Guitar’s Gentle Giant

Gentle Giant

How would you fancy to have a job in a country where everybody else
knows about your work better than you do. That’s the daunting task of the national team
soccer coach in Brazil, land of 160 million soccer coaches.
By Brazzil Magazine

The music of Paulo Bellinati is absolutely stimulating. Most
important is the music itself, beyond all the technical elements which distance the
interpreter from the story he is telling. I find myself listening to his records many
times in a row. They are inspiring and moving in clear directions. Above all, they are

Egberto Gismonti

It would be no exaggeration to say that the guitar is the most important harmonic and
melodic instrument in Brazilian music, nor would it be an exaggeration to say that the
soul of Brazil is expressed through guitar strings. The guitar is responsible for spawning
an enormous and diversified repertoire of Brazilian popular music. It is to Brazilian
popular music (MPB) what the sax is to North American jazz. And as in jazz, certain
players and composers have been leaving their indelible marks on the Brazilian guitar
repertoire. Some have actively shaped the course of the repertoire, while others have
affected it more osmotically.

If in the late 1990’s there is a consensus about anything in Brazilian guitar playing,
it is that Paulo Bellinati is one of the country’s very best. Moving easily between the
air-tight divisions of classical, avant-garde jazz, and MPB, Paulo Bellinati has appeared
on hundreds of recordings. And from the earliest, he has been recognized as a completely
distinctive performer by any and all criteria: melodic inventiveness, harmonic
sophistication, rhythmic sureness, a totally personal sound, and an arresting power of
communication. Paulo can transfer the essence of rich contemporary harmonic and beautiful
melodic ideas through his instrument to the listener and attain those peaks of great
originality that many players can only strive for throughout their careers.

The technically unbelievable feats Paulo accomplishes on guitar and the fire and deep
soul with which he performs them may be what first catches your attention, but substantial
merit lies also in his work as an arranger and composer. He is a musical architect of the
highest order who has added a sizable number of pieces to the guitar repertoire. His
compositions possess the technical complexity of the classical discipline and the
"dissonant" harmonies of jazz without ever losing the Brazilianity of the choro,
valsa, and samba.

A real musical thinker who has crossed idioms and oceans, Bellinati is, in addition, a
researcher who has gone further than most in seeking out gems of Brazilian repertoire.
Even in so argumentative a field as music, you would be fairly safe in reducing matters to
the simplest terms by saying that Bellinati has carved out a position for himself as one
of the premier musicians in the Brazilian guitar circle. But he is not the sort of
musician whose record company has had to engage in hysterical hard-sell advertising copy.
His work speaks for itself.

And Paulo’s work has started to receive the impact of a richly deserved and long
overdue recognition from critics and audiences alike. His CD Guitares du Brésil (GHA-1991)
received Le Choc de La Musique from Le Monde de La Musique and a 4-star rating from
Diapason, two of the most important music magazines in France. He won Brazil’s
equivalent of a Grammy, the Prêmio Sharp, in 1994 for his arranging on Gal Costa’s CD O
Sorriso do Gato de Alice. His CD Serenata (GSP-1993) with choros and
waltzes written by Jobim, Gnattali, Almeida, Powell, Reis, Neves, and Bellinati himself;
and his CD Afro-Sambas (GSP-1997) with Mônica Salmaso on vocals were both
finalists for Prêmio Sharp awards in 1997. As of press time, Paulo’s CD Lira
Brasileira (GSP-1016) is a finalist for the 1998 Prêmio Sharp Award in the Best
Instrumental Soloist category. Additionally, Paulo’s arrangements and compositions are
being recorded and performed by many of the world’s top players including John Williams,
The Los Angeles Guitar Quartet, The Duo Assad, Eduardo Isaac, and Carlos Barbosa Lima.

I can cite Paulo’s influences. I can describe his tools. I can name his contemporaries.
But no matter how many words I use, I cannot describe what listening to his version of Afro-Sambas
will tell you. Those who have heard Paulo Bellinati will never forget the experience. If
you listen with your eyes closed, you can imagine some expressive force of vivid
imagination and tensely personal musical vision. He is simultaneously kinetic and
hypnotic. Paulo Bellinati truly has to be heard.

It has often been said that a man’s tone on his instrument is inseparably related to
the nature of his mind, so I feel fortunate to have finally had the opportunity to chat
with this gentle giant of the guitar world as we had missed several occasions over the
past few years. When I caught up with him early Sunday morning at his home in São Paulo,
he had just come off a six week tour that had taken him from Canada to the United States
then to Finland and finally France before returning to Brazil. 

Brazzil—Good morning, Paulo. How’s it going?

Paulo—I’m incredibly busy these days. I’m home only today and tomorrow then
I’ll be in Rio for the rest of the month. I’m working with Leila Pinheiro—arranging
and playing on her next album. Immediately after that I’ll be in Europe doing a duet tour
with the great bassist and composer Steve Swallow.

Brazzil—Tell me about Leila’s arrangements.

Paulo—They are mainly for a small group: two guitars, bass, drums, and piano.
It’s more a culling of pieces, you know. We’re working from zero. She has chosen pieces by
different composers, and what I’m doing with her is, of course, making the arrangements,
picking the harmonies, and also building the concept of each piece. Will the tunes have
introductions? What kind of ending? Will there be improvising? What’s the rhythm going to
be? The entire conception, the base conception is what I’m doing now.

Brazzil—Have you worked with Leila before?

Paulo—We started working together, let’s see, ten years ago. I first met her
when I did a recording with Pau Brasil, Edu Lobo, and Chico Buarque called Dança da
Meia Lua. It was a ballet written by Edu and Chico. Edu Lobo and Chico Buarque have
written three or four ballets. The first one was from 20 years ago, but this one was made
in ’88. Leila Pinheiro was on one track.

Brazzil—Have you worked before with Steve Swallow?

Paulo—No, never. One day he bought one of my recordings in New York, then
he contacted me through my manager in Austria.

Brazzil—You’ve both written extensively. Whose compositions will you be playing
on the tour?

Paulo—Half and half. We’ve been preparing and sending scores to each other.

Brazzil—Will you and Steve be recording a CD?

Paulo—It’s gonna happen. We’re going to perform seven concerts in Europe:
Italy, Austria, Switzerland. We haven’t talked much about recording yet because Steve has
been busy too. Just before our tour he’ll be coming off a tour in Europe with Paul Motian,
Carla Bley, and Lee Konitz.

Brazzil—Sounds like another great guitar/bass collaboration. Have you heard the
Ralph Towner and Gary Peacock duet album?

Paulo—Yeah, I know that one. I don’t have it, but I know the album.

Brazzil—And Pat Metheny and Charlie Haden’s?

Paulo—Yeah, yea, it’s a nice album. Beyond the Missouri Sky. Very nice.
I love that album.

Brazzil—I understand you’ve stopped playing jazz guitar.

Paulo—Yes. For many years I played a lot with many Brazilian
musicians—electric guitar. I don’t do this any more. I don’t have time, but I did a
lot. I’ve done many gigs with electric guitar, even with Pau Brasil I was a jazz player

Brazzil—You played with Pau Brasil, one of Brazil’s most innovative jazz
ensembles, for 70 years and recorded six albums with them. Is there a philosophy behind
the band?

Paulo—You know I quit the group in ’92, so I don’t know anything anymore. The
new group with Marlui (Miranda) is not the same group at all—different music,
different musicians. Rodolfo Stroeter, the bass player, is the only one who has remained
in the group. It’s his group. He also owns the record label Pau Brasil.

Brazzil—Did you ever get into Joe Pass?

Paulo—Yeah, sure. We met here in Brazil. I went to his hotel and gave him my
album, and we jammed together in his hotel room. But, you know, I’ve never written a jazz
piece. Fifteen years ago I decided to turn my eyes to Brazilian music. I compose only
Brazilian pieces. I always compose over the Brazilian folk forms or Brazilian
rhythms…always, always. My history as a composer has been 100% Brazilian. My first
composition in 1977 was a choro and then a baião and then the other
Brazilian forms. 

Brazzil—Who do you feel are the outstanding players today?

Paulo—I like some of the major players like Ralph Towner and Pat Metheny. I
love those players. I think they are incredible. Always, when I can, I go to hear them in
concert. I have their albums. They have such personality, you know. I don’t like players
who don’t have this kind of personality of sound. When you listen to a guitar player like
Pat Metheny, for example, you know that it’s him. No one has to tell you who is playing.
You know it’s Pat Metheny. You know the sound.

The same thing happens with Ralph Towner. The guy has this personality of sound that is
amazing. In my early days, when I was starting with music, when I was starting the guitar,
I was a big fan of Wes Montgomery. I had all the albums. I would listen and pick out his
solos. I was really inspired by Wes. I still have all his recordings.

Brazzil—Why do so many people speak of Brazil as the country of guitar players?

Paulo—It is. We have an important style of guitar playing here. It’s
important, like flamenco for the Spanish. In proportion of importance, we have the same
thing here. I mean the culture is linked to the music and the music is linked with the
guitar. The guitar is part of the music of the country.

Brazzil—Why did you choose the guitar in the first place?

Paulo—I think it was because it was a cheap thing to have at home (laughs). We
had a guitar at home, and my sister was taking guitar lessons. The guitar was very popular
in 1965 because of the bossa nova. The bossa nova was on the top. There were
many guitar players, like Baden Powell and Paulinho Nogueira. Those players were on top of
the list, you know. They were playing on television a lot. We had João Gilberto and all
those stars.

Brazzil—Who is on top of the list in Brazil now?

Paulo—Oh, I don’t know. It’s changed too much. Baden Powell doesn’t play so
often any more. You know Guitar Player magazine? There is a version in Brazil, the
same one as in the United States, but in Portuguese. At the beginning of this year they
had a musicians’ poll to determine the top 10 Brazilian guitar players, you know. Two
hundred guitar players voted, the same 200 that were on the poll. The only rule was that
nobody was allowed to vote for himself. The 10 winners are going to record a commemorative
album that will be released with a special issue of the magazine dedicated to those 10
players. I’m one of them!

Brazzil -Is it difficult for Brazilian musicians to have a career outside of Brazil?

Paulo—Yes, it’s difficult because you have to learn how to administrate your
career. It’s a whole other job. I had to learn how to do it. I have a career because I
learned how to do it. Learning how to play, how to compose, and how to arrange music was
one thing, but knowing how to manage yourself is another. It’s a totally different thing.

Brazzil—What is your next project for GSP going to be?

Paulo—GSP wants me to do an album of solo guitar along the same lines as Afro-Sambas,
that is, arrangements of important Brazilian songs. So I think I’m going to do it
(laughs). I’ll be arranging some Jobim again, but I’d also like to do Edu Lobo, Chico
Buarque, João Gilberto, and João Bosco. Important songs, that’s the idea. I’m working on
the idea. I don’t have it yet because the recording is not until the very end of the year.

Brazzil—Will you be performing in the States at the end of the year?

Paulo—Yes, I’m planning to come back to the United States in November for a
tour on the East Coast—Boston, Connecticut. I don’t know about San Francisco yet. I’m
trying to organize that now. What’s really down is Boston, Connecticut, and Salt Lake
City. I’m working on the other dates.

Brazzil—Paulo, you’ve traveled the world, worked with the best artists across
genres, you have an impressive discography. What has been the most important event in your
career so far?

Paulo—I’d like to tell you something. What has happened, in say, the past
three years is that I’ve started to be invited to guitar festivals. The guitar is a very
special instrument because there are many guitar societies around the world, which is
incredible. Those guitars societies are everywhere: Europe, England, Switzerland,
everywhere. In the United States you have many, many guitar societies, all over the United
States. Those guitar societies are very powerful, and they organize big festivals,
inviting very important players. And at those festivals, many activities take place like
concerts, master classes, lectures, and all those kinds of things.

And I’ve started receiving invitations to some of those important festivals. So, I’ve
gone to many. One of the most important ones last year was the Great Britain Classical
Guitar Festival. It’s a festival that draws the most important classical guitar players,
like John William and David Russell—young guy, monster player. He’s the new Segovia.
I was there for one week, teaching, giving workshops, master classes, and I performed one

The Duo Assad was there too and gave a concert. What I’m trying to say to you is that
the Brazilian guitar is starting to be recognized as an important style in the guitar
world, as important as the Spanish guitar and the Venezuelan guitar. The fact that I’m
being invited to teach Brazilian guitar at those big classical guitar festivals makes me
feel more important in the guitar world, makes me feel that I have something important to
say and to introduce to the guitar literature. I think this is the most important thing
that has happened in my career, in my life—to be invited to those monster festivals,
the best guitar festivals in the world. I’m very proud of this.

Brazzil—Then for you guitar is what’s most important?

Paulo—The most important thing is the guitar. When I dedicated my career to
the guitar, I realized it went faster and better because before that something was
missing. I arrange and I compose… I have written for four guitars, for two guitars,
for everything, for guitar and voice, like Afro-Sambas. I do all those things, but
on the guitar. Guitar is the main thing. That’s why I had the idea to do Afro-Sambas
with only guitar and voice. I’m dedicated to Brazilian music, but more than that, to the
Brazilian guitar. The instrument is the main thing. The classical guitar.

Brazzil—Still it must be flattering to have the top players recording your

Paulo—Yes, the great John Williams, you know, just recorded one of my
compositions on his latest album, The Madness and the Moon on Sony Classical. It’s
a piece I wrote for two guitars and dedicated to the Assad brothers titled
"Jongo." And many, many other guitar players are playing my compositions now.
Every week I learn that somebody has recorded my pieces in Japan or in Europe or here in
Brazil, so I can’t complain.

Brazzil—Do you play a special type of guitar?

Paulo—I have very nice instruments. I play now with an Ignacio Fleta from
Barcelona, which is one of the greatest. It’s a great instrument, one of the top guitars
in the world. There are many makers around the world, but Fleta is one of the most
important. Segovia played one of his guitars. Very important instrument. John Williams has
played a Fleta for years and years. I play with a Fleta now, but for the Garoto album I
recorded with a Paul Fischer, a British maker, very important too.

Brazzil—Didn’t you do a lot of research for that recording?

Paulo—Yes, eight years. Brazil is very bad with memory and remembering things
concerning the arts. No one seems to care about manuscripts or older recordings.
Everything was very hard to find. Even Garoto’s children, his son and daughter, who are
still alive here in São Paulo, didn’t have anything. But there are some collectors here
in São Paulo. What I did was try to locate those collectors and see if they had anything
about Garoto. All the material I uncovered was from private collections.

One collector who was extremely helpful was Professor Ronoel Simões. He is
seventy-eight years old and lives here in São Paulo with his wife. Ronoel was a very
close friend of Garoto and had some rare manuscripts and recordings of Garoto playing
several unpublished tunes. Besides all Garoto’s recordings and manuscripts, he has close
to 7,000 guitar recordings and an almost complete archive of printed guitar music from all
over the world, almost 35,000 scores. Ronoel also is an unbelievable guitar collector. We
say that his house is the biggest guitar museum in the world. Guitar Player (Brazil)
did a five page interview with him in the March ’98 issue.

Brazzil—What initially interested you in Garoto?

Paulo—I heard Laurindo de Almeida playing three pieces and was completely
amazed by the compositions, with the sophistication of the harmonies and the beauty of the
melodic lines. Once I started playing those pieces, I wanted to play more and more Garoto,
so I started looking. I told myself, "I’m going to do this research." For some
time I was deep into the research. I’d find one nice piece and say, "Wow! I have to
play this in my concert." I’d start playing it, and I’d want to play more, so I had
to do more research. Before I realized it, I was deep into the research of the complete
guitar works of Garoto.

Brazzil—Raphael Rabello was a tremendous talent who left the scene far too
early. Paulo, you said that David Russell was the new Segovia. Is there a new Raphael

Paulo—Raphael Rabello died so young. So there’s been no time. He died when he
was thirty years old. He’s still there, man, with his albums. He’s great. GSP is about to
release an album now, a new album by Raphael Rabello. It’s going to be fantastic. Raphael
Lives! Yes…

Bruce Gilman, music editor for Brazzil, received his Masters
degree in music from California Institute of the Arts. He leads the Brazilian jazz
ensemble Axé and plays cuíca for escola de samba MILA. You can reach him
through his e-mail:  

Paulo Bellinati

Afro-Sambas (Atração/1996-Brasil) GSP 1997 (with Mônica Salmaso)

Serenata GSP 1993(solo)

Guitares du Brésil GHA 1991 (solo)

The Guitar Works of Garoto GSP 1991 (solo)

Metrópolis Tropical Divina Comédia 1991 (with Pau Brasil)

Violões do Brasil Crescente 1990(solo)

Lá Vem a Tribo GHA 1989 (with Pau Brasil)

Dança da Meia-Lua Som Livre 1988 (with Chico Buarque,

Edu Lobo, and Pau Brasil)

Cenas Brasileiras Continental 1987 (with Pau Brasil)

Garoto Marcus Pereira 1986 (solo)

Pindorama Copacabana 1986 (with Pau Brasil)

Pau Brasil Continental 1983 (with Pau Brasil)

* Recordings by Paulo Bellinati as well as printed scores of his compositions are
available from Guitar Solo Publications.

Guitar Solo Publications, 514 Bryant Street, San Francisco, California 94107-1217

Tel (415) 896-1122, Fax (415) 896-1155, E-mail:


Canto de Xangô Chant of Xangô

God of Thunder, Lightning, and Justice

Vinícius de Moraes and Baden Powell

Eu vim de longe

Eu vim, nem sei mais de onde é que eu vim

Sou filho de Rei

Muito lutei pra ser o que eu sou

Eu sou negro de cor

Mas tudo é só amor em mim

Tudo é só o amor, para mim

Xangô Agodô

Hoje é tempo de amor

Hoje é tempo de dor, em mim

Xangô Agodô

Salve, Xangô, meu Rei Senhor

Salve, meu Orixá

Tem sete cores sua cor

Sete dias para gente amar

Mas amar é sofrer

Mas amar é morrer de dor

Xangô, meu Senhor, saravá!

Me faça sofrer

Ah, me faça morrer 

Ah, me faça morrer de amar

Xangô, meu Senhor, saravá!

Xangô Agodô

I came from very far away
I came, I don’t know from where
I am the son of the King
I fought hard to be what I am
I am black in color
But everything is only love inside me
Everything is only love for me
Xangô Agodô
Today is the time of love
Today is my time of pain
Xangô Agodô
Greetings, Xangô, my Lord King
Greetings, my Lord
You have seven colors
Seven days for us to love
But love is to suffer
But love is to die in pain
Xangô, my Lord, hail!
Make me suffer
Ah, make me die
Ah, make me die of love
Xangô, my Lord, hail!
Xangô Agodô


Canto de Iemanjá Chant of Iemanjá

Goddess of the ocean and mother of all Afro-Brazilian

Vinícius de Moraes and Baden Powell

Iemanjá, Iemanjá
Iemanjá é dona Janaína
que vem
Iemanjá, Iemanjá
Iemanjá é muita tristeza
que vem
Vem do luar no
Vem do luar
No mar coberto de flor,
meu bem
De Iemanjá
De Iemanjá a cantar o amor
E a se mirar
Na lua triste no céu,
meu bem
Triste no mar
Se você quiser amar
Se você quiser amor
Vem comigo a Salvador
Para ouvir Iemanjá
A cantar, na maré que vai
E na maré que vem
Do fim, mais do fim,
do mar
Bem mais além
Bem mais além do que o fim do mar
Bem mais além

Iemanjá, Iemanjá
Iemanjá is the lady Janaína that comes
Iemanjá, Iemanjá
Iemanjá is so much sadness that comes
She comes from the moonlight in the sky
She comes from the moonlight
On the sea covered with flowers, my love
From Iemanjá
From Iemanjá singing and love
And she looks at herself
In the sad moon in the sky, my love
Sad in the sea
If you want to love
If you want love
Come with me to Salvador
To listen to Iemanjá
Singing on the tide that comes
And on the tide that goes
From the end, from the farthest end of the sea
Far beyond
Farther beyond than the end of the sea
Far beyond
Canto de Ossanha Chant of Ossanha (1)

God of all botanicals and medicine

Vinícius de Moraes and Baden Powell

O homem que diz "dou"
não dá
Porque quem dá mesmo
não diz
O homem que diz "vou"
não vai
Porque quando foi já
não quis
O homem que diz "sou" não é
Porque quem é mesmo é "não sou"
O homem que diz "tô"
não tá
Porque ninguém tá quando
Coitado do homem que cai
No canto de Ossanha, traidor
Coitado do homem que vai
Atrás de mandinga de amor
Vai, vai, vai, vai, não vou
Vai, vai, vai, vai, não vou
Vai, vai, vai, vai, não vou
Vai, vai, vai, vai, não vou
Que eu não sou ninguém de ir
Em conversa de esquecer
A tristeza de um amor que passou
Não, eu só vou se for pra ver
Uma estrela aparecer
Na manhã de um novo amor
Amigo sinhô
Xangô me mandou lhe dizer
Se é canto de Ossanha,
não vá
Que muito vai se arrepender
Pergunte pro seu Orixá
O amor só é bom se doer
Pergunte pro seu Orixá
O amor só é bom se doer
Vai, vai, vai, vai, amar
Vai, vai, vai, sofrer
Vai, vai, vai, vai, chorar
Vai, vai, vai, dizer
Que eu não sou ninguém de ir
Em conversa de esquecer
A tristeza de um amor que passou
Não, eu só vou se for pra ver
Uma estrela aparecer
Na manhã de um novo amor

 The man who says "I give" does not give
Because the one who really gives does not say
The man who says "I’m going"
does not go
Because when he went he did not want to
The man who says "I am" is not
Because the one who really is does not say "I am"
The man who says "I’m here" is not
Because no one is when they want
Pitiful man who falls
Into the spell of Ossanha, traitor
Pitiful man who goes
Behind the sorcery of love
Go, go, go, go, I don’t go
Go, go, go, go, I don’t go
Go, go, go, go, I don’t go
Go, go, go, go, I don’t go
I am not someone who
Talks just to forget
The sadness of a love that is gone
No, I am only going if I will see
A star arise
In the morning of a new love
Friend sir
Xangô asked me to tell you
If it is the chant of Ossanha, don’t follow
You will regret it
Ask your Orixá
Love is only good if it is painful
Ask your Orixá
Love is only good if it is painful
Go, go, go, go, to love
Go, go, go, to suffer
Go, go, go, go, to cry
Go, go, go, to say
I am not someone who
Talks just to forget
The sadness of a love that is gone
No, I am only going if I will see
A star arise
In the morning of a new love
(1) Ossanha is a dwarf who walks at night through the forest.
Whoever sees Ossanha by chance will bring the spirit of evil and have bad luck.

can order Paulo Bellinati’s CDs online at Music Boulevard. This link will
take you directly to his discography.  And you will also be able to listen to samples
of his music and other Brazilian musicians.

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