California and Israel have been used as inspiration for several
irrigation plans in the Northeast. Until now, however, no plan has gone beyond the drawing
By Brazzil Magazine
All great works of music reflect and reveal their composers. We need no
biography to tell us that the personality and environment of Bach differed from that of
Debussy, or that the habits, thoughts, and desires of John Cage were different from those
of Villa-Lobos. The extraordinary piece of music has not been written which did not
reveal something of its composer, something of his experiences, personality, and attitude
toward life. When a composer has so clearly indicated his instincts, we can surely
say we know something about him. Still, it is extremely difficult to describe the
extraordinary Egberto Gismonti.
A sage figure in Brazilian music with an intense concern for questions of color and
sonority, Gismonti’s technique is as significant as that which he knows by nature, and his
genius rests primarily upon his ability to use his natural gifts. His virtuosity as
well as the remarkable innovations he has made to enhance the expressive capabilities of
the guitar are well known, and these kinds of breakthroughs can only come about as a
result of a player’s compulsion to express something which was heretofore not considered
part of the technical and or emotional spectrum of the instrument. Gismonti is a
multi-instrumentalist (piano, cello, guitars, vocals, percussion, flute, the orchestra)
who can coax incomparable loveliness from what would be, in lesser hands, impersonal
Accordingly, when we listen to Gismonti we meet his experiences and are seized by
phrases or orchestral voicings that wholly express faith, exultation, or hopeless longing.
We are gripped by a turn of phrase or a rhythmic figure that conjures the festive mood
of samba, a Carnaval frevo, or the melancholy of the sertão (backlands).
We are awed by melodic lines and splashes of tone color that capture the dignity,
grandeur, and energy of the Amazon. That Egberto Gismonti has the talent, technique, and
artistic maturity to do almost anything he wants is apparent from the scope of his musical
explorations, which range from solos and duets to jazz ensembles and from film and ballet
scores to full orchestral works.
Gismonti is one of those comparatively rare artists who can claim to have achieved
commercial success without any sacrifice of musical integrity. Each new recording has
brought the unforeseen, something a little beyond the edge of our hearing. But as
the range of our own experiences widen, so it seems that Egberto Gismonti’s breadth widens
so that we understand his music and ourselves better. His work overall possesses an
enduring vitality, a quality called universality, and will be understood and appreciated
for generations to come. It follows that a man who can touch so many in so large a
range of emotional experience must himself have a full life.
Gismonti’s mother was born in Catania, Sicily. His father was born in Beirut,
Lebanon. Egberto Gismonti was born in December 1947 in the small town of Carmo in Rio de
Janeiro state. It was a musical family and by the age of six Egberto was studying
piano at Conservatório Brasileiro de Música. After 15 years of studying the classical
repertoire in Brazil, the young virtuoso went to Paris to immerse himself in modern music.
He was accepted as a student by composer Jean Barraqué, a disciple of Anton Webern
and Schoenberg. Gismonti also studied with the foremost musical analyst of this
century, Nadia Boulanger (1887-1979), a magnet who drew most of the young composers of the
time including Aaron Copland, Astor Piazzolla, and Philip Glass to Paris to study with
her. Perhaps the greatest teacher of her day, Mme. Boulanger encouraged Gismonti to
write the collective Brazilian experience into his music.
When Gismonti returned to Brazil, he became absorbed in choro and taught himself
how to play guitar by listening to the solo recordings of Baden Powell and by transcribing
sections of Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier. Accustomed to the wider range of the
piano and constricted by the conventional six string instrument, Gismonti designed guitars
with 8, 10, 12, and 14 strings, thereby expanding the intervalic and harmonic potential of
the instrument. Approaching the fretboard as if it were a keyboard, Gismonti gives
listeners the impression that there is more than a single guitar player. Gismonti’s
sojourn in the Xingu region of the Amazon basin with the Yualapeti Indian tribe and his
relationship with Yualapeti shaman, Sapain, an experience that has had lasting affects on
Gismonti’s approach to life and music, is well documented musically in tunes like
"Yualapeti" and "Sapain" and in the recordings Danças das Cabeças
(Dances of the Heads), Sol de Meio Dia (Mid-day Sun), which he dedicated to the
Xingu, and Duas Vozes (Two Voices).
The artistic career of Egberto Gismonti spans three decades, its major phases
distinguished by the company he recorded for, the ensemble format he wrote for, and the
players he worked with. Two of Gismonti’s quintessential ensembles from the late
1970’s and early 1980’s were his Brazilian group Academia de Danças: Mauro Senise
(saxophone and flutes), Zeca Assumpção (bass) and Nene (drums and percussion); and the
trio with bassist Charlie Haden and saxophonist Jan Garbarek. A casual listening to
the harmonic language and instrumental textures of "Palhaço" from the Mágico
recording, or to the ritardando at the conclusion of "Loro" from the double
album Sanfona/Solo, will convince even the most indiscriminate ears that these
ensembles were thoroughly integrated units comprised of outstanding musicians who,
although playing from their own powerful centers, spoke with one voice. Interestingly,
in concert the ending of "Loro" was often performed by Academia de Danças
With the release of Meeting Point, Mestre Gismonti has crossed the threshold
that was anticipated with his 1993 release Música de Sobrevivência (Music of
Survival). Binding together philosophy, knowledge, passion, and humor, Meeting
Point is an orchestral work that juxtaposes dramatically dense textures with quiet
passages of austere beauty and clarity. It is a work that empowers the listener to
detach from the commonplace and see himself as part of universal life. The string
writing is intense and lyrical, percussion and woodwind parts pointed and impetuous, the
brass is aggressive, bringing to mind the work of both Stravinsky and Edgar Varèse. Yet
the music is beautiful, sometimes extraordinarily so.
For the recording of Meeting Point, Gismonti persuaded Manfred Eicher of ECM to
build a special studio in Vilnius, Lithuania, specifically so the composer could work with
the Lithuanian State Symphony Orchestra, an exhilarating ensemble that displays awesome
fearlessness in the presence of challenging new music. The seven pieces for piano
and orchestra convey the composer’s concern for a peaceful co-existence and also pay
homage to sixteenth century Italian composer Don Carlo Gesualdo, to master of modern music
Igor Stravinsky, and to the French poet Arthur Rimbaud. Harry Zeitlin’s arresting
"black and white" cover photo adds more impassioned humility with a shot that
parallels his contribution to Música de Sobrevivência. In many ways
Zeitlin’s photos are reminiscent of works by American Ansel Adams. Without a doubt,
Meeting Point unveils in the refined brilliance of its orchestration the true
musical value and genuine intuition of a master. There seem to be no horizons for
Before his USA/Canada tour Mestre Gismonti had to prepare scores and rehearse not only
his trio but also three different Brazilian orchestras for eight concerts at home. In
addition, he was preparing for three chamber orchestra concerts in Barcelona, Spain. This
schedule kept our interview brief, yet it allowed time enough to reveal something of the
personality and attitude toward life of this master of Brazilian music.
BrazzilMestre, can you tell me a little about your orchestral performances in
Brazil prior to your tour in the United States and Canada?
EgbertoYes, this will be the second time that I’ll be doing an orchestral
tour in Brazil. As on the first tour, the sponsor is Banco do Brasil. The
concerts have a dual purpose: first, to play the music; and second, to present to the
Brazilian people the "European instrument" (the orchestra) playing Brazilian
music. As you know, Brazilian culture is very open and full of different
influences, but symphonic music is not really popular and is rarely heard on the radio and
TV stations. Before trying to communicate any ideas I’m going to concentrate on
giving my audience the opportunity to get to know a little more about Brazilian music
through the symphony orchestra.
BrazzilDo you feel that it is important to establish a Brazilian symphonic
repertoire distinct and separate from the European tradition?
EgbertoIt’s important to develop Brazilian music in general, but especially
with regard to the symphony orchestra. I have a large interest in Brazilian
culture, and I have been preoccupied with its development for a long time. To the
world, Brazil represents a real mixing of races. I’m not talking about living
together but about breeding togetherBrazilians, Indians, Europeans, Africans.
Because of this merging we are closer to the broader picture of life and to a more
BrazzilIs there a future for orchestral music today outside the film industry?
EgbertoI have never used the orchestra for any of my film scores. On
the other hand, I have written many pieces for orchestras all over the world. Actually,
according to my information and cultural point of view, the orchestra has no relation to
the film industry. It is possible to see these two "media" or
"languages" living together, but they are completely independent.
BrazzilHave you been writing any string quartets?
EgbertoYes, and Im doing various chamber orchestra
compositions. The Emerson String Quartet has five pieces called Música para
Quarteto de Cordas and has been working on them for the past two years. The
Elektra String Quartet from London has already performed three of my string quartets.
BrazzilAre you still planning to record the poems of Manoel de Barros with
EgbertoYes, the music is already written and the actress Cassia Kiss is
preparing her part. We have plans to perform the premiere in Portugal next
September with the Orquestra Metropolitana de Lisboa conducted by Mr. Miguel Graça Moura.
BrazzilWould you like to conduct the orchestra?
EgbertoAs you know, Im a composer, and I still feel the need to develop
myself. I have been writing without stopping. Also, I know what it means to
be conductor. Because of that, I would have to say that Im not prepared.
BrazzilYour work before ECM seems like one stage in your career, and the ECM
recordings up to Meeting Point another stage. Do you feel that Meeting
Point marks the beginning of a new stage in your recording career?
EgbertoMaybe. This is a difficult question. Im not able
to talk about the future. I would prefer to say that Meeting Point
represents one more window on my music.
BrazzilWhy did you decide on Lithuanian State Symphony Orchestra?
EgbertoThey have a fresh feeling, thorough technique, an open heart for the
music of different cultures, plus a certain humility in the face of demanding new music.
BrazzilDid they have any difficulty reading the music?
EgbertoNot at all. This is a very high level symphonic orchestra full of
tradition. They had no difficulty reading the music at all. They received the music
two months before the recording dates. I have no idea how long they spent
rehearsing, but Im emphatic about their performance.
BrazzilHearing "Frevo" in an orchestral format is an incredible
experience. Have you orchestrated other earlier compositions?
EgbertoI have already orchestrated "Infância" and
"Forrobodó" among others.
BrazzilAre you planning to record more of your symphonic repertoire with
Lithuanian State Symphony Orchestra?
EgbertoOur complicity during the first close contact gave me a lot of hope
for new projects. Any new project with them, however, will need the
"understanding" of ECM or any other company.
BrazzilYou were once offered a substantial contract with a record company in
the United States. Why did you turn it down?
EgbertoYes, Atlantic Records in 1975 or 76, when Nesuhi Ertegun, one of
the founder/owners, was president of the company. The main problem was making a decision
between Atlantics very substantial contract versus ECMs very artistic purpose.
As you know, I decided for ECM.
BrazzilIn 1984 you started the Carmo record label to record more experimental
works and to provide a record company for Brazilian musicians who had few opportunities to
be recorded. Is the Carmo record label still active?
EgbertoYes, Carmo is still active. The main problem has been finding a
way to survive with all the German taxes. Thats the reason we have released
so few albums.
BrazzilMany ballet companies in Brazil have commissioned your work. What about
North American and European companies?
EgbertoBeside the many Brazilian companies, I have written works for
Tans-Forum, Colognes Opera Ballet, Laura Dean Dancers and Musicians, and the Tubing
Dancers. I love to write for ballet and I hope to get more and more commissions.
BrazzilYou have written in so many different genres. You travel,
perform, and record so much. How do you find the time for everything?
EgbertoI have been working professionally for 30 years. When you
divide the number of records, concerts, and film scores by this number, it appears more
BrazzilWhat inspires you?
EgbertoAgain, I must go back to the Brazilian culture. This is the
basic fountain or source that drives my music.
BrazzilAre there any plans to publish your music?
EgbertoActually there was a songbook released a few years ago in Europe. At
this time Im studying the possibility of putting on the Web, for free, all
scoresincluding the orchestral, chamber music, and solos.
BrazzilI know that you analyzed modern composers with Nadia Boulanger, but
what did you study with Jean Barraqué?
EgbertoI studied twelve-tone music with Mr. Barraqué. He showed me
the vertical and horizontal dimensions of serial music and the various ways to go through
them. After my studies, I came back to Brazil and realized my cultures
distance from twelve-tone music.
BrazzilYou play an 8, 10, 12, and 14-string guitar. Why so many
EgbertoBasically, Im a piano player that plays guitar. Because
of the pianos range I have tuned my ears to bigger intervals than the guitars
intervals. Thats the main reason I use more strings. The tunings are
different for each guitar, but all of them have high strings on the 7th and 9th.
BrazzilDo you feel that choro is now an outdated genre?
EgbertoChoro represents the foundation of our music. To play,
to understand, to be, to think Brazilian music, everyone must cross by the concept and the
music of choro.
BrazzilYou have recorded the music of Villa-Lobos. Why not Pixinguinha?
EgbertoI have been thinking about exactly that for a long time. This
could be my next CD project.
BrazzilMestre, the Duo Assad and jazz trumpet player Wallace Roney, among so
many others, have recorded your music. Are there recordings of your compositions by
other musicians that you particularly like or dislike?
EgbertoThere are a lot of good versions of my music by different musicians.
Im very open to new experiences, and I used to be very attentive to all these
different interpretations. Gil Goldstein and group did a beautiful
"Loro." John McLaughlin and Paco De Lucia a beautiful "Frevo."
Marcos Pereira and Ulisses Rocha recorded "Infância" and "Loro."
Leny Andrade, "Prum Samba." Elis Regina, "Sonho." Wayne
Shorter and also Airto Moreira recorded "Café." Marlui Miranda did
"Calipso." Hermeto Pascoal and Flora Purim, "Sonho." Quaternaglia,
"Forró." There are so many friends developing my music that I prefer to
BrazzilThe album you made with Paul Horn, Altura do Sol, was produced
by Teo Macero, who produced many recordings by Miles Davis. Ron Carter, who was a
member of the famous Miles quintet, was also on the date. And it was recorded on
Columbia, the label Miles recorded for. Did you ever have the desire to play with
EgbertoAs a Brazilian, living in Rio de Janeiro, involved with Brazilian
culture, playing with Brazilian musicians most of the time, I had no time to dream of
playing with Miles. But I always got good vibrations and had really good
experiences from playing with Ron Carter, Paul Horn, Wayne Shorter, Charlie Haden, Herbie
Hancock, and other North American musicians. For sure, with Miles, the experience would
have been equally enjoyable.
BrazzilIn July 1989 you played the International Jazz Festival of Montreal
with Charlie Haden. Will there be a CD released of the concert?
EgbertoThe negotiations between our labels have been very difficult. I
love this concert and have my own homemade CD from that date.
BrazzilIs the group Academia de Danças part of the past or would you consider
working with this ensemble and in this format again?
EgbertoNot in the same format or with the same musicians. Life is
change, music is change, desire is change.
BrazzilCan you tell me a little about the chemistry between the players of the
trio and the music you will be playing when you come to California?
EgbertoIll leave that for you to write about.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org
The official Gismonti Website is at:
Egbertos discography is vast, both as leader and sideman. Thus, I have
The following Websites have more comprehensive discographies:
Additionally, there is a terrific song cross reference at:
Label Release Date
Meeting Point …………………ECM ……………1997
ZigZag …………………………..ECM……………. 1996
Música de Sobrevivência …ECM …………….1993
Infância………………………… ECM …………….1991
Dança dos Escravos ………..ECM……………. 1989
Feixe de Luz …………………..EMI ……………..1988
Trem Caipira…………………. EMI…………….. 1987
Duas Vozes …………………….ECM ……………..1985
Sanfona/Solo…………………. ECM …………….1981
Folk Songs ……………………..ECM …………….1981
Mágico…………………………… ECM …………….1980
Solo……………………………….. ECM …………….1979
Sol do Meio Dia………………. ECM ……………1978
Danças das Cabeças…………. ECM …………..1977
Selected recordings as sideman,
producer, or conductor:
Label Release date
Daniel Taubkin…………………..Brazsil …………………….Blue
Raiz de Pedra …………………..Diário de Bordo ……….Enja
Os Paralamas do Sucesso ….Severino …………………..EMI
Robertinho Silva ………………Speak No Evil ……………Milestone
Maria Bethânia ………………..Canto do Pajé ……………Verve
Nando Carneiro………………. Violão………………………. Carmo
Naná Vasconcelos ……………Saudades ……………………ECM
Paul Horn ……………………….Altura do Sol ………………Columbia
order Egberto Gismonti’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 from
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