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A Brazilian Jazz Exchange

From left: Artist Diploma students Robert Haight, John Tate, and Michael Thomas perform at the São Paulo music school EMESP–Tom Jobim.

 (Photo by Adriana Elias)

Just over a year ago, Juilliard Global was launched with plans for musical cross-pollination with institutions in Brazil, China, and Mexico. This fall, one of the first fruits of that cooperation—a Brazilian exchange—took place. It started with a weeklong residency at Juilliard by four faculty members—all of them marquee names in Brazilian music—of the Escola de Música do Estado do São Paulo–Tom Jobim (EMESP) that included master classes and culminated in a joint performance with the Artist Diploma Ensemble on November 20. The second part of the exchange took place in December, when Carl Allen, artistic director of jazz studies, took five second-year Artist Diploma students to São Paulo, where they performed and led workshops. Three Jazz Studies students reported on the exchange.

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EMESP at Juilliard
First-year percussionist Sammy Miller noted that while he and his fellow students meet great musicians frequently at Juilliard, what set the EMESP faculty members apart was their passion—and the fact that he was “still dancing” a week later. Miller sat down with Paulo Braga, the pianist and pedagogical coordinator of EMESP and talked about what the older musicians were bringing to Juilliard.

While Braga emphasized the importance of representing Brazilian music’s rich history, he said that “first and foremost, we came here to demonstrate our passion for music.” The important thing, he told us, is that “when you get older and are playing commercially, you don’t lose your passion, your dreams in the music, the reason you came to the art form.” Braga had some other advice for us as well. “Every time I sit at a piano bench, I treat it as though it were the last time I’ll ever play in my life,” he said, and for us as students, there could be no better lesson, I think.

Braga was here with bassist Marinho Andreotti, sax/flutist Manual Silveira, and percussionist Edu Ribeiro. In the percussion master class, Ribeiro discussed and demonstrated various grooves dating back to the 19th century, samba, baiao, maracatú, choro, partido, and bossa among them. He also worked with us individually, in my case on the pandeiro, which is like a tambourine. It was amazing the range of sound he was able to get out of such a simple-looking instrument, especially since he kept emphasizing that even he wasn’t an expert but, as we all are, “always still scraping to get to the next level.”

Juilliard in São Paulo
Chris Ziemba, second-year pianist
We conducted two master classes, one for university students who had had some experience with improvising, and one for middle school-aged students who didn’t. We tailored our presentations to suit each group, and by the end of each, we had students practically climbing over each other to come up and perform with us. This was especially touching with the middle schoolers. At first they were very hesitant to improvise, but by the end they were completely thrilled.  

Jeremy Noller, second-year percussionist
The trip was great—our first concert was for students from schools around São Paulo, and they were definitely our most enthusiastic audience. The kids really responded to the music, and were so excited that afterwards they were taking pictures with us and asking for autographs. Seems like we created some new jazz fans!

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