The Genius Behind The Genius
JAN DUMÉE, 2000
Brazilian César Camargo Mariano is mostly known as the arranger and pianist behind the genius singer Elis Regina, his ex-wife who passed away in 1982. Mariano’s way of arranging and producing establishes the sound of the distinguished jazzy Brazilian music of the 1970s. A good example can be heard on Regina’s 1979 album “Essa Mulher.”
As the producer of almost all Música Popular Brasileiro’s vocalists of note, starting with his first wife Marisa, Mariano played an important role behind the scenes. His phenomenal piano style is mostly in the jazz idiom. It has brought him an international career. Chôro, classical music, and jazz come together naturally with Mariano, as does pop music.
At the time of this interview, Mariano was in the Meg Studios in Rio de Janeiro supervising the recording of his son Pedro Camargo Mariano’s new CD. Another singer in the family, Pedro’s CD ”Voz No Ouvido” (“Voice in the Ear”) will be released in May 2000. The huge success of his other child, Maria Rita, his daughter with Regina, was yet to happen.
JD: If you had to choose between two cities, which one would it be Rio or São Paulo?
CCM: Rio is beautiful, but in São Paulo I feel I can be more productive. It has more of an atmosphere of things getting done.
JD: Can you tell us something about the roots of your musical development?
CCM: I was raised listening to samba and other forms of folkloristic music always nearby. I grew up with chôro musicians from my hometown São Paulo, who would come to play at my parents’ home. My father was a classical pianist and my mother a talented singer, but not professional musicians.
As a nine year old, I taught myself to play the jazz music that I was listening to. Eight years later, the bossa nova movement from Rio was in full bloom. In the period between 1962 and 1966, São Paulo was a place where there was much to be experienced in a musical sense. Notably, bossa- jazz piano trios became popular, such as Milton Banana’s group, the Zimba Trio and my own band, Sambalanço.
JD: Who were some of your early musical influences?
CCM: As a jazz listener, I enjoyed Errol Garner, Oscar Peterson, Clare Fischer and singer Nat King Cole. Masters of Brazilian music for me were, and still are our own impressionist “en patriot” composer, Heitor Villa-Lobos, as well as Antonio Carlos Jobim and chôro composer Pixinguinha.
JD: There are quite a few similarities between Brazilian chôro samba and jazz. In chôro music the pandeiro (a tambourine with bells) plays a syncopated accent, a pattern called ‘maxixe.’ The ‘after-picking’ feel of these sixteenth note syncopes is comparable to that of swing. Your playing has had a great influence on the way samba is being played on the piano, yet it also seems to refer to chôro and swing.
CCM: To a significant degree, the way I play the piano is the direct result of my jazz period, the time when I played in jazz bars in São Paulo regularly. At that time, I was very much involved in Errol Garner’s trademark style of “after-picking.” I did that until somebody in a bar asked me to play Garota de Ipanema. That is when I started to develop a modern way of samba playing on the piano. However, one should not forget the great influence that pianist Luis Eça from Rio de Janeiro has had on this specific style.
JD: Elis Regina was your wife. How do you describe your musical collaboration with her?
CCM: Elis was very self-certain…a strong personality. On a musical level, she knew better than anyone else what she wanted and what she was doing. As her husband and friend, I was in the best position to sense where she was heading. This made me realize how important it is to stand close to an artist, in order to make a sincere product.
JD: What will you be doing in the near future?
CCM: Much production work and a series of concerts in Japan for Blue Note, under the name “César and Guests”, which will result in three records. Incidentally, I just did a concert at New York’s Blue Note with guitarist Romero Lubambo, celebrating his birthday. Later, there will be some gigs with symphonic orchestras Ettore Stratta and the Royal Symphony in London, followed by Sadao Watanabe and The Tokyo Orchestra in Japan.
JD: What are your musical aspirations?
CCM: I have had an idea in my head for many years to make a CD using my own arrangements of Villa-Lobos’ music. It is one of my dearest wishes to do that one day.