Richard Boukas presents his Brazilian Guitar Panorama on Saturday, July 11 with a workshop from 2-4 pm, followed by a solo guitar performance at 7:30 pm. Both take place at the GiG Performance Space (1808 Second St., 501-3333)
. Boukas will also be a guest on KSFR's (101.1 FM)' "Jazz a la carta" program, 9 am-noon on Friday, July 10.
After nearly 30 years of performing in and leading various jazz and Brazilian music ensembles and gaining honors as distinct as being declared the “Best Brazilian Jazz Guitarist in the US” by GuitarOne Magazine, New York-born guitarist Richard Boukas feels there's always more to be learned and to be played.
“It's like your work is never done,” Boukas explains in regards to developing his repertoire and constantly exploring and experimenting in the many genres of Brazilian music. With positions teaching jazz improvisation, ear training, choral musicianship and more at New York's New School, as well as a “steady gig” performing at the Bonfire Grill Restaurant in Queens, NY every Monday evening, Boukas is focused on making sure he never becomes complacent with his art and that his work truly never ends.
For Boukas, each piece of music is still alive, vibrant and fertile with ideas and expressions still ripe to be uncovered. With each piece that he performs, the guitarist hopes to put forth his own unique style and personality while honoring those composers and guitarists who influenced him. Indeed, he plans for roughly 90 percent of his performance at Santa Fe's GiG Performance Space on Saturday to be made up of the compositions of other composers to highlight Brazil's musical traditions and diversity.
SFR spoke with Boukas and learned more about his influences, musical philosophy, and what he hopes to accomplish through his solo Brazilian guitar workshop and performance on July 11.
On his diverse background in jazz and classical music and how it affects his perspective of the Brazilian music he plays:
Frankly, if you look at some of these players, they themselves are highly diversified musicians. For example, if you look at [Brazilian choro and samba composer] Garôto, he was one of the real pioneers. He was so far ahead of his time because he was writing solo guitar pieces that used lots of jazz harmonies and very sophisticated, florid, virtuosic stuff, and contemporaries were not doing anything close to what he was doing. A bunch of Bach has been adapted to Brazilian choro and it worked perfectly, just as you can do with Chopin because if you listen to numerous Brazilian pieces the Chopin influence is not only evident, it's plagiarized [laughs].
What I'm saying is that as a diverse musician that listens to and plays and performs and studies Brazilian music, various forms of classical music, jazz, ethnic music... being a diverse musician makes the ability to appreciate and assimilate a music like Brazilian music more facile because that music itself in many of its genres is already a composite of the very styles that I already listened to and appreciated.
On his transition from his jazz roots to a more dedicated Brazilian style:
I'm big into all kinds of world music, including the Arabic and Persian and Turkish worlds, and I've played a lot of that music so that I've experienced that part of the world through the music and, in some cases, the language. I think that's the thing that Brazilian music offers me. It also offered me a way out of feeling that I had to take this sack of bebop history on my back and then try to find a voice.
I'd say from 1975 to 1983 or so I was doing various jazz projects, but the Brazilian and Afro-Cuban influences and the classical influences were always infiltrating my work in one way or another. It did reach a point where I felt that I had to finally drop the bebop cudgel and do the music that I really wanted to do, which was Brazilian music, so I formed my first dedicated Brazilian band, Amazona, in 1990. That was the first project where I did only Brazilian music.
On the unique style and diverse influences of Brazilian music:
If I had to characterize Brazilian culture as well as Brazilian music, in a good sense, is that it's cannibalistic by nature, because any exogenous influence in the hands of someone who has the tools and the creative spark to assimilate it can make it fantastic without it sounding like they're paying lip service to a certain style or trying something gimmicky. This stuff just doesn't come out of thin air -- they had access to American popular music recordings, movie music and scores of the '30s and '40s, and they had access to jazz recordings, so it's not like these people sprouted in their own alfalfa box and magically had this amazing, rich set of influences.
On his pre-performance workshop:
The workshop is something that I'd encourage both players and non-players to attend because the workshop in a sense is almost the same as a pre-concert lecture and discussion before some classical concerts.
What I'm doing is essentially following a similar chronology and cast of characters as I'm going to be unfolding in the performance. I'm going to be playing some classic recordings of guitarists playing and then pick apart their stylistic traits and try to demonstrate on the guitar how it's done and why it's special and unique. What I'm hoping for is to make the workshop not so much a hands-on thing, though people can bring their instruments. I want it to be connected to what I'm going to be playing at night so that people can get a much more in-depth insight into what I'm trying to do with my performance, which essentially is to honor many of the great guitar players and Brazilian guitar composers.
In that way there will be some sense of a lineage, some sense of a stylistic evolution, and that not only cuts across evolution over time but evolution within each subgenre, including samba, bossa nova, maracatu, frevo and marcha. For some of these, solo guitar work is not very common and quite challenging. I hope to bring across not only how inspired and special this music is but also to give some insight as to how this music relates to other music that many already have quite a bit of familiarity with.
On the unique opportunities and responsibilities of covering the Brazilian repertoire:
There's a difference between Brazilian solo guitar literature and the typical classical solo guitar literature, and the difference is huge. Most pieces of solo guitar music that are written in other cultures, particularly in the Western European model, is cast like a clay vase or a painting that's completed and put up on the wall. Yes, There is some interpretation involved, but by and large you're using the score as your reference point. That's one way to deal with preexisting repertoire.
In Brazilian guitar repertoire, if you listen to, for example, Baden Powell playing a particular piece in 1963, then you hear him play that same piece in 1973... there's whole new sections, the rhythmic aspect has changed to some degree, there are so many things which have evolved over the years in the course of performing that the piece is still a living, breathing entity, and that's very inviting for someone like myself, because if I'm going to devote the majority of a program to other composer's music, there has to be some way for me to feel like I have some latitude in the interpretation.
Essentially, what I‘m trying to do in this performance is I'm trying to exercise a sort of informed latitude based upon knowledge of style, knowledge of certain player's compositions and the history that those compositions have had over the years in recordings and performances, and try and feel that within my own interpretations, to feel that I am bringing new light to these pieces which, to this day, as played by other people, are receiving their own interpretations.
The majority of what I'm seeking to do in terms of the experience for myself and the experience for the audience is to understand that this is not a classical music performance where you perfect a version and that's what you deliver time after time after time. In other words, you have to take chances, you have to take risks, technically, musically, creatively. And sometimes it doesn't work and you step all over yourself, but I would rather know that I can allow myself that kind of latitude to take those risks and to take those kinds of creative licenses because that's what will keep me interested in this music as a performer.
On some notable accomplishments:
As a choral singer I've sung for almost 40 years. I've sung serious high-level choral music, mainly Renaissance and Baroque but also some contemporary stuff as well, so the range of music situations that I find myself in is pretty wide. In my heyday I was a pretty well established jingle singer, so I wrote, sung and played on a ton of commercials, and that supported my jazz habit for a while. Anytime I wanted to make a record, I'd wait to make a certain number of jingles then make a record.
As far as other areas, I did orchestrations and transcriptions for Yanni for about a dozen years. I did all of his first important orchestral tours including the Parthenon concert that was on PBS that completely broke him wide open. A lot of that was my work. I still sub on Broadway shows too, so I'm a pretty well traveled musician, I'm not one of these guys who says "Well, that kind of work is beneath me because I'm a serious, non-compromised artist.” There are certain kinds of work that I won't do anymore, but there are certain kinds of work in the field that may not be my own creative stuff but I still feel is of a high musical quality and worth contributing to.
On one very important distinction:
I just really appreciate you folks taking an interest in this because I think one of the common misnomers that people have is that Brazilian music is Hispanic in nature and it really isn't. It has precious little to do with Afro-Cuban music and most forms of other Central and South American music. There is some bleeding over in the south of Brazil with Argentina but this is not Hispanic music in that sense. There are Moorish influences through Portugal, which are similar to those Moorish influences that infiltrated Spain's music which then eventually came to Central American countries like Cuba and Puerto Rico.
Brazil has its own process. It has a 500 year history of occupation by various western European ethnic groups as well as the inhabitants of indigenous peoples and African slaves which were already part of the slave trade in Europe before they were brought to Brazil. They have their own pretty long history of absorbing other cultures and it's really fascinating.
Richard Boukas presents his Brazilian Guitar Panorama on Saturday, July 11 with a workshop from 2-4 pm, followed by a solo guitar performance at 7:30 pm. Both take place at the GiG Performance Space (1808 Second St., 501-3333). Boukas will also be a guest on KSFR's (101.1 FM)' "Jazz a la carta" program, 9 am-noon on Friday, July 10.