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An interview with Antonio Adolfo

September 2, 2011Antonio Adolfo's new album, Chora Baião, is slated for U.S. release on September 27. The gifted pianist, composer and arranger is also one of the most important Brazilian music educators since Heitor Villa-Lobos. We talked with Antonio about his new album, his musical background, and the schools of music he founded and runs in Rio de Janeiro and Hollywood, Florida.

How were you introduced to music? Did you come from a musical family?

Antonio: Yes, I came from a musical family: my mother was a violinist at Orquestra do Teatro Municipal do Rio de Janeiro Antonio Adolfo. Antonio Adolfo
Photo: Rodrigo Lopes
and a music teacher as well. Music is everywhere in Brazil, and when I was still a child I had the habit of listening to music shows on the radio. There were also musical gatherings at my house, when people came to play Brazilian and classical music. I liked to listen to choro groups, carnaval and big bands. Still as a child (between 7 and 10 years old) I studied classical violin, and at the age of 14, I started studying piano. I've studied popular and classical piano. In Brazil at that time there weren't many options besides studying classical, if you wanted to be a pianist. Later, I studied jazz and bossa nova.

Who are your major musical influences?

Antonio: Speaking about bossa nova, my teachers were Luiz Eça (Tamba Trio), João Gilberto and, of course, Jobim. And from jazz, Bill Evans and Oscar Peterson.

What can you tell us about your new album coming out at the end of this month?

Antonio: The title is Chora Baião. Traditionally, samba, choro, and baião have been the most popular two-beat Brazilian music styles (as opposed to the four-beat frevo and samba-canção). All three originated in the 19th century, and each was rhythmically influenced by African batuques and the very early Brazilian lundu, which formed the roots of maracatu, the rhythmic synthesis of the three styles. This synthesis occurred despite the fact that, melodically and harmonically, each of these styles had been subject to very different influences: African chants (samba), European dances and classical music (choro), and the Moorish-flavored musical atmosphere of the Iberian Peninsula (baião). This marvelous mixture – plus a taste of jazz (and consequently bossa) and blues – resulted in a very special combination, which became (and remains) very popular among Brazilian musicians.

On this CD, I have decided to focus mainly on choro and baião and have recorded music by two great composers whose work, Chora Baião CD cover. Chora Baião in my view, embodies the finest modern combination of the elements described above: Guinga, who was introduced to Brazilian and international audiences in recent years and who has reinvented choro and baião with a distinctive melodic and harmonic approach that makes extensive use of diminished 5th and minor major 7th chords, among other incredible contributions; and Chico Buarque, a genius of MPB (Brazilian Popular Music) who first emerged in the 1960s, whose songs have made him immortal, and whose melodies and harmonies display a myriad of possibilities through his uniquely rich inverted bass lines (one of choro's main characteristics), among countless other musical innovations.

I have included three of my tunes (two of them never previously recorded) in the program, trying to harmonize my own music with these two distinguished Brazilian composers. I rely on the support of an extremely gifted group of musicians who represent the very best of Brazilian jazz: Leo Amuendo on guitar, Jorge Helder on double bass, Rafael Barata on drums, Marcos Suzano on percussion, and Carol Saboya on vocals.

Please tell us about your music schools and your work as a music educator.

Antonio: I was a private piano instructor when, in 1985, I made a decision to expand my teaching and opened a music school in Rio: Centro Musical Antonio Adolfo ( Group of students at the Antonio Adolfo School of Music. A group of students at the Antonio Adolfo School of Music As you can see, the school is 26 years old now. I have been teaching during all this time, and when I moved to the U.S. the schools (we have two branches) in Rio continued under the direction of my two daughters, Luisa and Carol, with the supervision of myself and my wife. I teach piano, arranging, songwriting and bossa nova guitar. Lately, I've dedicated my time to teaching Brazilian music. I started teaching Brazilian music in Brazil and have written several books, but after moving to Florida, I created an experimental music school to teach Brazilian music in all its aspects. It has been a wonderful experience. The school, in Hollywood, Florida, is now four years old – Antonio Adolfo School of Music (

You have achieved renown as a performer, composer, arranger and educator. Do you enjoy one of these roles more than the others?

Antonio Adolfo and Carol Saboya. Antonio Adolfo and Carol Saboya Antonio: Not at all. I enjoy all of them. I think one activity complements – and helps – the others.

You mentioned your daughters Luisa and Carol. I know that Carol is a very talented singer. Does Luisa also sing?

Antonio: Yes, and her timbre is very similar to Carol's, but she has been dedicating herself to teaching and conducting one of the branches of the school in Rio, besides being also a journalist.

When you look back on your career, is there an experience or event that stands out as one of the most personally gratifying?

Luisa Saboia. Luisa Saboia Antonio: Not one specifically, but there were many gratifying moments such as playing with Elis Regina, winning song contests, to have seen my daughter Carol become a singer (one of my favorites), performances, recording sessions, new CDs, etc...

Why do you think Brazilian music has been so popular around the world and had such a huge influence on musicians from other countries?

Antonio: Maybe because of its beauty and its catching combination of melody, harmony and rhythm.

Beyond your new album, do you have any projects you're looking forward to working on next?

Antonio: I am now concentrating on the release of this album. But, of course, besides the music schools, I have some gigs, shows and concerts programmed in Brazil and here in the U.S.

Thank you very much. And thank you for permission to include a sample track when we feature Chora Baião later this month.

Antonio: My pleasure.