Pianist Bert Dalton’s Brazil Project is on a mission: to make the music of Brazilian composer/
pianist Manfredo Fest more widely known and appreciated. Dalton first crossed paths with the late Fest (1936–1999), one of the innovators of the bossa nova movement in the late 1950s, more than 30 years ago. He was immediately and permanently smitten with Fest’s energetic music. He’s played it ever since, wanting to expose a wider audience to its seamless blending of bop influences and Brazilian pulse.
For this special mission, Dalton is augmenting his Brazil Project personnel—Patty Stephens
(vocals), Rob “Milo” Jaramillo (bass), John Bartlit (drums), and Frank Leto (percussion)—with Ali Ryerson, one of the world’s top jazz flutists, and Phill Fest, son of Manfredo and a guitarist whose albums place high on the jazz charts. The septet will present three concerts titled “Dig This Samba!” this week—in Albuquerque, Santa Fe, and El Paso—with the El Paso concert being recorded live for an upcoming album.
From Classical to Jazz and Bossa Nova
Blind from birth, Manfredo Fest was born into a musical family in Porto Alegre, Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil. His father, a German emigré, was a concert pianist who also chaired the music
department in Porto Alegre’s university. From a young age, Fest studied classical piano, reading from Braille charts, but it was his encounter, at age 17, with the music of jazz pianists George Shearing and Bill Evans that ultimately channeled his talents elsewhere.
During his college years, he found steady work playing bossa nova in São Paulo, and in 1963, two years after graduating, he released the first of several well-received trio recordings. He emigrated to the United States in 1967 and worked with Sergio Mendes, becoming the musical director for Mendes’s Sexteto Bossa Rio. Moving to Chicago in the early ’70s, Fest played on the Playboy Club circuit and recorded several critically acclaimed albums. In the late ’80s, he moved to Florida and began to find a wider audience in the early ’90s with a series of bop-flavored albums on the Concorde
Picante label. He passed away in 1999 while waiting for a liver transplant.
Jazz at the Playboy Club
Dalton first heard Manfredo Fest in the late ’70s in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, when the two were playing on the Playboy Club circuit. “The Playboy Club there had a showroom upstairs and a jazz club downstairs,” says Dalton. “He would come through from time to time. I would work that room, and he would work it, and I always made sure I went out and checked him out. I loved his music. I loved his approach.”
A longtime fan of Latin music, Dalton was taken with the way that Fest combined the richness of Brazilian music with an incredible classical technique and the influences of American jazz. Since those days, Dalton has always kept a few of Fest’s tunes in his repertoire, playing them with a variety of different groups.
Here’s an Idea
A few years ago, Dalton was doing a
master class with Ali Ryerson, when he learned that she had done a Brazilian recording some time ago that had gone out of print. Dalton spoke with her after class and suggested they do a project
together. “And I know a great composer whose music has not been heard enough,” he told her. Ryerson, too, fell in love with Fest’s music, and the game was on.
“It just seemed natural to get ahold of Phill, who’s a marvelous guitarist and composer in his own right,” says Dalton. Phill Fest signed on to play, and he added an editorial contribution, as well. “Phill has gone over my transcriptions of Manfredo’s charts with a fine-toothed comb,” Dalton says. “Fortunately, most of it was accurate, but he had a lot of very important details, little corrections and things, so we feel pretty good that we’ve got accurate arrangements.”
Let’s Do It Live
Originally conceived as a studio recording, the project took a turn in a new direction when Dalton did a project at the University of Texas at El Paso earlier this year. UTEP’s recording engineer, who runs the commercial music
program, gave Dalton a tour of the university’s Fox Recital Hall, which is set up for live recording.
“The light bulb just went off,” says Dalton. “Why don’t we take the risk and do it live?”
Dalton scheduled concerts in Albuquerque and Santa Fe so the group would have the chance to play two full
concerts before the live recording date.
A Step Forward for Brazil Project
Dalton is excited about what the project means for the Brazil Project, which has been working together for three years, exploring, performing, and
creating Brazilian music and Brazilian jazz.
Dalton, Jaramillo, and Bartlit, who have been working together as a trio for 12 years, bring a strong rhythmic foundation to the band, and Dalton cannot say enough good things about his band mates.
“Patty has such soul, and it’s just marvelous to hear her grow into the artist she is. She’s
fantastic,” he says. “And Frank—my god, he’s an encyclopedia on not only Brazilian music but African rhythms and Afro-Cuban rhythms. He’s so knowledgeable and basically gives us a real authentic flavor. Between the percussion and the drums, it sounds like a street samba school. Milo is probably the most versatile bass player I’ve ever worked with. He just nails every style. Latin music he has a wonderful feel for. What he brings to Brazilian music is just incredible.”
The common characteristic among all of them is a genuine love for the music, and that comes across in their performances. That love may help explain how all the pieces of this complex project just fell into place so easily. “This project just feels blessed,” says Dalton. “You know you’re on the right track when all the doors open up.”
Getting on the right track may have something to do with the ultimately unselfish objective of the project, as noted by Dalton: “We really want to do right by Manfredo.”
Dig This Samba!
Bert Dalton’s Brazil Project, with Ali Ryerson and Phill Fest
Friday, December 4, 7:30 p.m.
Albuquerque Center for Spiritual Living
2801 Louisiana NE
Tickets $20 in advance through Brown Paper Tickets
or $25 at the door.
Saturday, December 5, 7:30 p.m.
Scottish Rite Center, Santa Fe463 Paseo de Peralta
Tickets $20 in advance through Tickets Santa Fe or $25 at the door
Sunday, December 6, 7:30 p.m.
Fox Recital Hall, University of Texas at El Paso
Tickets at the door
For more information, call 915-747-5000
© 2015 Mel Minter. All rights reserved.