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My foray into the music of Brazil

by John Marvin Scott about a month ago in history

And my newly found spark for playing the guitar

Joao Gilberto, the known “founder of bossa nova”

As I finish my final year in my bachelors degree in Jazz performance/composition, I’ve realized a few things.

  1. Music is beautiful, amazing and gorgeous. But going to university for a long period of time (6 years in my case) sometimes takes the fun out of it.
  2. Since I’ve gone through “not so fun” periods in my music career, I’ve had the ability to explore new genres, styles and historical musics to keep the spirit alive.

This is where my new found love for Brazilian music comes in. I was first introduced to the music of Brazil when I first started studying jazz at my local college. At the time, it was basically put into the category of “not swing, not bebop, not a ballad, not a funk”, and I didn’t truly question it back then. I spent my beginning stages learning the classic Bossa nova pieces that every jazz student learns. As I moved forward to obtain my BA, I fell out of playing Brazilian music due to the heavy stress of modern jazz and original music at my current university. But since I’m 6 years deep, I’ve sort of fell out of playing what one might call “jazz”, and I have spent the majority of the last 1 1/2 years searching for not only new music, but new music culture.

My love for Brazilian music was reignited when a good friend of mine brought an arrangement of a classic Bossa nova piece to a rehearsal this last week. The tune is titled “How Insensitive” by Antonio Carlos Jobim, and if you’ve ever opened a Real Book, you’ll know the tune. The story doesn’t end there though! As we were getting ready to go to rehearsal last Friday, mg friend says in our Facebook group chat, “Can you bring a nylon string guitar?” Being the nerdy guitarist that I am, I simply say, “for sure!”, and go to unpack my classical guitar from under the couch. Upon the grand reveal of the guitar I haven’t touched in months, I remember that my guitar has traditional European classical guitar action, and doesn’t have a pickup. So...I bring it anyways. We get to rehearsal, the band has to play INCREDIBLY quiet for me, and my brain immediately dives into the rabbit hole of Brazilian guitar.

I start sifting through my brain for everything I’ve learned about Brazilian music in the last 6 years. The list goes something like this: somewhat related to jazz, nylon string guitars, no vibrato, soft, mandolin. Interesting list, hey? Not entirely correct, but also not wrong. So with my brain on FIRE, I decide to start thinking about the part of Brazilian music that directly relates to me at the very moment I was in. So, during our break of that rehearsal, I start googling how high the action is on traditional Brazilian guitars, because my hand had cramped up playing How Insensitive in 5/4 (oh yeah, I forgot to mention the arrangement was in 5/4).

4 days later, I have a new nylon string guitar with a pickup, the action is getting lowered as we speak, and I dove into my Brazilian popular music songbooks that I have. I finally learned more Brazilian rhythms then the clave, and I’ve spent almost all my time researching the tradition of how Bossa nova, samba, choro, baião and the many more that exist actually work.

I couldn’t be more excited for a few reasons.

  1. Again, music is LOVELY
  2. Sometimes we go through periods on our instrument where the music were currently into isn’t as satisfying as it once was. This new spark for Brazilian guitar has come to reignite my passion for guitar at the best time.

All that being said, I’m on a new tangent, so stay tuned for all my newly acquired information about Brazilian music culture.

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John Marvin Scott
John Marvin Scott
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John Marvin Scott

Musician/Composer writing about my experiences in the world of music.

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