Archive for August, 2005

Pixinguinha: Sempre Pixinguinha 100 anos


Sempre Pixinguinha 100 anos
Recorded in 1988. Kuarup discos KCD-076

A year ago, I wrote about the revival of choro, and its growing presence in musical entertainment in Rio. Well, the movement is doing well. The best-known bars in Lapa – Rio Scenarium, Carioca de Gema, Sacrilégio  – are all going strong. So is my favourite in the Praça Tiradentes, the Centro Cultural Carioca. Some spots have closed, others have opened. New options include the Dama da Noite in Lapa, Quiosque Arabe on the Lagoa, and Simplesmente, in Santa Teresa. The site is really good for checking out the places, the nights when there is choro, customers’ opinions and so on. Perhaps the main difference now is that many more people are going, and on top nights and at the best places you must reserve well in advance!

But I have become more and more intrigued by the attitude of musicians and audiences when the name of Pixinguinha is mentioned….. a mixture of pleasure, familiarity, and respect seems to greet his music. And in the shops and sites which deal with choro, there is no shortage of musicians recording his music, or opinions about him: “It was he who really gave form to choro” “the greatest flute player in popular music” “One of the greatest composers of Brazilian popular music”….. so what is the story of Pixinguinha?

The Musician
Alfredo da Rocha Vianna – his nickname eventually settled down as Pixinguinha – was born in Rio in 1897, grandchild of slaves, and died, also in Rio in Ipanema, in 1973. He was brought up in a household with 14 children, but which was always full of music. Known as “Pensão Vianna” it was constantly the scene of musical gatherings – rodas de choro – at which played the best musicians of the day. He learnt with his brothers to play cavaquinho, but had a preference for the flute, picking out by ear on a “flauta de folha” the pieces he had heard the night before. Going to school during the day, at night he would go with his teacher Irineu de Almeida to play at parties. He made such extraordinary progress on the flute that his father, instead of lending his own instrument, gave him one of his own. In 1911, at 14 years old, he was playing regularly in a group which played in a bar; in the same year, he became a member of an orchestra which played at the Teatro Rio Branco, and wrote his first composition. In 1919 Pixinguinha was invited by the Palace Cinema to form an instrumental group to play in the foyer and attract customers (because Ernesto Nazaré was bringing in the crowds at the rival Odeon Cinema). He formed a group called the Oito Batutas – Pixinguinha on flute, together with a cavaquinho, a bandolim, three guitars, and two percussion. This group became famous, playing music from all over Brazil, and touring. In 1922 millionaire Arnaldo Guinle financed a trip to Paris, where they were also a hit for six months. They absorbed the influence of jazz, and Pixinguinha began to play saxophone.

Back in Rio, the arrival of the talking cinema really cut down the work opportunities for musicians, but Pixinguinha began to work also as band leader, composer, and arranger. In 1929 he was contracted by RCA Victor to be their exclusive orchestrator and arranger, contributing to dozens of recordings. Tall, black, square-jawed, mild in manner and humble in demeanour, what set Pixinguinha apart was his extraordinary facility with music, and his willingness to contribute without seeking a return for himself. This made him a much-loved figure.

In 1933 he actually received a diploma in musical theory, and afterwards became a government employee in the Limpeza Urbana Pública, where his real job was to lead their band. But his habit of consuming a litre of cachaça every morning before rehearsals did not really combine with the required discipline, so he was transferred to bureaucratic functions. The salary was an important support, and he eventually retired in 1966 as Professor of Arts.

In 1946 Pixinguinha adopted the saxophone instead of the flute, and formed a renowned partnership with flautist Benedito Lacerda. By 1964 his health was sending out alarm signals, and he had to be hospitalized after his third heart attack, give up cachaça, and stop playing (but he wrote 20 musical pieces in hospital!). Recovered, he went back to his old habits, and his captive table at the Bar Gouveia, in the Travessa de Ouvidor.

In Carnaval 1973, he died of a heart attack in the Nossa Senhora de Paz Church, just as the Banda de Ipanema was approaching. When they heard the news, the Carnaval stopped, and everyone went home.

The CD “Sempre Pixinguinha”
This record contains some of Pixinguinha’ s most famous compositions – Carinhoso, Ingênuo, Lamentos, Segura ele, Rosa, Um a Zero. It is an instrumental disk, because when Pixinguinha’s music had words, they were usually attached afterwards.  The musicians are first-rate, particularly Paulo Sérgio Santos (clarinet), Joel Nascimento (bandolim) and Chiquinho de Acordeon (no guesses as to what he plays). These all play their instruments with the most extraordinary freedom and lyricism. Seven of the tracks, classed as Roda de Choro, are by a typical instrumental formation, and the music is just what we come to expect – lilting, easy-going, attractive melodies and changes in harmonies. No strong passions or theatricality, just very pleasant listening. In fact when you are half listening and your mind is wandering – tarum – and you think you’d hear again – tarum – then up it goes and down again and round to where you were- tarum. Get the idea?

If I have a regret about the CD, it is that Carinhoso is presented in a very eclectic arrangement for piano, and its basic message gets rather lost. Surely you’ve heard this at some stage –

Meu coração
Não sei por quê
Bate feliz
Quando te vê…………

and then the second part:

Ai se tu soubesses como sou tão carinhoso
E muito e muito que te queiro
E como é sincero meu amor
Eu sei que tu não fugirias mais de mim
Vem vem vem vem
Vem sentir o calor
Dos lábios meus
À procura dos teus
Vem matar esta paixão que me devora o coração
Só assim então
Serei feliz, bem feliz….

The four “vems” are sung on rising notes, until the last is a prolonged cry – and then comes the touch of genius – “Dos labios meus” is very spread out, as if it were in half time, while the rest returns to the normal rhythm. When you are in a crowd dancing, and this is played, just see how everyone joins in on the vem vem vem veeeeeem. Absolutely irresistible – and not just because of the words!

So this, together with his other two thousand or so compositions, is why Pixinguinha is so revered…

Good listening!

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