brazilian music with no accent; with her phrasing and interpretation, she plays like she was born in Brazil. I love also the lyricism when she plays the tune.
Whatís the difference between someone who plays Brazilian music without an accent and someone who plays it with an accent?
DDF: Itís the phrasing. She thinks in 2/4, like in Samba, and most of the rhythms of Brazil are in 2/4. When you hear a batucada, the Samba School, you hear ting, dum-du, 2-1, 2-1, 2-1. Itís different to think in 2/4 than in 4/4óplaying 1-2-3-4, 1-2-3-4 ... Do you agree with that or not?
AC: Itís subconscious. Itís not like I was saying, 'Ok, Brazilian music is in 2/4, so Iím going to think in 2/4 when I play it.' Itís that I feel at home with the rhythms. Maybe itís because I grew up hearing some of this music. This Israeli singer-songwriter, Matti Caspi, brought a bunch of musicians from Brazil to Israel during the Ď70s. People who later on I met in Brazil told me theyíd recorded with him in Israel. He translated to Hebrew a bunch of these songs, and made a record. And he took many other songs, and used those rhythms with songs that he wrote. So I grew up listening to this music played by authentic Brazilian musicians, but with Hebrew lyrics, thinking this was Israeli music. So when I started to play Brazilian music, it just felt at home. Maybe I wasnít officially thinking in 2/4, but it the rhythm just felt Israeli to me.
DDF: Going back to the 2/4 question, there is nothing wrong with playing Brazilian music in 4/4. As a matter of fact, I love to listen to Billy Higgins playing bossa nova, not to mention the interpretations of Tony Williams and Jack DeJohnette, and Elvin Jones. But we in Brazil, and Anat too, when we play, our subconscious is in 2/4.
Anat, I had the idea (perhaps Iím wrong) that Brazilian music, or maybe choro specifically, was a great vehicle for you to return to clarinet, which was your first instrument, and one that you ... well, it just seems to be you somehow. Is there anything to that?
AC: Thereís a lot to that. Although keyboard was my first instrument, clarinet was my first woodwind. I started to play it when I was 12, for no specific reason. I could already read music because Iíd played keyboard before, and with clarinet I only had to read one line at a time, so once I could get a sound I was ok. The next band was the Dixieland band, so I got into jazz with the clarinet. I didnít pick up the tenor until I was 16, when they told me they needed a tenor saxophone in the big band at conservatory. At the time, people didnít really want to hear the clarinet on jazzóthe instrument was out of fashion. As I got into jazz, I played tenor saxophone. Clarinet was great for big bands and professional work, so I was always doubling, but I was not playing jazz on the clarinet.
[Bassist] Leonardo Cioglia, who plays in Dudukaís Samba Jazz band, is the first person who called me to play Brazilian music officially, when I lived in Boston. We had a group with a singer, and I played Brazilian musica populare, just playing saxophone backgrounds and learning all kinds of Brazilian songsóIvan Lins, Toninho Horta, all those famous songs that are not necessarily bossa novas. That gave me more versatility with the rhythms. Some Milton Nascimento from Minas, music from the north, music from the south. Then we formed a quartet, and started to play the same songs, but as instrumentals. We worked as a group for about two years, rehearsing and doing a weekly gig, and I got seriously into those rhythms, and I got really involved with the Brazilian scene in Boston. It was a great, productive time. Most of the people went to Berklee, so they were jazz musicians, people who have the jazz spirit looking for more depth and more exploration of the music, but based their music on Brazilian rhythms.
Then I fell in love with choro, and I canít get out. I donít want to really. Fernando Brand„o, a great flute player in Boston, invited me to play a weekly gig at Ryles called the Carioca Nights. He wrote an arrangement to a famous choro, 'Noche Cariocas,' and I learned the parts, and thought, 'Oh my God, this music is very complicated; let me take the clarinet and start to practice a little bit.' We only played a few shows there, but when I left Boston and went to New York, I reconnected with Leonardo, who had already moved there. I was doing the New York thing, going to play a gig and meeting a person. This drummer Adriano Santos, who was playing with me, told me to come to the Coffee Shop, where he was playing. There I met Sergio Brand„o, and he told me to come to the Zinc Bar, where he was playing. So I went to the Zinc Bar to sit in. Anyway, I started to play at the Cafť Wha? with a band called Brazuca, which was very dense pop-show, not jazz really, although there was some improvisation, some solos. One night Pedro Ramos from the Choro Ensemble showed up, and we met, and I told him, 'Oh, I love choro.' The next day he showed up in my house, entered with his bicycle into my living room in a very Brazilian way, and just said, 'here, learn these songs; weíre going to record a demo next week.' Then we started to play in Astoria in a little place, and I said, 'okay, Iím going to practice the clarinet.' I was playing with Diva. I went on the road. I had time to practice, and it was a very creative, productive time.
With choro, I found music again that clarinet fits perfectly into. Itís a technical music. For some of the songs, you have to have a virtuosic ability on the instrument. Clarinet is part of the sound of choro, and I heard other clarinet players playing it in Brazil, and it really inspired me to be serious about it. It has everything in it. Itís chamber musicófor the classical listeners, it has all the harmonic progression and the classical approach of perfecting the instrument and interpreting the melodies in the right way, which I love to do. It has the alegria, the happiness of the samba. It has the nostalgia, the saudade of the sad moments. It had the groove and the party part, and it has the interaction, like Brazilian Dixieland, with all the complement of improvisation and counter-line and harmony. It has all the elements that I think music should have, and it needs very dedicated musicians to play it. Thatís why not a lot of people do that. People underestimated this music. It can be very, very deep.
Youíve mentioned in other interviews specific stylistic influences on the tenoróDexter Gordon, Coltrane, obviously Sonny Rollins, the usual suspects. How about on clarinet? Is that more a self-developed style?
AC: In a way, it is. I listened to a lot of Benny Goodman when I was younger, and over the last few years, when it comes to swing music, Iíve heard Ken Peplowski, whom I really love, and Kenny Davern. For Brazilian music, everybody told me to check out Paulo Moura, who is incredible. Actually, touring Brazil with the Choro Ensemble, I realized that in New York there is no way I can go out hear anybody play it. Nobody plays this style. Well, Paquito DíRivera will add a choro to his show, but heís not playing regularly in town. So itís not the kind of music that I can go out and hear to be influenced by. So Iíve got to create my own ideas. If I play Louis Armstrong with David Ostwald, and on the same day I play with Choro Ensemble. Iím going to bring something to it that I just played before, and Iím going to make a mix. After a while, my influence is not necessarily a clarinet player, but styles that are influencing my ideas on clarinet. Sometimes, I try to put more klezmer on it. Actually, whatever I play on the clarinet, people ask me if I play klezmer. Somehow it comes out in the blood. Itís so natural. Itís all coming from the same place anyway. But the clarinet has such a sneaky way to fit different styles. I think people underestimate this instrument.
I started to become involved with many more projects that demanded clarinet, and Iím playing it more and more. Maybe because thereís a shortage of clarinet players. Who knows why? Iíve been involved in trad jazz, but also Venezuelan music, Argentine music, Colombian music. People call me to play clarinet maybe because of the folkloric approach. I donít know. As far as my own repertoire, I got Brazil-ified a few years ago, and I almost always play one Brazilian song in a show, and something with a Brazilian feeling. The feel changes, of course, with whomever plays the music. But it influenced me a lot. Apart from the bossa nova, there are so many great composers. I get shivers, just listening to these complex melodies, and yet they work so perfectly with the specific harmony; when you try to improvise itís almost impossible to come up with a different melody. Certain melodies are just perfect with certain harmonies. Yeah, I love Brazilian music. A lot of other things influenced me, but Brazilian music is a big part of me.
Duduka, youíve told me that it wasnít until you moved to the U.S. that you wanted to delve deeply into all the different forms and idioms of Brazilian folkloric music.
DDF: When I started to play in 1964, the bossa nova movement and Samba Jazz were really strong, and I was privileged to see the great musicians who started this music playing liveóLuis Carlos Vinhas, Dom Salvador and his trio with Sergio Barroso [the bassist] and Edison Machado, who was like the Kenny Clarke of the Brazilian drums, using the bass drum to play melodic accents. I never had a formal education, but I learned by watching them. That made me fall in love with playing Samba Jazz, and thatís what Iíve been trying to do and develop since then.
Was Samba Jazz distinct from bossa nova or was it interrelated with it?
DDF: It was interrelated. A lot of the musicians who were playing Samba Jazz also played bossa novaólike Milton Banana, a great drummer, who played in his style of Samba Jazz with his trio, but also played on the album Getz/Gilberto, in a very soft way. Jo„o Gilberto and AntŰnio Carlos Jobim would say, 'What we play is samba.' Samba is the root of bossa nova. The bossa nova I think turned into an intimate style of samba: a little guitar, acoustic; not so many percussion instruments with it; soft, small voices. The samba was more open. The bossa nova was a breath of fresh air. A lot of lyrics in the old Brazilian compositions talk about the heart breaking, and situations where the woman leaves the guy and the guy is desperate and everything. But bossa nova, for instance 'Girl From Ipanema,' tall and tan, talking about beautiful and fresh things. Sometimes people would ask Jobim whether bossa nova was very much influenced by jazz, and Tom said, 'no, because jazz also has an influence from classical music.' Those chords he played ... he heard a lot of Ravel and Debussy. So it also comes from classical music.
How did you meet those musicians?
DDF: I was lucky enough to live in Ipanema, next door to one of the greatest drummers, Jo„o Palma, who recorded, in my opinion, the best AntŰnio Carlos Jobim albums with Claus Ogerman and some with Deodato arrangements: Matita Pere, and Urubu, and Tide. He is a little older than me, but at that time it made a difference. Both me and my brother Miguel were very good friends with Jo„oís brother, Marcus, who was our age. So we used to go to his house, which was a meeting point for many of those great musicians who were playing Samba Jazzóthe idea is to mix Brazilian rhythms with jazz that has Blue Note vibe. There, from my very early teens, we started to listen to Monk, to Miles Davis, to Coltrane, to Horace Silver, to Wynton Kelly with Wes Montgomery. Also at that time, they played a lot of shows, which Iíd attend. They welcomed me in that circle. That was it.
As you mentioned, you were self-taught. You didnít go to an arts high school as Anat and Omer Avital did.
DDF: I stopped going to school when I was 17. My family said, 'You need to keep studying.' But physics, those things ... I said, 'Iím never going to use that.' So I moved to S„o Paolo to prove to them that I really wanted to be a musician.
Your family are professionals?
DDF: My mother, Norma, worked with antiques. She worked with many things in the arts. My father is a retired Air Force pilot.
DDF: Yes. He is 84 years old. Heís still flying ultralight planes. Both my parents love music, but especially my mother. She loves to sing. In fact, sheís good friends with many musicians in Rio and Brazil. Sometimes sheíd go to a nightclub, and when they finish, sheíd sit in and sing. So I grew up listening to Chet Baker, Gerry Mulligan, Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, Ray Charles, Louis Armstrong, and, of course, Jobim and Jo„o Gilberto and Dori Caymmi. Thatís why I guess I fell in love with jazz at a very early age. My brother and I started a trio when we were 13, with me playing drums and him on bass. Heís an architect now, but he still plays, though not professionally. The pianist was a beautiful young woman who was his girlfriend, who had a classical background. We played all over Rio and on television, as kids. .
Didnít the period youíre speaking of coincide with the junta that took power in Brazil?
DDF: I wrote in the liner notes of Samba Jazz Fantasia that the president-to-be when the military seized power in Brazil lived in front of my house in Ipanema. March 31st is my birthday, and on that day in 1964 the military took the dictatorship. There was a revolution of the city and everything elseóthey took control of Brazil. That day I got my first snare drum. My mother and my brother went to downtown Rio to buy it. Lots of things were going on, fights and everything, but luckily they got the snare drum and brought it to me. I played the whole night. The house of the president-to-be was surrounded by police to protect him, and they thought that I was commemorating the revolution, but they were wrong. I just got my snare drumóI was playing the whole night. A few months later, I got my drums. Then my drummer thought I was playing drums better than him, so he decided to start to play the bass. Then we formed a trio in 1965.
So youíre a natural drummer.
DDF: Yes. I never studied. When I came here, Bob Weiner, my dear friend, asked me to teach at a drummers collective, but I was hesitant. I told him, 'I donít read; Iíve never taught before.' 'Youíve got to teach.' For one year, he was after my case. Finally, I did it, but I was a little insecure, so I called my friend Cyro Baptista, the percussion player, to do the class with me, because I wanted to rely on someone. We did a class on the interaction of Brazilian drums and percussion, and again it felt good. They started to ask me, 'What do you do with your left hand?' I said, 'I never thought about that. I need to start thinking about what I used to do.' After a while, Bob said, 'Letís do a book.' We used to go to a funky basement on Thompson Street in the Village, near where I used to live. Iíd play the patterns, and heíd transcribe. We worked on the book for four years. It came out in 1990. Itís called Brazilian Rhythms For Drumset.
AC: I have it. I know one of the bai„o rhythmsóI learned it from the book.
DDF: Itís very helpful.
AC: Itís very helpful, but itís not so easy as it looks. You can play it right, but it doesnít sound right! All the notes are there, but the feel ...
DDF: We did a CD that comes with it, which I play on. We did it in a studio, not the best studio, in the late Ď80s. We didnít have anything digital like now. Bob was in a little booth, and heíd say, 'Now Exercise #X. Ok. Samba with ....' Then heíd say, '1-2, 1-2-3-4-5-tik-a-tak,' and then heíd count all the exercisesóthere were almost 200 different patterns.
AC: You realize he counts in four.
DDF: He counts in four. Then we sent it to Jobim, to Airto, and to Steve Gadd. Steve Gadd said two things. 'On page 22 and 23 is a little mistake in the writing'óand it was! I was very happy because he took the time to go through the book. He also said, 'If youíre playing 2/4, why are you counting 4/4?' Because when you are in a gig like that, you count 1-2, 1-2-3-4. But he said, 'for a book, an eighth note, if youíre counting 4/4, is going to become a 16th note, and people are not going to understand.' I said, 'Bob, weíve got to change.' Bob was against it. I said, 'No, weíve got to change; Steve is right.' So I went to the studio, and they played the exercise, and in the middle of the song I count, '1-2, 1-and-2-and,' and then with the mouse, on the computer, they tried to match the pattern.
AC: That was a lot of work.
DDF: It was a lot of work. Now itís so easy. Now you can push a button, and thatís it. But then, we spent endless hours.
AC: Duduka was talking about the way he learned drums, and Iíve met other musicians who grew up like thatóa bunch of people who grow up together musically by getting together and making music. Thatís how you learn. The first time I went to Brazil in the winter of 2000-01, the creative atmosphere really blew my mind. People would write music, and first thing, they call their friend and say, 'Hey, letís get together,' then play each other their songs and share. Maybe it used to be like that in the United States, but I donít feel that this togetherness, getting together and sharing what youíre working on, is as strong today. In Brazil you also feel it when you go to bars and people play and everybody is singing and everybody dances. Itís such a different musical atmosphere.
Did that dynamic mirror things youíd done as a kid when you were learning music in school, before you came to the States?
AC: No. Iíve never done anything like that. Itís not 'check me out, Iím cool, Iím good.' Itís so much wanting to share and hear your friends. Thatís how people became such great musicians without going to an official school. Music isnít ours, itís everybodyís. Itís not just for musicians. Even if youíre not a musician, youíre invited to be thereóyou can tap, or sit there and sing. It doesnít matter. Sometimes the feeling with jazz is that jazz is for musicians, and music is for musicians. In Brazil, music is for everybody. Thatís definitely something that changed me.
Itís interesting. Youíre comfortable being a chameleon, fitting into swing and pan-American and Euro musics, in both your leader and sideman roles. Not everyone is so comfortable doing both.
AC: I love being a sideman. Or sidewoman. Sideperson. First, when youíre a sideperson, you just worry about the music, the specific whatever-it-is. As a bandleader, youíve got to worry about so many other elements, and the sometimes music is the last thing you worry about The first jazz ensemble I ever played in was a Dixieland jazz band in the conservatory, in Jaffa, where my two brothers and I went, and we played together. I absolutely loved itóloved the feeling of the Dixieland, loved the happiness of it, loved playing the written solos, loved getting up and playing and not needing to improvise. Then my next jazz ensemble was a big band, and thatís when I started to play tenor saxophone. The improvisation came later. I always played in big bands. I went into the Air Force big band, and then I came to Berklee and played in the big bands there. So Iíve always had an affinity for large ensembles. I love to sit in a section. I think itís super-important for any musician to have this experience.
Playing with the Diva Orchestra has been an important experience on several levels, both the musical level and the being-a-woman level. After I met them in 1998, I realized that most of these women live and work as musicians in New York. New York seemed very scary. I thought, 'Oh my God, how am I going to walk on the street with a saxophone; Iím a woman; Iím going to be robbed,' and I was tripping on all those things. The day after I met the Diva Jazz Orchestra, I called my Dad and told him I was going to move to New York. It was very inspiring, the idea that itís possible to be a woman and work in New York on a high professional level, and especially because the people who I knew were guys. I still donít have many women models for what I do. I didnít even realize it until about 2000 when a girl interviewed me and asked me about my idols, and said, 'Did you ever realize that all your idols are men?' Yes, itís true, but they are musical idols and they happen to be men. But then, on the other level, there are no really ...
But Diva helped give you the confidence to embark on your journey.
AC: Diva had a lot to do with it. Because until I played with Diva, I was following the path of my older brother, whoíd been in the high school, then the Army, and then Berklee. I was following what I felt I needed to do. When I joined Diva, it was the first time that I was like, 'Okay, no Yuval, no Avishai, Iím on my own; whatever I do in this band from here on, itís not because my brothers play well or because theyíre great people; itís just because of me and my music.' So it impacted me that way, too.
In New York, I got a lot of experience playing in a lot of different bandsóin an Afro-Cuban band, and then in a big band, a Dixieland band. None of them were my project. People would call me. I passed through my Colombian period, and my Argentinean period ... Well, I traveled to Colombia a few times to get to learn a little bit. I havenít made it to Argentina yet, but I was playing with and recorded a couple of records with Pablo Ablanedo when I lived in Boston, and got to know the rhythms of the dark side of tango.
Do you have a holistic view of all the different styles and forms that you play? You seem not to categorize so much between jazz or choro or dixieland or bebop.
AC: Well, I do and I donít. If you want to play the traditional way, you have to study. You canít play bebop and play something on it that is not bebop. You canít play choro and not make the right articulation, the right phrasing, and the right notes. Of course, in choro you can get by with less improvisation than bebop. But if you want to play the style, you have to do the homework and understand exactly whatís the component of that style, and exactly how it feels. I believe that itís very hard to learn exactly how Brazilian music feels if you donít play it with the Brazilian people. The same thing with Afro-Cubanówhen I was at Berklee, I played in a band called Mango Blue, next to Miguel Zenon, whose way of playing on top of the beat influenced my phrasing, and in New York I played with a Latin band called Pan con Timba. But my heart was leaning more towards Brazilian music; thereís something a little softer, a little less macho jazz. Itís funny, because I just got back from playing three weeks in Brazil, and people said, 'Wow, you sound like youíre a Brazilian.' I mean, I canít tell anybody, 'You sound Israeli.' It would be insulting, I think. But thereís this thing with Brazilians, 'You sound Brazilian ...'
Itís really important to play with percussion players who play the traditional instruments and traditional rhythms, and to learn the percussion parts yourself. At Berklee, I took some percussion classes, and picked up the Brazilian percussion so that I could understand the rhythms to try to imitate it at certain moments when I play. Just playing eighth notes and playing the nicer notes in the chords is not enough when you play this music; you need to think of the rhythm as well.
I like 'chameleon' players. I like to be able to fit into a situation and not to stand out. I like to become one with whatís going on, and then once I feel comfortable, once I feel, 'Okay, Iíve played this style enough, I understand it enough, I feel it enough, letís try to bring in other elements.' Thatís what Iíve been doing with the choro music now. If I want to sound more traditional, I can play more traditional, but then if I want to just say, 'Okay, letís just swing it a little bit' or 'letís funk it up a little bit' or 'letís bring other stuff,' I will do it.
TP: Letís get back to your mutual association.
DDF: I told Anat that I wanted to put a group together, and I asked if she was willing to play, along with Leonardo Cioglia on bass and Helio Alves on piano. At that point, we also had a great piano player who is Brazilian, who is a good friend of Anat, David Feldman, and we put him on Fender Rhodes. Then he went back to Brazil, and I called Guilherme Monteiro to play guitar. I was very lucky, because we rehearsed for one year with hardly any gigs. And we rehearsed a lot!
AC: Sometimes, timing is perfect. This was before Helio had kids, before we were all traveling too much. We all had time to get together once a week and play, and we really played.
DDF: You really played! I was so lucky. Anat used to say, 'Duduka, when are we going to get a gig?' I said, 'Iím trying.'
TP: Talk about what you were doing in the Ď90s.
DDF: I played a lot with Trio de Paz. In 1985, when Romero Lubambo and Nilson Matta arrived in the States in 1985, I was playing with Astrid Gilberto, and I also had a band called the New York Samba Band, which I called both of them to play in. Herbie Mann saw us, and he hired the rhythm section of the band, which had Mark Soskin. We [Lubambo, Matta, and Da Fonseca] started Trio de Paz in that same funky basementówe started to go there and play in the afternoons. In 1986, I had another band called Brazilian Jazz All-Stars with Eliane Elias, who was not well known then, and Randy Brecker, who she was married to at the time, and Bob Mintzer. We started to play gigs at SOBís. Mintzer and Brecker were great together, and Eliane played beautifully. I still have tapes from those dates.
But since I came in 1975, Iíve really been trying to do something. When I came to New York, the Brazilian jazz movement wasnít happening. Dom Salvador was in town, and he had a group with Charlie Rouse, with Portinho playing drums, and Claudio Roditi and Dom um Rom„o were already here. But the scene was scarce. We had a few friends here, but we were very broke. We were struggling, but we tried to make a space for us to present our own kind of music. We started to get gigs in the lofts, like the Jazz Forum, Soundscape, Environ. Some of the American musicians, like Steve Grossman and Walter Booker, had an interest to play with us, and we mixed with them. Then we started to develop a feel for playing the kind of music we love.
What brought you to the States?
DDF: The love of jazz. I wanted to play with American jazz musicians. Iíve been very lucky to play with some of my idols, like Lee Konitz and Gerry Mulligan, who I recorded with, and Kenny Barron, Tom Harrell ... Anyway, at the beginning of Ď76, soon after I arrived, I got a call to do a recording in L.A., and I made some good money. Then I came back to New York and said, 'Thatís it; thatís the American dream.' Then for more than one year, I had hardly any work. It was either rice or beans!
What was the biggest stylistic adjustment in moving to American hardcore jazz from a Brazilian background?
DDF: Well, the musicians love when we play samba with that jazz feeling. They want to play that. So we developed something very natural.
So you had something you could give them.
DDF: And they had something that I was looking for. You give something to them, they give you back their own way to see. What I love is the combination of the two cultures, the two ways to see the music. Jazz is so good. Jazz is like a big father that opened its arms for music from all over the world, and gets the influences from different cultures and develops itself.
Let me ask Anat something. On your new record, Notes From The Village, you play with Jason Lindner, Omer Avital, and Daniel Freedman, all close associates since you got to New York. The collective idea you spoke of seems to exist with them, and not just with this group, but also your label, Anzic. Can you speak to how those links began? Was it initially through Omer Avital, who attended the same high school as you?
AC: Yes, we did go to the same high school, but Omer was a few years older than me. He was a good friend of my older brother, Yuval, and they used to have a band in Israel. So I knew Omer, and Avi Lebovich, and Avishai Cohen, the bass player, and knew that they were all in New York, and hanging out at Smalls. I always heard about it, and when I was a student in Boston, Iíd come to New York on breaks, and play there. Omer then was a complete straight-ahead bebop player. All these cats are Barry Harris students, they adore him, but theyíre also people who want to explore, who embrace the world. Itís obvious now, when you think of the music theyíre all making individually, that theyíre all world music oriented. So at the time, they were combining that spirit of exploration ... Smalls is a great place to stretch.
Speaking of funky basements at the time.
AC: Exactly. Today itís a little less funky, but it used to be quite funky! Iím realizing that the type of club is really crucial to the music that is developed in it. Some clubs are more commercial. The audience has expectations; they are not complete jazz nuts. Then you go to a place like Smalls, where lots of students go, itís very cheap, you can bring your own drink, and then people are not afraid to just say, 'Oh, letís play one song for 45 minutes and everybody blow until we canít play any more.' It was very exciting to see that. There was some passion in the music they were making.
DDF: So much good music came out. I wasnít part of it, I didnít go there, but then I saw so much music came out from that. It was a sort of lab for them to develop their ideasóJason, Omer, Jeff Ballard, Kurt Rosenwinkel.
Anat, youíre speaking of the world concept that these people evolved, but as you mentioned before in relation to your own path, they also concentrated hard on the specific cultural traditions.
AC: Thatís true. You say 'jazz,' and itís like, 'Ok, what do you mean? What kind of jazz? When you say 'world, what kind ... In the Real Book, which at the time was a supposedly transcribed jazz encyclopedia, above the chart the only description of the music would be 'Latin.' But today, the word 'Latin' doesnít tell you anything. Everything got so specific. Thatís something I found fascinating about the cats at Smalls, and thatís something that Duduka could say about the Brazilian music. The little nuances. You canít say 'Brazilian.' You cannot say 'samba.' Thereís types of samba. Thereís a bai„o rhythm, and it can be from north and from a little bit less north. In Brazil, I was shocked to discover how many different rhythms there are. Each state has different rhythms. But people only know Samba around the world. There are some details that these cats, like Jason and Jeff Ballard and Danny, were all so open-minded to learn. 'Oh, I heard a great rhythm from Senegal; letís make something with it.' Then youíd tell them, 'I want a cumbia' or 'I want something from Colombia,' and they would know exactly specifically what to play. So I knew that I really had to study, because if I hear something, I have to know what to tell them to play. They created it among themselves with passion, like Brazilians do, get together, 'check this out,' 'check that out.' What they were doing was very influential on the compositions that I did on my first album, Place and Time.
Duduka, when you lived in Brazil, did you know all those different ...
Was doing that book the galvanizing thing?
DDF: Yes. When I moved to New York, living away from my country, then I started to look back to my own musical roots. I hadnít heard samba enough. While teaching at the Drummers Collective, I started to research more about the folkloric music from the Northeast of Brazil, from Recife, Pernambuco Ö I went there to teach in the conservatory of music, and the promoter who brought me there took me to see the Maracatu. It was amazing to see all the folkloric music played in the slums, in the streets. I ended up learning much more than I taught, with the kids in the streets playing the way they playótheyíre fantastic. So rich, those rhythms from the Northeast of Brazil.
When I came back, I talked with my good friend, Airto Moreira, who comes from the South of Brazil, but he played a lot of bai„o with Hermeto Pascoal in Brazil, on the beautiful album, Quarteto Novo. Airto was one of the first pioneers to introduce Brazilian percussion. Before, it was just the congas and timbales, but Airto was the one who brought the toys, all the Brazilian percussion. Everybody now is playing the miscellaneous percussion, but at that time, no. I said, 'Airto, youíve got to go there.' I connected Airto with the promoter, and he ended up producing 10 or 11 albums of Maracatu in Recife. It is a very musical culture. I think Pernambuco/Recife keeps more the African-Brazilian tradition than Bahia. Bahia has become a center of exporting music, and in one way become too commercial with the influence of Reggae in their music. On the other hand, Recife keeps really their tradition of African-Brazilian music, which I think is fantastic.
When it was time to do the book, and write a little bit of history about bai„o, I asked Airto, 'Where does bai„o come from?' He said, 'I have no idea!' Then I asked Nana Vasconcelos, 'I am doing something about bai„o. Do you know?' Then I said, 'Duduka, if you put that in the book, probably thereís going to be some intellectual from Boston whoís going to say itís not true. But I believe that it has some Middle Eastern influence.' Thatís why if you go to a falafel place, like Maimounís on MacDougal Street, when you hear that music, the beat is like bai„o!
AC: Itís interesting. Thereís a technical difference, three-over-two. The Brazilian goes by the three, TAN-TAN, TAN-TAN-TAN, and the Middle Eastern goes by the two, ONE...TWO, DUH-DUH...DUH. Itís the same rhythm, but you feel it differently.
DDF: During the 6th and 7th centuries, when the Moors invaded the Iberian Peninsula, they heavily influenced the music of Spain. You see a lot of Arabic scales in Spanish music. Portugal was more reluctant to accept it. But bai„o comes from that time, I think. So thatís what I wrote. Itís interesting to see the different influences in the music.
DDF: They were alive and playing. Everybody. Elvin heard me play in Idaho, at the Lionel Hampton Festival, and he gave me a big hug, almost broke my back. Each band has a trailer, and youíre not supposed to smoke or drink. Elvin called me inside his trailer, and he said, 'Fuck that,' and lights a cigarette, a beer, and we share a beer, and he told me about his life. The record I did with Helio [Alves], Songs From the Last Century, I dedicated to Elvin Jones, because he had just passed at the time, and I wrote, 'with whom I had the privilege to share a beer from the same bottle.' I told Kenny Barron, 'Man, I would like to write that,' and Kenny said, 'Why not? He had the beer, of course.'
Letís talk about the evolution of this band. How big is the book?
AC: We can easily play three or four sets. You have 40 songs, maybe.
DDF: Maybe even more. We have a lot of music, and some music we used to play but donít play any more. I have a list of songs that we used to do.
The range of reference is very broad.
DDF: All the musicians give their opinions. But I hear certain references. For example, in the first, Samba Jazz part of this show, the piano and the guitar are very active, but when Maucha comes to do the bossa nova, I ask Helio not to comp on the piano, but let the guitar be the center, to make a contrast. Helio plays more in a Jobim kind of style, without the comp. Through the years you play with different bands, and you develop a sound in your mind. Even though I donít read music or write it (well, I read a little), I have a sound in my head.
Art Blakey used to hear an arrangement once, and then just repeat it.
DDF: No! I need to record. And lately my memory is not as good as it used to be. So I listen, I record, and then I write. Thatís the way I did the albums, even with the symphonic orchestra. I listened to the music, then I memorized.
Anat, does Duduka stamp all of this music with his own sound?
AC: Most definitely. Iíll go further and say that certain songs I will not try to play with another drummer. Certain people know all the rhythms, of course, but then there is the Duduka groove, the one that we start the show with. Like Edison Machado ...
DDF: Edison Machado was the guy who really influenced my playing.
AC: Edison Machado. This groove. When we start the set with this CHINK-CHINK-TCHTCH-TCHTCH-CHINK-CHINK. When Duduka says, ď1-2, 1-and-2,Ē then I immediately start dancing.
DDF: Itís very inspiring to see her dancing, too, when I play, because sheís having fun. Itís good that youíre having fun, youíre happy.
AC: When the music is good, when itís grooving, it makes me move. It moves me from inside and from my feet. Whether itís the music of New Orleans, the music of Brazil, or Afro-Cuban, it doesnít matter. I like to watch the real dancing, the real steps, and I also like to just move to the rhythm.
TP: Back to Notes From the Village, it isnít particularly Brazilian-inflected, but itís very much a recording of the clarinet family. It came right after two very ambitious project, one with a big band [Noir], the other with a string quartet [Poetica].
AC: The first idea was to document the quartet with Omer, Jason, and Daniel. Weíd been traveling and playing for a couple of years, and I wanted to go into the studio and capture the live spirit of the band. So many times on jazz albums, everybody becomes more self-conscious in the studio, and the music gets condensed and proper for a CD. But of course, I couldnít help myself, and wrote a couple of new compositions that weíd never played. So itís a combination of songs we have played before and some new repertoire that we worked out especially for the record. I called [guitarist] Gilad Hekselman, whom I love and respect and is a great musician, and asked him to join the quartet on a few songs. There are four originals of mine. Itís become a tradition, not intentionally, to have one John Coltrane composition on clarinet.
Itís a nice tradition.
AC: It is. I would never have dreamed to make it a plan because it sounded to me so ambitious, but it just happened kind of naturally. Thereís a Sam Cooke song, 'A Change Is Gonna Come.' Of course weíre crossing our fingers. I donít want to say it came, because everybody has an expectation about this change. Weíll just wait and see.
Anzic also just re-released Dudukaís first record, Samba Jazz Fantasia, which burnishes that communal notion you spoke ofóyou play with Duduka, you have a label, you release an older recording that didnít have a chance to get the distribution it deserved.
DDF: The company that released it, Milandro, went into bankruptcy shortly thereafter. Itís more like a fantasia than the recent album, Samba Jazz in Black and White. I called some of my good friends with whom Iíd been blessed to record and play through the years in New York. 22 musicians play on the album. But itís impossible to do a gig, to reproduce the sound. My idea before I did the album, was to find tunes, configurations in which the different musicians could best express themselves. We did that, and we got a Grammy nomination in 2002, the year it was released.
Next, in 2002, I put the quintet together and started to rehearse it. Until that time, I had put a lot of effort into Trio Da Paz, and I still love them. We had many offers to work, but it became difficultóRomero Lubambo got busy, traveling here and there. Also, Romero is a very Brazilian player. Donít get me wrong, heís fantastic, he knows so many old songs, the whole book of music from the Ď30s and Ď40sóbut heís more like a folkloric Brazilian player. I wanted to the quintet to have the Samba Jazz feeling. Helio, Anat, Guillerme, Leonardo, all really know the jazz improvisational languageóthe jazz phrasing, the bebop phrasing, all the roots, but they are also Brazilian. Now, weíve been playing all those years now, and we received a good break to be invited to play at Orvieto, to show our music overseas. Hopefully, it will open new doors so we can keep coming back and perform in Europe.
Ted Panken interviewed Anat Cohen and Duduka Da Fonseca in Orvieto, Italy, on January 1, 2009.