Guida de Palma

Jazzinho´s founder Guida de Palma seems to have been destined for a career in music. She was just sixteen when bass legend and Jaco Pastorius joined her on stage at her very first gig in Paris. Blessed by this almost divine collaboration, Guida went on singing her way onto various stages across Europe supporting performers like Cab Calloway, Defunkt and Gilberto Gil. Not a bad start, but the best was yet to come.

Making the move to London from her native Portugal, Guida proved herself as a multi-talented singer, arranger and sound engineer. Her work spans the sound spectrum, and Guida worked with everyone from George Clinton to Da Lata to Kyoto Jazz Massive. But it is with Jazzinho that Guida was free to mix her many musical influences and to create music from her soul.

Though she has worked with many DJ-producers, Jazzinho shows that in the end it´s all about live music and real musicians. Working with multi-instrumentalist Michelle Chiavarini, Guida has created an album of jazzy, breezy and modern sounds that masterfully mixes Brazilian rhythms and world music influences. Guida´s sensuous and expressive voice carries Jazzinho´s music to many heights and moods. Jazzinho´s band is equally talented, with collaborators Christian Franck (guitar), Michele Chiavarini (bass, drums, percussion, guitar, keyboards), Angilley (keyboards, accordion) and more than a dozen guest artists playing flutes, saxes, trombone, trumpet, flugelhorn.

Clearly Jazzinho is on course for a brilliant and productive career in music. Jazzinho´s debut self-titled CD is a gem of jazzy tunes that exhibit a wide-range of influences with a heavy nod to Brazil. Mundovibes caught up Guida de Palma to get the scoop on her rapidly-ascending star.

Mundovibes: What are your earliest memories of music?

Jazzinho: Soul and Brazilian music played on my fathers Grundig 2track reel to reel.

Where did you grow up and how did this influence what you heard and how your heard it?

I grew up in Portugal so on the radio it was pretty much fado and brasilian. My dad was into soul, a lot of Sam & Dave, Otis Reading etc. My elder brother also initiated me to rock and psychedelic pop.

The name of your band, Jazzinho, is somewhat self-descriptive and clearly jazz is a big part of your sound. Comments?

When I went to study in France I encountered Jazz. I went to the renown Jazz school the CIM. I studied under Michel Legrand sister, Christiane, from “Double Six” and “Swingle Singers” fame. It started with Sarah Vaughan’s “Around Midnight” and Archie Shepp’s Attica Blues. I absolutely loved it and spent a lot of time afterwards immersed in it. At the same time I was drawn to Funk and R&B. I was very impressed by Chaka, Stevie, Sly etc… This was a more popular and less “cultural” sound that gave me more space to express a wilder side that I could not find in Jazz, naturally, I did mostly Funk. At the same time, my mother tongue was Portuguese and I was approached by Boto e Novos Tempos – to be his lead vocalist. When I arrived in the UK I was involved mostly with Soul and Hip Hop – BEF, Dodge City Prod etc. But, again, I was drawn to the Brazilian thing.

Though Jazzinho has been placed in the Brazilian music category, this seems to me a bit misleading since you are really creating a musical hybrid of many influences. What is the influence of Brazilian sounds and how do you blend it with your other influences?

While doing the more Soul/Funk projects I was approached by people involved in Latin Jazz and not surprisingly within months I found myself working on a few Brazilian projects – Samara, Boyz from Brazil aka Gotan Project, Da lata, Kyoto Jazz Massive etc… It seemed that it was what people wanted me to do. So, I looked at ways of incorporating my love of Jazz, Soul and Funk in a Latin format. Also I wanted to sing in my own language as well as English. That’s when I decided to create Jazzinho.

The rhythms are mainly from Brazil. Baiao, samba, bossa…the songs are harmonically interesting, some tunes like Vertigo are produced as a live session to give a more organic feel. Jazzinho used highly talented musicians playing real instruments, brass section, etc. I do a lot of live work, and I cannot see music as being the work of a single person staring at a computer screen, it has to have this live feel. But it did not stop us from adding some programming to introduce the Electronica sounds. The interaction of many influences is the key in Jazzinho.

I like to compare the way I work as what a chef in a large kitchen does: it starts with great natural ingredients – i.e. real instruments – and then everybody must be a master in his own field and work as a team.I tend to attract people who I perceive to be excellent and who are often not recognized and underrated. I feel that there is a lot of hype around, and many well respected people are often full of air and are much better at promoting themselves than delivering the goods; usually a lot of style and very little substance. The problem with giving more importance to style is that one creates “hip” music that has a very short shelf life. I would like Jazzinho be timeless, to sound as fresh in twenty years as it does now. For this you need substance; good melodies, powerful arrangements and top production. I feel I am very privileged that people like Michele Chiavarini, Chris Franck and Neil Angilley have accepted to take part in this project, they have allowed me to deliver exactly what I wanted.

What do you see as the difference between Brazilian-born music and its

European counterpart?

There are a lot of fabulous musicians in Brasil. They grow exposed to different styles coming from the different regions of that hugely rich and diverse country. Lots of brasilian musicians come to Europe and collaborate with other talented European musicians that bring their knowledge of Brazilian music with a European eye. But I still find that most European Brazil sounding music is mainly Electronica; it can often sound like wallpaper muzak. As I said earlier, it lacks the human interaction that makes Antonio Carlos Jobim, Joyce or Ed Motta’s music fascinating.

However, it is clear that very much like the Beatles brought a new angle to American Music; I can see that Europe, with people like Nicola Conte or Zuco 103 are bringing a new breath of life into Brazilian music. In fact I predict that the entire Brazilian culture, not only music but also cinema, literature or architecture will explode globally.If you look at Brazil, it is today’s melting pot, with an amazing positive chaos that allows for a lot of creativity. Besides, unlike the current dominant culture based on cynicism and grumpiness, Brazilians are not worried of sounding positive and constructive, which of course I love.

Before you formed Jazzinho, you worked as a session artist for many groups including Da Lata DJ, Dzihan & Kamien, Kyoto Jazz Massive, and others. What was this experience like and how did it evolve into your forming Jazzinho?

It’s all good. You’re learning all the time, but I still needed to do something on my own. The more I learned, the more I felt frustrated. I did not want to be a session singer; I wanted to bring my angle on things: drawing on my experience of the “Live” side of music. I guess some form of ego trip… My partner pushed me to do it.

What is your approach to music composition? Do you have everything planned ahead or do you let “happen”. How do your songs come about? Is it via jamming, composing alone or something else?

I guess it is a mix of both. During a writing session I let it happen. I go with the flow. I usually work with a mate with on guitar or piano and we jam. As we go along we build a song. Although this is the most important part of the process, it usually goes rather quickly. It is at this stage that you know if you have a good song or not. Then, once we’re happy with what we have we start structuring it. If a section is missing and it doesn’t come, we sleep on it and some time later we hook up again and finish it. We then move to a more structured phase where the production is planned and budgeted very carefully. One must be very careful that to “improve” a poor song, one adds too much fluff… Great production will never turn a bad song into a good one. For yambou we were jamming at the 606 club, for Camponesa I did it at home on my keyboard, “Sim ou nao” was done in ten minutes with Chris on guitar and the ones with Michele were putting different ideas together and structuring them.

You collaborate with a lot of London’s finest. How do these collaborations come about and what have your experiences been (both the good and bad).

As I said above, with the exception of Chris Franck from Da Lata who invited me to record on Golden after I approached him, other people heard of me and asked me to play on their stuff – KJM and Nathan Haines etc. With Neil Angilley we play sometimes in a jazz band called Samara; we created Yambou between two rehearsals to kill time.

I used to work for Michele Chiavarini as a session singer for his project Nova Fronteira, we got on extremely well and even did a few tracks together. When I wanted to create Jazzinho, he was my first port of call. Michele was essential in the project; I’d love him to be even more involved in the next album.

Is London central to what you are doing with music?

London is central to many different styles of music and certainly to mine. The sheer mix of musicians from all over the world (many from Brasil), the club scene makes it a very cool place. I can record the music I want here. I mean music with an edge, not just folklore or jazz. There I can cook my own “cuisine”; I will find all the right ingredients for Jazzinho’s fusion of styles. I am not sure that if I had entirely recorded this album in Rio I would have succeeded in getting the right mix. Also people are more open-minded and we have no “Traditions” to respect.

What inspires your music, outside of music?

Children, sun on my skin, nature. I’d like to talk of deeper things, but what comes naturally is this light poetry. Though, for the next album I will perhaps try to touch on more serious matters. Recently, the world has become a violent place where many things make me think and I would like to express them in my work. But I am not sure how to do this. All I know is that I do not want to talk only about love and blue sky when the world is taking such a sinister turn.

How do you see your music evolving — what are your goals on where it will go?

The next album will be darker and funkier. In the first one we tried a few things and invented the Jazzinho sound. This time we will build on what we have and work at “saying something”. I would also like to use more the power in my voice. This is a side of me that people do not know very well; those who have seen Jazzinho live know how power and energy are an important part of the act.

What are your latest projects and performances?

We had a lot of gigs recently, and for the moment I must focus on writing the new album. Jazzinho is about to play Edinburgh and Bratislava and we would love to come to the US. Interestingly Hot house in Chicago has just invited us and we are thinking of building a tour around this date. But it is not simple and we’re not sure we can make this happen. Fingers crossed!

How do you feel about your music being remixed. What do you like about it?

Dance Music is not my scene, but I love people taking Jazzinho’s music and turn it into something else. In fact, when we perform live, in a way we re-mix the studio album using live instruments. So not only I have no problem with this but I love it. It gives people the opportunity to get in contact with what we do, some of them get interested in the album or our concerts. Also I would really like other musicians to play Jazzinho’s music. This would be really cool…

Are you ready to take on the States?

Yes, that’s cool. USA is a huge market, but besides that, it is not very different from London where I live. Perhaps Americans will dig our sound better as it has a strong Soul element into it. Quite a few radios are playing Jazzinho at the moment. I think, in the end, people in the US have the same needs and desires than people in London, Tokyo or Paris. Jazzinho’s biggest market, at the moment is Japan and that’s a very different place. But for me it is all the same: people with daily lives to get on with, kids to feed etc… What I really like is the idea, that somewhere on the other side of the planet somebody is listening to Jazzinho on his car stereo stuck in a traffic jam. I find this very exciting to provide people with a soundtrack for their lives…

What tour plans do you have?

As I said above, we’re now trying to put together a US tour for sometime in February. Let it be known!

What are you top musical selections of the moment?

Aguinaldo Tavares “amigos and friends”. Aguinaldo is from Brazil and is almost completely unknown, but believe me, he’s the real thing. I also listen to a lot of sixties stuff like “Dizzy Gillespie on the Riviera” or Jimmy Smith’s “Portuguese soul”. I also listen a lot to Marisa, the Fado singer, and of course to a lot of Ed Motta’s Dwitza.

Where do you hang out on your down time, record shops and cafes, etc.?

I am not a party animal; I don’t go out to parties and clubs or hang out with a possie. This is not me. I have a young daughter and partner so when I’m not gigging, and I have done a lot recently, I like to stay at home with them and our cat. I know it’s not very exciting, but I have plenty of excitement when I lead Jazzinho, live onstage, complete with brass and percussions and people dancing and screaming in the audience. It is like a boxing match and takes me quite a while to recover from it. If we had a good gig I feel like Mohamed Ali after a fight: full of adrenaline and ready to take on the world. But the following day, I go back to be this unassuming woman. I actually find it quite amusing when people I see in my everyday life, at my daughter’s school or at the gym, come to see a Jazzinho gig. It is a bit like they are used to a Dr Jekyll and actually meet Mrs Hyde. Also, my involvement in music is not about buying a lot of records. I should, but I’m not. Anyway I seldom buy recent stuff but I buy old vinyls from the seventies and sixties when I chill out in Portobello Market or at Honest Jon. Another thing I like very much is cooking. That’s a true passion. My partner thinks I do music the same way I cook, he’s probably right. If I was not a musician I would probably be a chef- LOL. Interestingly Ed Motta and I have this in common, we both like good food. In fact when we spoke over the phone for the first time we discussed cooking far more than we did music.

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