colorful and exciting sound of Brazilian music seems to be a perennial
favorite not only with jazzers but also World Music fans into sublime,
guitar-centric music. A good example of the elegance and music magic
of contemporary 21st century Brazilian music is Sorte!,
a short but sweet, six-track, 29 minute CD featuring music by
John Finbury and lyrics and vocals of singer Thalma De Freitas.
Well known in her native Brazil as an actress and vocalist, Ms. Freitas
is a natural in the style of 1960's favorite Astrud Gilbertothe
great voice on many of Jobims classic early tracks. Writing
and performing for over 40 years,
John Finbury is a gifted American keyboardist and composer, that is
said to have shocked the Latin music scene with his 2016 album Imáginario.
As he tells mwe3.com "The reason I may have "shocked"
the Latin music community, or rather "emerge from obscurity"
is because my song "A Chama Verde from my album Imaginário
was nominated in 2016 for a Latin Grammy for Song Of the Year.
From the following interview, reflecting on the unique World Beat
approach on his three recent albums, John tells mwe3.com, "I
think my compositional style is consistently me in all
three records. I like lush chords, key indeterminacy, chord substitutions,
uneven bar lengths, time and key changes, vamps, and of course, moody
ballads. I know that I am on the right track with my compositions
when the mood is strong." Speaking about the notion of an
American from Boston writing music in the Brazilian Bossa Nova music
domain, John also explains, "American composers have been
working in Brazilian genres for a long time. Burt Bacharach certainly
knew how to adapt Brazilian music in his songs. I tend to listen to
my own chestnuts and explore new music by listening to the work of
the musicians with whom I am working." A fine band backs
up John's music and Thalma's vocals on Sorte! including guitarist
Chico Pinheiro, bass ace John Patitucci and the legendary
Brazilian percussionist Airto Moreira. Lyrics in both English
and Brazilian accompany the red-hot looking CD packaging. Recorded
in NYC and produced by Emilio D. Miler, Sorte! is one
of the most intriguing Brazilian World Beat albums of 2019. www.greenflashmusic.com
mwe3.com presents an interview with
Growing up in the Boston area, what era did you grow up in? Was it
the Beatles era back in the 1960s and was rock an influence
and how about pop and R&B?
John Finbury: I was born in 1952 and grew up in Haverhill,
Massachusetts, which is an old industrial shoe town 35 miles northwest
of Boston. The Beatles most certainly rocked my world and provided
the real-time soundtrack to my adolescence. I was 12 when I heard
them in 1964 at the Boston Garden. Well, you couldnt really
hear them over the screaming
I took up drums in middle school
and began playing garage rock and The Ventures with my friends. Yes,
I played Wipe-Out at a battle of the bands
and played in rock bands right through High School culminating in
a gig at The Bitter End in NYC in 1969 with Ten Foot Clearance, a
band led by the terrific B3 player Matt Carlbach. I had tickets to
see Jimi Hendrix at Woodstock on Sunday
he played at 9 AM on
Monday, but I never made it and I lost the ticket! Rock, R&B and
pop music was a daily companion as was the 1969 Boston zeitgeist.
I went to a lot of memorable shows in Boston including The Velvet
Underground with Nico, Van Morrison, The Band, Jimi Hendrix and Jeff
Beck. The legendary Charles Laquadeira and WBCN was my radio station,
introducing America to the British blues invasion. I had a high school
mate, Robin Jones, who had a trunk of blues records and he introduced
me to the American blues guys like Muddy Waters, Skip James, Mississippi
John Hurt, B.B and Albert King, the Chicago Now three record
set and that music was and remains part of my sound-world, and vinyl
mwe3: So how did your tastes evolve from rock and R&B into
your current mix of jazz, classical and more then, Brazilian music?
John Finbury: My father was a huge influence on my ear and
musical taste. He was a fine musician; a violinist who abandoned that
difficult fretless instrument when he heard his contemporary, the
Hungarian prodigy, Yehudi Menuhin, play with the BSO, and he realized
his dreams of a solo career were unrealistic. After World War II and
his participating in 11 marine landings in the South Pacific, my father
took advantage of
the G.I. Bill and became one of the first music composition students
at the Schillinger School in Boston, the precursor to what is now
Berklee School of Music. He was a songwriter in the American Songbook
tradition. I have the lead sheets to his compositions in my piano
for example Soon There Will Be A Wedding Cake
and Time Flies. I must admit I lifted a bridge or two
in some of my early jazz/blues compositions. My mother knew the lyrics
to the songbook. They loved jazz and the songbook was their soundtrack.
My parents would take us to jazz clubs like Lennys on the Turnpike
in Saugus and Dave McKenna, the regular jazz pianist at the Copley
Plaza, and always to clubs when we went to NYC. I remember a Dinah
Washington show, and Mort Saul riffing the newspaper. My father played
all the iconic classical and jazz records. He brought home new vinyl
every week and the living room stereo was always going in the evening.
I have his vinyl collection. At the same time I was listening to Steppenwolf
and Dylan and I was also hearing Bach, Beethoven, Bill Evans, Monk
and Brasil '65. I remember my father sitting at his piano
beautiful Steinway O and wincing in search of tensions
as he played jazz chords. That Steinway O is now in my living room
and Ive got to say the apple didnt fall far from the tree.
Unfortunately, my father died in 2001 and didnt hear my new
stuff, but my mother did.
I came to play the piano in college, which is late for a pianist.
I had studied piano as a kid but drums was my instrument, until I
heard the Chopin Nocturnes and I really connected with that music
and wanted to play them. There began my more serious piano and classical
music studies at the Longy School of Music in Cambridge and Boston
You have a very colorful background and you also made music with your
wife around that time too and also soundtrack music?
John Finbury: I met my wife Patty Brayden in 1978. She is a
singer and so naturally we began having jam sessions with our friends
with Patty singing her favorite Tracy Nelson and Emmylou Harris songs.
In 1979 I became friends with Fred Simon, a documentary videographer
in Boston who asked me to compose the soundtrack for a project he
was doing for WGBH TV called Portraits From The 2 Oclock
Lounge, which was Bostons last strip joint in Bostons
Combat Zone. These were my first professional compositions,
which were traditional bump and grind blues numbers with jazzier bridges
I adapted or rather that I lifted from a few of my fathers
compositions. Encouraged by actually being paid to compose music I
wrote, I recorded an albums worth of original rock, pop and
R&B songs and pitched them, by mailing cassettes, to NYC and Los
Angeles and while, I was told one of the songs called Come With
Me got close to Rod Stewart, it never happened. Those recordings
rested in my attic for the next 35 years until a guy from Fervor
Records, an Americana label specializing in supplying synch music,
TV and movie soundtracks, heard a song from my early days which I
wrote with Patty Brayden called One False Move and Ill
Blow This Love Apart and Fervor bought that song and most of
my recorded catalogue from that early 1980s period.
mwe3: I read that you became very interested in Jobims
music back in 2005.
Finbury: Around 2005 I wrote my first jazz song, Waltz For
Patty, in what I call my modern era and formed my
first jazz band with Patty singing lots of Billie Holiday songs. It
was then when I began playing and studying the Jobim songbook and
began composing Bossa Nova songs. My friend Ned Claflin was a big
influence on this new direction as Ned was deeply into the Jobim songbook,
the music of Brazil and especially the great Joao Gilberto. Ned speaks
Portuguese and is also a gifted lyricist with song credits with Madonna
and Marty Sexton, and so we began writing songs together. Ned really
encouraged me in this direction and would send me You Tube tracks
to listen to constantly. I was inspired and began writing. I would
record new music on my piano and send Ned the iPhone recordings and
Ned would write the lyrics. With Patty and me contributing as lyricists,
we wrote about twenty songs, which I recorded in two albums with the
wonderful singer Marcello Camargo: Imaginário in 2016
followed by Pitanga the next year. Remarkably, our song A
Chama Verde was nominated in 2016 for a Latin Grammy for Song
Of The Year. How this happened is and remains a mystery as the
song had about 250 views on Youtube at the time and we were completely
commercial free, unknown with no promotion, social media presence,
or even a website. Shakira and Carlos Vives La Bicicleta
had 250 million views at the time, now 1.325 billion, and they deservedly
won. That surprise recognition certainly encouraged me to keep writing
songs and making records.
There are three releases featured on your greenflashmusic.com web
site including Imáginario,
Pitanga, and the 2019 album Sorte! How does each album
reflect your sound and compositional style and how does the Sorte!
album reflect your musical evolution and going back even further,
can you compare it with your earliest works?
John Finbury: I think my compositional style is consistently
me in all three records. I like lush chords, key indeterminacy,
chord substitutions, uneven bar lengths, time and key changes, vamps,
and of course, moody ballads. I know that I am on the right track
with my compositions when the mood is strong. The production and instrumentation
changes in Pitanga feature the introduction of pedal steel
guitar, played by Norman Zochar, an instrument not commonly associated
with Brazilian music, which I think sounds really beautiful.
Sorte! with Thalma De Freitas writing all the lyrics, is the
first album where I completely let go of the lyrics and trusted the
poetry and the big ideas that Thalma brought to the songs in her beautiful
native Portuguese. With respect to your question of comparisons with
my early works, well, there are a few similarities and even a favorite
chord progression (I, iii-, IVmaj7, V7sus) in my 1980 song Come
With Me that found its way into the song Filha on
the Sorte! album; that chord progression just moves me; I suspect
I will use it again.
How did you work with producer Emilio D. Miler on the new Sorte!
album? Have you worked with Emilio before and did you and he confer
on the sound and the musicians chosen to play on it? You have some
world-class players on the new album including Airto and John Patitucci
on bass. Was it challenging to assemble such great musicians together
and were the Sorte! tracks recorded live in the studio with
the musicians, and how much was overdubbed or recorded by artists
from remote locations?
John Finbury: Emilio and I found each other after the "Song
Of The Year nomination" in 2016. We began writing to each other
by email as he was based in Buenos Aires and I was in Boston, and
I could tell from the eloquent way he wrote and thought about music
that he got my music and could help with future projects
and encourage me creatively. Emilio traveled to NYC to work on another
project and I went down to meet him. We hit it off and I asked him
to produce my next project. My friend and lyricist Ned Claflin was
occupied with writing a book and I needed to find a new lyricist.
Emilio then found and introduced me to Thalma and she agreed to collaborate
on Sorte! Emilio and I worked together to find the players.
Id recently heard Vitor Gonçalves playing piano accompanying
Vinicius Cantauria in an all-Jobim show at the Regatta Bar in Cambridge
and was really impressed with his beautiful artistic playing. We decided
to record at the legendary Power Station at Berklee in NYC and it
made sense to find New York-based players. Duduka Da Fonseca, Chico
Pinheiro and John Patitucci were Emilios choices and what great
players and great people! Emilio isnt afraid to think big.
John Patitucci on the session made it easy to ask for him to solo
and you will hear him on Oraçao and Filha.
Thalma flew to NYC for a one-day recording session in April 2018 and
we recorded Sorte and Oraçao and videotaped
the live session; those song videos are up on YouTube. Airto, recorded
his parts remotely the same night from a studio in L.A. and we communicated
with him and his engineer by Skype. Airto and Thalma are long-time
friends and he readily agreed to play on this project. Because we
were so happy with the first session Thalma and I wrote four more
songs over the summer and recorded them with the same players back
at The Power Station in October 2018. This time Rogerio Boccato overdubbed
the percussion tracks for those songs at his home studio in Yonkers.
mwe3: I had not heard her before but Thalma De Freitas is a
great singer and lyricist. How did you collaborate with her on the
songs and how and when did you meet her? I was so glad you featured
the lyrics in both English and her native Portuguese, in the CD booklet.
I see her page on Facebook and Thalma is quite active in the music
scene in Los Angeles. Also I read you and her share the same birthday?
John Finbury: Thalma is wonderful! Our birthday is May 14.
Though I have a few decades on her, it does feel like out common birthday
added to a real connection and kinship. We met in person for the first
time the night before the first recording session in April. Our process
was for me to write the melodies and music, record it on my iPhone
and send Thalma the piano recording and she would then write the lyrics.
The melodies would freely adapt to both her lyrics and jazz singing
style but she would stay fairly close to the original composition.
When we met in my hotel room the night before the session with Emilio,
the song Sorte was substantially done but Thalma had different
lyrics for the song that was to become the prayer Oraçao
which she wrote that night. Brilliant!
The songs we wrote for the next session were more challenging for
me at first except for Filha a song for Thalmas
and all our daughters, a song topic Emilio suggested. Ondas
and Surrealism Tropical were at first elusive for me but
as I studied and came to understand the Tropical Surrealism movement
and the religious traditions and ideas about which she is writing,
I let go of my College English 101 approach to English poetry, and
trusted that what she wrote in Portuguese was great. Chico and Duduka
confirmed as much at the sessions as have others since. Thalma, Emilio
and I did the English translations, and like most translations, it
cannot capture the poetry of the original language and we should not
expect it to.
More American composers are working in the Brazilian song writing
genre. Is that a unique phenomenon these days? Clearly the Brazilian
sound has also influenced classical musicians too. Dont you
think its quite amazing that the nylon string guitar works so
well with both jazz and classical music too?
John Finbury: American composers have been working in Brazilian
genres for a long time. Burt Bacharach certainly knew how to adapt
Brazilian music in his songs. I tend to listen to my own chestnuts
and explore new music by listening to the work of the musicians with
whom I am working. So check out, for example, Magos Herreras
latest album Dreamers recorded with the string quartet Brooklyn
Rider. It is great!
The nylon string guitar just sounds great on everything. I once read
it was Hector Berliozs favorite instrument. I cant get
enough of it
both Julian Bream playing the Bach Lute Suites
and Joao Gilberto would be on my desert island.
mwe3: You play keyboards but youre not playing on the
album, yet everything on Sorte! is your music. That is also
unique. Does directing some of the best musicians on the scene feel
more rewarding, knowing your music is being played by such amazing
musicians? Vitor Goncalves is a top talent too. How did you come to
feature Vitor on the Sorte! album? Also where did you find
the guitarist Chico Pinheiro? Hes an amazing musician as well.
Why didnt you play keyboards at all on the new album?
John Finbury: Yes! I explained earlier how I first heard Vitor
playing Jobim with Vinicius Cantaurio at the Regatta Bar. I love his
playing and I am very pleased he agreed to play on Sorte!.
I felt the same way in having Tim Ray plays on Imaginário
and Pitanga. When in the studio I prefer to focus most of my
energies on directing players and production. For me there is wisdom
in handing over my songs to great musicians to play. I do sneak myself
onto a few tracks as that is me on Rhodes soloing on Not To
Worry from Imaginário, and both Emilio and I took
up some percussion on Sorte! Great players bring their art
to the song, always in wonderful unexpected ways. They take my music
to another level altogether.
mwe3: Sorte! is also placed in the World Beat kind of
scene? Is the Sorte! album receiving airplay in Brazil as well?
Being that Thalma is a star in Brazil, I would think so.
Finbury: Sure, Sorte! is World Music as I understand the
category. One of the cool features of the digital platforms like Spotify
and Apple Music is that you can track your listeners and Sorte!
finds most of its listeners in Brazil, and in particular, Sao Paulo,
which is Thalmas hometown. I dont know if she is getting
much radio airplay yet, but she gets YouTube and Spotify listeners
every day. Thalma has been in Sao Paolo most of the summer and recently
performed a live show which included songs from Sorte!
mwe3: You also work and perform with your wife Patty Brayden
and you have been her piano player since 1977. I heard the tracks
you made with Patty in the Pumps back in 1981. How did you meet Patty?
Your piano work is great on those tracks and clearly Patty is a great
vocalist. Are you planning more works with her?
John Finbury: I met Patty at the Casablanca bar in Harvard
Square through a mutual friend, Bill Armstrong, who ultimately also
provided the stunning mandala artwork for the cover of my album Imaginário.
Patty is also a fine lyricist and in our modern era she
worked on A Chama Verde and penned the lyrics to A
Feathered Thing and most recently a song Magos Hererra just
recorded called All The Way To The End".
mwe3: You have a very diverse musical background. The songs
you were able to upload from your archives are superbly annotated
and they sound great. What programs do you use to feature the music
samples on and how has the internet changed your life and especially
your approach to making music and even buying music?
I took the 1/2 tapes of my 'early days songs to a studio
and they baked the tapes and ran them once to create digital versions.
The old songs with Patty were digitized from a cassette recording.
Back in the day, not being a singer/songwriter but just a songwriter,
the process of getting your songs heard was cumbersome and the prospect
of being heard and placed was remote. Fervor Records heard my Early
Days songs in 2015 because I submitted one to an opportunity at Taxi
Music, an online A & R service, and they got the song onto an
episode of Red Oaks, a Netflix series. Through another
online A & R service, Music Xray, I met a publisher, Eddie Caldwell,
who has placed one of my Bossas on the pilot of an upcoming
Netflix series called Soundtrack and I am doing this interview
right now because I placed A Chama Verde on the ballot
for a Latin Grammy. Emilio introduced me to The Orchard, an online
digital distribution and royalty administration service, and they
have been great in getting my music onto all the digital platforms.
It is interesting to see who is listening to what and where they are
from. I would say that the internet and digital platforms have indeed
affected my decision to record my music because you no longer have
to be signed to a major label to get your music out there. A trickier
decision involves whether to go to the expense of manufacturing CDs
and vinyl, which are more promotional giveaways than commodities,
because people dont buy music, they purchase digital subscriptions.
For Sorte! we did all three.
What can you tell us about your planned Auteur Chamber Jazz project
American Nocturnes? Is that planned instrumental music
project considered very different from your music on the Sorte!
John Finbury: My American Nocturnes project has been
in the works for years and it is finally mastered and getting ready
for release at the end of this year. There are 11 instrumental Nocturnes.
The players are Eugene Friesen - cello, Tim Ray - piano, Roni Eytan-harmonica,
Roberto Cassan and Vitor Gonçalves - accordions and Claudio
Ragazzi -guitar. The album will end with me playing one song, Waltz
For Patty on solo piano. With the exception of one shared song,
the Nocturnes are very different from the music on Sorte! Mostly
ballades and waltzes with an Americana classical feel and sound. The
one Latin sounding recording we did in these sessions found its way
onto the Pitanga album as the finishing track, the Rumba A
Great Believer In Luck.
mwe3: You are also working on a planned bilingual jazz set
with John Patitucci and other players. What is that album going to
sound like? Is that album going to be more Brazilian music oriented?
Finbury: I am working with the wonderful Mexican jazz singer Magos
Herrera, together with John Patitucci, Antonio Sanchez, and the remarkable
Spanish flamenco jazz pianist Chano Dominguez. We have recorded two
songs so far, one in Spanish with lyrics by Emilio Miler, and one
with English lyrics by Patty Brayden. The music is very emotional
and powerful with a Spanish Flamenco flair. I am planning to record
more with this group with song lyrics by Magos.
mwe3: What plans do you have even further into the future?
Would you consider a DVD or are there some other projects you would
like to explore to further advance your music?
John Finbury: The American Nocturnes release and the project
with Magos Herrera are my immediate future plans. I have begun working
on the songs for American Nocturnes Vol. 2, which I would like
to record next year as well. I try to write one good song a month.
I also want to learn to play the bass. I have started with a bass
Ukulele, which I play in a weekly group. I think a P-bass is in my