Interview - Leonardo Cioglia - August 2009
JI: Can you talk about some of the differences and similarities that you’ve discovered first in the world of Brazilian music and American music?
LC: This one will be a tough to come up with a simple answer. It’s such a dear subject to me because I have been dealing with it all my life, this hybrid life that I’ve led. You see, I have been in the U.S. for more than half of my life, plus, when in Brazil I went to an International type school - The American School of Brasília - not to mention my Italian roots. I do tend to think that we have more similarities then differences between the music of Brazil and the American Music. More important to me then the differences and similarities between any cultures is the exchange, the give and take between the two cultures. That’s where it has always been and where it will always be.
JI: Despite having achieved a level of success as a musician, you decided to go back to school for art. Can you talk about what made you make this decision and how art has played a role in your life, alongside your musical activities?
LC: Thankfully my parents were very careful in exposing me to a various forms of art and culture in my early years. Growing up in the city of Brasília was very interesting as well because I was part of a different Brazil, a new Brazil that was being developed. People from all over the country were migrating to this new modernist capital. The city was still in development. It was this mixture of being a super, amazingly well built work of art on its own and this young developing city. The fact that I studied in this international school exposed me first hand to people from all over the globe and their backgrounds. Music had already been a part of my life since I was 8 years old, my Italian grandfather, who gave me my first music lesson ever, was a professional orchestra musician. My dad played the violin and considered a music career but opted otherwise. So, at that age they put me into a music school primarily for classical music. There I was part of the children’s choir and we sang in Brasília’s first opera productions – “La Bohème,” “Carmen” and “Carmina Burana”. During my teen years I got involved with punk rock and later with Rhythm n’ Blues and eventually jazz. After finishing high school I went on an exchange program to Canada. You see I had finished high school in three years. In my senior year I was free to choose any courses that I wanted. It turned out that the school that I was gong to in Kelowna, BC, had a great high school program. I ended up receiving a partial scholarship to attend Berklee College of Music. After considering between music and an architecture/urbanism program I opted to head to Boston. My Boston years were amazing. I appreciated my music courses but was also really into the art and academic world of that city. Towards the end of Bachelor’s program I was really interested in branching out though. I had always been involved with producing my own shows and was hands on with creating my CD covers, posters, flyers and such artsy items. New Media was becoming more and more part of our lives and I was drawn with fascination into this ‘virtual’ world.
Emerson College was offering this masters program that seemed perfect for what I was interested in. It was called Visual and Media Arts. There I learned to build websites, was the coordinator for the Jazz Oasis, a daily radio jazz program and had my own Brazilian music show at WERS, the college’s radio station. It was the first time I was exposed to novel ideas such as digital distribution and how to integrate this new technology into what I had been doing all along. I think that this course was fitting in the sense that it really merged all aspects of my background to serve the purpose of music and art for me. To this day it’s been very useful and satisfying to be involved with all aspects of a production such of my CD Contos for instance. Where again I was involved in all aspect of its production.... from the music, to the cover art, the photos and the website that is coming up soon.
JI: Can you talk about your current activities, musically, and what is on the horizon?
LC: Because I tend to want to get involved with many facets of what I do towards music, things move a little slow for me. I don’t see this as a negative thing. It’s positive that you can actually take your time and do things like you really want them done. So, with that said I am really focusing on pushing my first compositional CD Contos. Even though the CD came out at the end of last year, I am still looking for the right place to have the CD release event here in New York. I would love for it to be with the musicians that recorded the album - John Ellis, Mike Moreno, Stefon Harris, Aaron Goldberg and Antonio Sanchez. We are participating in the Ouro Preto Jazz Festival in Brazil this year in September in this will be our CD release event there. We are all going except Stefon who had previous engagement elsewhere.
This will be major for me because it’s one of my favorite festivals in Brazil in one of my favorite towns in the world which is in the state of Minas Gerais where my entire family is from and where the music from that region has a tremendous influence in my own compositions. There I will also be playing with my great friend Duduka Da Fonseca and his quintet. So, I am looking forward to this festival. I am also flying home to Brazil more often. I want to be able to spend more time with my family. In the process I am also booking performances with local musicians.
JI: What is it about musical improvisation that you find so valuable? What does it offer to you, your band-mates, and the listeners? What motivates you and drives you forward?
LC: I like the interaction aspect of it. How what one player does can affect the way you play with him or her and vice versa. I also like the energy that comes out of a group or an individual’s interpretation of a piece of music. For me a good improviser is not necessarily a soloist. I like improvisers that think and interact as composers that see things in a larger scope. When I write my music I have certain specific parts for the instrumentation that I have in mind but I always let the players make them their own. Of course this requires a certain level of trust in the musician. It’s important to choose the musicians that are used to playing together so that they can complement one another. Jazz for me is a process through which many forms and styles of music can be delivered. I like the fact that improvisation can be used in many elements of music. I am fascinated by freedom within structures if you will. Take my album Contos. It’s a compositional album, a suite of ten songs that stand on their own and yet serve as vehicles for improvisation. I choose to have great soloists from my generation and yet everyone in the group has an acute sense for composition. This causes for them to improvise not only over the ‘blowing’ sections, but on the compositions themselves. A groups that has guitar, piano and vibraphone/marimba can be very harmonically dense, which is what I wanted. The key though, is to find musicians that know how to improvise with space. What they play is just as important as what they don’t play. That takes very skillful improvisers to accomplish. As a listener, primarily, I appreciate music that can be both attainable, recognizable and yet just as fresh and enticing in a particular moment. This duality is compelling to me and that’s the direction I tend towards and I believe that listeners in general relate to that as well. The fact that I live in New York is a great motivation for me. The quantity and the high level of this city’s musicians, who are masters of improvisation is definitely a driving force for me. I can’t think of another city in the world that this occurs. Not to mention that you have first hand access to so many forms of music from all over the globe always at an extremely high level. This experience is in line with my upbringing back in Brasília and I really appreciate it. I feel very at home in New York.
JI: What was it that initially inspired you to become a professional musician? How did it all start?
LC: As I said, after high school I was dwelling with the idea of becoming an architect/urbanist. I had that in mind but also new that music would always be a big part of my life. The opportunity to go Boston and study music shifted my course. Now, I can’t see myself doing anything else. I’d still like to study other areas such as literature and history but music is the primary focus. Eventually I’d like to go back to school for a master’s and doctorate degree in music. This will have to wait though.