In conversation with pedro giraudo
By Tomas PeŮa
Bassist/composer Pedro Giraudo and I have communicated with one another via e-mail since 2002, so it was a pleasure to catch up with him and speak to him directly. During the course of the interview it quickly became apparent that Pedro was still reeling from the impact of becoming a parent. And in large part, thatís what his new album El Viaje is all about: his personal journey, from the moment his child was conceived to the moment she was born. But his music also speaks to the human condition and the complexities of the world we live in. Ultimately, Pedroís goal has always been to create music that speaks to everyone. With El Viaje, he does just that.
Congratulations on the release of El Viaje (The Journey).
How does it feel to be receiving such glowing reviews? The great bassist Ron Carter wrote some nice things for your album's cover.
Hearing those words from Ron Carter is a great honor. Ron is someone who I admire deeply on a personal and musical level. He was a mentor to me and he changed my life. A lot of who I am today, as a musician is because of Ron. Among other things, he taught me about discipline commitment and formality.
Ron is a master.
You were born in Cordoba, Argentina and your father was a symphony orchestra conductor.
I was exposed to music, performance, and instruments at a very young age. I started playing the piano when I was three. At four, I was doubling with the violin. At six, I took up the piano. When I was a teenager I had a teenager crisis [laughs]. At 16, I started playing the electric bass in rock bands. From rock, I gravitated towards fusion. After that, I auditioned for colleges in Miami and New York, but I realized that the New York was definitely the place for me.
You moved to the states in 1996.
Thatís correct. And I switched to the acoustic bass, which was a very nice move for me. I fell in love with the instrument. I did my undergraduate studies at the Manhattan School of Music. The most significant thing about the school was the students. My classmates were Miguel Zenon, Luis Perdomo, and Hans Glawischnig, among others. They were very inspiring. Also, I had some very good teachers. In fact, thatís where I met David Berger, took classes in arranging, and met the members of my band. I didnít start writing music until my graduation recital.
Given the complexity of your music, thatís pretty amazing.
Actually, my charts were pretty complex from the beginning. I discovered that I had this odd meter thing. Anyway, I did my Masterís at City College, where the scenario was quite different from the Manhattan School of Music. The level of the students wasnít as good, but Ron Carter and Dr. David Bushler were there. I took the history of symphony with Dr. Bushler. It was a very demanding class, we had to write a paper every week, deeply analyzing different movements, form and orchestration and all kinds of compositions. It was an excellent class. David Bushler is one of those people who really made a difference in my life.
I canít tell you how many musicians have told to me that they didnít appreciate the music of their country until they came to the U.S. Isnít that what happened to you?
Thatís completely my case. I had no idea about the music of my own country, because the music the young people like to listen to in Argentina is pop and rock in Spanish. I grew up with that. So I learned about the music of my country here [in the U.S.], and I love it. In my band I donít play Tango in the traditional sense, I incorporate the 'feeling' of Tango in my music.
The feeling meaning Ö
The nostalgia and the emotion, I use that in my music.
When you arrived here you didnít know much about North American jazz either. In fact, you confused Dizzy Gillespie with Duke Ellington!
I studied jazz on a deep level at the Manhattan School of Music and I transcribed every instrument you can imagine. On the other hand, I gradually started to realize that it was amazing music but it wasnít my voice. The music that moves me the most doesnít come from there. So I think it was good. Coming back to my childhood I was exposed to mostly classical music but my father was a big fan of Pink Floyd, Quincy Jones, and Joao Gilberto, so I was exposed a lot of good music.
Yes, a lot of musicians mention the influence of their parents and the music they played around the house. Itís bound to have a tremendous impact. Itís the first music you hear.
El Viaje has a lot to do with your personal journey and the recent birth of your daughter.
Tell me about the experience of becoming a parent and how it inspired you to write the music for El Viaje.
When my daughter was born it was the most moving moment in my whole life. The death of my father (in 2002) was moving, but there is nothing like the miracle of life.
It was during the time that I was arranging this piece that my wife Marianela realized we were going to start traveling with an extra person. The piece, which features the bass, describes the deep excitement, fear, and anxiety. El Viaje expresses the range of intense feelings from the time I learned my wife was pregnant, to the birth of Vera, and our first experiences with the miracle of life. I remember being amazed at the way my daughter looked at things, the way she slept, being scared Ö I donít know if you are a father [Laughs] Ö
No, I am not.
I mean, here you are taking care of the most important thing in your life and you're clueless.
Children donít come with instruction manual, or so I hear!
Exactly! [Laughs] No, they donít. So the music reflects that kind of tension, and things that refer to my wifeís hormones going crazy. I have a running conversation with my agent, where I tell her that I try to describe all of these things with my music, and she always says, 'Donít say that, just say "describes!"' [Laughs] But I still feel kind of humbled by the whole thing.
Tell me about the track, 'Hiroshima.' Having been there, and having stood at Ground Zero, I can certainly relate to the horror you must have felt.
I went there, but the strongest impression I got was from the museum. I was completely silent for two hours, looking around with horror at how people just like you and me suffered. Also, I had just become a father and I realized that there is nothing worse than being in that situationóof knowing that your kid is dead, or knowing that they are suffering. I was also very impressed with how people reacted, how they began picking up the pieces within a matter of days.
You had been calling your group Mr. Vivo. Where did the name Mr. Vivo come from?
One of the reasons I stopped calling the group Mr. Vivo is because there is no foundation for the name. In Spanish Vivo means 'alive' but in Argentine slang it sometimes means that you are a smart ass. To make a long story short, I outgrew the name.
How do you describe your music? What category would you put it in, if you absolutely had to?
In the beginning, we had no idea how to describe it. My agent and I interviewed a number of publicists and they couldnít describe it either. Then we met publicist, Don Lucoff, who said, 'It depends on who you are pitching it to,' and we knew that he was the guy for us.
Personally, I donít know where to put it. It has so many elements. However, if I had to choose one category, I would say that itís big band jazz in a very general sense. But there are so many folkloric and classical elements, counterpoint, etc. I donít know. I can tell you that my main influences are Carla Bley and Duke Ellington. Another guy whose music I love is Guillermo Klein. I am a huge fan of his music. I think he is amazing. In the beginning I was trying to follow in his footsteps, but now I have my own style. The emotional thing is always happening with his music. Astor Piazzolla is another influence. He taught me about the economy of writing, or how much you can say with so little. I also studied a lot of Bach. The list just goes on and on.
I read somewhere that you performed in China recently. How was your music received there?
Very well. The concert was a complete success. I had no clue as to what was going to happen.
Where in China?
It was actually in Macau, which was both the first and last European colony in China. Itís like the Las Vegas of Hong Kong. It used to be a Portuguese colony. It was a huge outdoor festival, with screens for people in the back. We were required to play for a long timeólike an hour-and-a-half with no intermission. I thought people were going to leave after an hour, but they stayed until the very end and they reacted beautifully. In fact, I am still in touch with some of the people I met there.
You are off to Japan next.
The Japan thing is very nice. I am going there by myself, and I will be performing with Japanese musicians. I am going to have some very serious rehearsals, and it will be with some of the best Japanese musicians. I canít wait.
And you will be performing at the Jazz Gallery this week.
Actually, tonight and tomorrow night I will be presenting a piece that was commissioned by a grant I received from the Jazz Gallery. And then we have the CD release on April 21st and 22nd at the Jazz Standard.
You started playing the bass professionally after you graduated from the Manhattan School of Music in 1998. All things considered, you have come a long way in a relatively short period of time. Congratulations to you on El Viaje. I look forward to catching up with you in the near future.
Thank you, Tomas.
Pedro Giraudoís Web Site: www.pedrogiraudo.com
El Viaje (2009, Pedro Giraudo)
El Desconsuelo (2005, Pedro Giraudo)
Mr. Vivo (2002, Pedro Giraudo)