Brazil's Kind Of Jazz

By Andrew Gilhooley / 411

If you’re a fan of good food and good jazz, then you might be interested in the “Cookin’ at the Kuumbwa” program, which provides dinner and live music most Thursday evenings at the Kuumbwa Jazz Center in Santa Cruz.  This Thursday, Café Kuumbwa chef Cheryl Simons and top Bay Area musicians Mike Marshall & Choro Famoso will be working together to delight your ears and palate alike.

Choro music is the Brazilian equivalent of New Orleans jazz, and developed through the influences of European and African styles on traditional Brazilian music.  It combines the structure of the Chopin waltz, the rhythm of the bossa nova and the driving beat of African music with free improvisation to create a sound with a personality all of its own. The word “choro” in Portuguese means “to cry,” and refers to the sound of the solo instrument, usually a clarinet.  The other instruments in a choro ensemble are typically fretted, stringed instruments such as guitars, and percussion.

Choro developed in the early 20th century, and all-night jam sessions called “rodas de choro” were very popular between the 1920s and 1940s.  By the mid-1950s, choro had fallen out of favor in Brazil, but by the 1970s something of a revival had begun to occur and now this style of music is popular all over the world.

Mike Marshall, founder of Choro Famoso, is one of the world’s most accomplished and renowned acoustic musicians, playing mandolin, guitar and violin.  He has performed with artists such as Stephane Grappelli, Darol Anger and Bela Fleck as well as fronting his own bands.  He grew up in Florida, and first came to public attention when, in 1979, he was invited to join the original David Grisman Quintet.  As a member of this band, he was instrumental in the development of the fusion of bluegrass, swing and other styles that Grisman calls “dawg music.”  Marshall became one of the most respected musicians on the bluegrass / newgrass scene, and soon began to branch out into other styles.  With Anger, he formed the band Montreux, which released five albums and toured internationally.  At the same time, he founded the Modern Mandolin Quartet, which brought the mandolin into a classical setting and performed at Carnegie Hall.

When Marshall traveled to Brazil in 1995, he discovered choro and fell in love with the style.  He began an in-depth study of choro, culminating in the release the following year of a CD titled “Brasil (Duets)” featuring Marshall and a host of top instrumentalists.  He followed this solo album “Serenata,” a collaboration with Brazilian pianist Jovino Santos Neto.  The album celebrates the work of Brazilian composer Hermeto Pascoal.  With the formation of Choro Famoso, which released a self-titled album in 2004, Marshall continues to further the cause of choro and Brazilian music in general.  He has also founded Adventure Music, a record label dedicated to bringing the best of Brazilian music to the US market.

First published in "411", The Salinas Californian, February 10, 2005

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