It can be the cool “So What” by Miles Davis or the thoughtful jazz chestnut “On Green Dolphin Street” or something fast and spicy. No matter: Claudio Roditi’s trumpet speaks in a way that fills a room with sweet honey sounds. He left his native Rio de Janeiro while in his early 20s to study at Boston’s Berklee College of Music, and played with greats like Herbie Mann and Paquito D’Rivera. His Brazilian-informed understanding of the horn puts audiences in awe, as well they should be.
When you first came to the US to attend Berklee, did you know English? Did you know anybody here?
When I first came to Boston in September of 1970, I could speak English because I had studied it in Brazil in the 60s.
I had a dear friend from high school, Victor Assis Brasil, who had come to Berklee the year before, and he was influential in my coming to Boston to study. I also knew pianist Nelson Ayres, so I had a couple of friends. And not forgetting that at age 24 it wasn’t too hard to make new friends.
Did you come to the US primarily to study or to also build a career?
I came primarily to study jazz. I had no intentions of staying here for the rest of my life. Needless to say that the fact that I ended up staying upset my mother, Daisy, terribly. However, I found the love of my life: Kristen.
How old were you when you started playing music?
I started with piano lessons at age six, then bongos, then at age nine I asked my father Alberto to buy me a trumpet.
My early influence was my father, who could play some guitar and also sang. Second was Maestro Fernandez (originally from Uruguay), who gave me piano lessons and was married to my mother’s cousin Zizi. Once I had my first trumpet I’d ask my father to buy me any record that had a trumpet or trumpeter on the cover. So I got albums by Louis Armstrong, Harry James and Ray Anthony.
Who were your early influences and your favorite jazz artists?
I fell in love with the music of Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, Roy Eldridge and Chet Baker by the time I was 12 years old. Then Lee Morgan, Booker Little and Freddie Hubbard.
Recently you played a lovely version of “On Green Dolphin Street” at Trumpets Jazz Club (Montclair, NJ). What are some of your favorite songs?
“Green Dolphin Street” is a favorite song of mine. Also, “Speak Low,” “So What,” and “Body and Soul.” And not to forget my own compositions: there are many that I’ve written that I like.
Where have your toured?
I’ve toured the world mostly as a sideman. I only toured with a group of my own to Umbria Jazz Winter Festival in Italy, and also to Graz, in Austria.
Tell me about your band, or do you play in several bands?
I’m a freelance musician, so I’ve played with a lot of different people and still do. I love playing with musicians who are into playing the music I love, and hopefully that they also love.
Then there was that dedication song you played at Trumpets. Do you do a lot of composing?
The song you are referring to is “To Bill and Deanne,” composed for my friends Bill and Deanne Chenitz, who were in the audience at Trumpets. I find myself writing more songs for my friends. They inspire me!
How many times have you been nominated for a Grammy?
I’ve been nominated first for a solo I played on the CD “Symphonic Bossa Nova” by Ettore Stratta. That nomination was for best instrumental performance. Secondly I was nominated for my CD “Brazilliance x 4.” However, I never won.
Upcoming shows and tours?
On July 18, 2017 I will bring a quartet to Westfield, NJ, for the Sweet Sounds Downtown jazz festival. The week of August 15 and the week of August 22, 2017, I will be playing with the Brazilian group Trio da Paz at Dizzy’s Club (Jazz at Lincoln Center). And there may be a date at the Blue Note with the Dizzy Gillespie All Star Big Band; however, it’s not confirmed yet.
The place you always wanted to play?
There is no place where I’ve wanted to play and haven’t played yet. Now, bringing my own group to some of these places is a different story. I’ve performed with Paquito D’Rivera, Dizzy Gillespie, Tito Puente, Herbie Mann and McCoy Tyner but not with a group of my own.
What’s in the soul of a jazz musician?
I cannot answer for other people, but my intention in music is to bring some beauty and happiness to the world, doing something I love to do. Life is frequently rough and it feels really good when you touch people in a positive way and consequently make them feel a little better.
What direction is jazz going in now?
I have no idea. At the same time I’m not interested. I’m not an innovator and was never into how different I could make the music. I love certain periods of jazz, especially the hard bop period, and some Brazilian music. So that’s what I like to play and compose.
Did you prefer playing in the 1980s with the smoke-filled (more authentic?) clubs versus today’s clubs?
The clubs of the 1980s were part of the music and the smoke-free clubs of today are also part of the music, but they are a little easier for horn players.
Is it harder for musicians to get gigs now, and if so, why?
Yes, it is harder for musicians because of the heavy competition. Also, it’s harder to get better wages.
Was the April 2017 gig at Trumpets Jazz Club your first time playing with harmonica virtuoso Enrico Granafei?
I met Enrico Granafei (the owner of Trumpets) along with his wife Kristine perhaps thirty years ago, and we’ve been friends ever since. We play music together whenever we have a chance.
You stopped one song and reset the tempo. How often does a re-count like that happen?
I only stopped a song and restarted it in the middle of the set because something was drastically wrong, and the performance was being filmed. I just couldn’t let it go out like that. That was a rare case.
Your playing is stunning. What do you think about when you’re improvising?
Thank you, Debbie, for the kind words! What I think when I’m improvising is to make sense and create something I think is beautiful.
Why do you love music so much?
Music is something we cannot live without. To dedicate my life to that purpose is fulfilling, and despite the difficulties in making a living from it, I think it has been well worth it.
Photo credit: Chris Drukker
© Debbie Burke 2017