Thursday, January 28, 2016

An Interview with Rique Pantoja

"[Brazilian musicians] are more open and are into listening to all kinds of music. They are positive about their own style. It just matters if the track is happening, if the musicians are burning."—Rique Pantoja

Rique Pantoja's diverse musical life has had several distinct stages. He has been a novice jazz musician touring Europe with an old legend (Chet Baker), co-founder of an acclaimed Brazilian jazz fusion band (Cama de Gato), an in-demand studio keyboardist and arranger in Brazil; and, most recently, a composer, performer and college music professor based in Los Angeles.
            Paulo Henrique Pantoja Leite was born in Rio de Janeiro in 1955. Following high school, he studied from 1977-1979 at the prestigious Berklee School of Music in Boston, where Brazilian guitarist Ricardo Silveira and drummer Pascoal Meirelles were classmates. After that, Pantoja lived in Europe and played professionally with a group called Novos Tempos (New Times). In Paris, the young keyboardist made the acquaintance of famed American jazz trumpet-player and vocalist Chet Baker (1929-1988).
             He toured Europe and recorded with Baker in the early '80s. The musical relationship of the two was an illustration of the back-and-forth that has gone on between Brazilian music and jazz since the 1950s. Baker sang in a smooth, soft, laid back voice with no vibrato and was an influence on João Gilberto and other key figures in bossa nova. Decades later, Pantoja, who had grown absorbing bossa nova as a teenager in Rio, found himself performing and recording with Baker. The latter recorded six of Rique's compositions on Chet Baker & The Boto Brazilian Quartet, and interpreted several Pantoja pieces on Rique Pantoja & Chet Baker.
            In Brazil, Rique formed the instrumental quartet Cama de Gato with Pascoal Meirelles (drums), Mauro Senise (saxophone) and Arthur Maia (bass) in 1982. They mixed a jazz-fusion sensibility with Brazilian rhythms. With Pantoja, the group released the albums Cama de Gato (1986), Guerra Fria (1988), and Sambaíba (1990) for the Som da Gente label. Their albums sold extremely well for instrumental music in Brazil and they performed in Europe as well as New York's Town Hall. Maia, who didn't study music in Boston with Pantoja and Meirelles, playfully titled one of their tunes "Por Que Não Fui à Berklee?" (Why Didn't I Go to Berklee?). Pantoja left the band in 1991 and was replaced by Jota Moraes. Cama de Gato has continued until today with differing lineups. They still record Rique's compositions.

The back cover of Cama de Gato's debut album

            During his time with Cama de Gato, Pantoja was in great demand as a studio keyboardist, and appeared on albums in the '80s and early '90s by a wide array of Brazilian artists, including Gilberto Gil, Gal Costa, Ricardo Silveira, Robertinho Silva, Torcuato Mariano, Tim Maia, Marina, Raphael Rabello, Raimundo Fagner, Alcione, Wagner Tiso, Paulinho da Viola, Joanna, Eduardo Dusek, and Raul Mascarenhas. He played keyboards on a landmark rock song, Barao Vermelho's Bete Balanço" (1984), a huge hit for the band and their lead singer Cazuza. Pantoja played on five songs on Milton Nascimento's Yauaretê, launched internationally by Columbia in 1987.
            Along the way, Pantoja also released several solo albums, including Rique Pantoja featuring Ernie Watts, and De La Pra Ca, which featured Watts, Silveira, Lee Ritenour and Don Grusin.
            In July 1991, Pantoja moved from Rio permanently to Los Angeles. He had begun a spiritual transformation three years earlier while in Rio, and in the '90s he began to focus more of his efforts on Christian music. He has recorded or performed since then with Christian music artists Tommy Walker, Helen Baylor, Israel Houghton, Bebe Winans, Bob Darlene Zschech, Toomy Coomes, Bill Batstone, Annie Barbour, Linda McCrary, Bené Gomes, Bob Fitts, Kirk Whalum, and Kim Pauley. He also has performed for many years in the band at the Christian Assembly church in Eagle Rock, a neighborhood in northeastern Los Angeles.
            In recent years, he has worked in commercials and soundtracks; he was the composer, arranger and keyboardist for the song "By the Sea" for the movie Jungle 2 Jungle (1997). He has released Christian-themed albums such as Night Prayer: Oração da Noite with Tommy Walker (2005), and appeared on works like vocalist Zoe Theodorou's The Essence of Life (2005), for which he was the keyboardist and arranger. His and Theodorou's song "I Believed It" from that album won Canada's Covenant Award for Jazz/Blues Song of the Year.
            He has also led his own instrumental group, the Rique Pantoja Quartet, which in 2011 performed in eight cities in Russia, among other gigs. Pantoja now teaches music as well, most recently at Biola University and LAMP (the Los Angeles School of Music and Performance), in Southern California.

The profile above was written recently, while the interview below took place in 1989 as Pantoja's solo recording career was taking off.

Chris: You appeared on a couple of guitarist Ricardo Silveira's albums. And the two of you have played as studio musicians for many of the same people, such as Milton Nascimento.
Rique: Ricardo Silveira and I used to live together; we both studied at Berklee.

Chris: Do you think you guys were "Americanized" at all by studying there?
Rique: Definitely I'm Brazilian. I grew up there, listened to bossa nova and choro.
I got turned on to [bossa] when I was 15. [There were great] instrumental players like Tamba Trio, with Luis Eça. Manfredo Fest was a great player.

Chris: Before Cama de Gato, at the start of the '80s you were playing in Europe with Chet Baker. How did that come about?
Rique: When I lived in Rome and Paris, I was playing with Novos Tempos. We were Brazilian and French musicians. We were all over Paris, and used to play seven nights a week. That's how we met Chet Baker. He was playing in a club next door, and he came over to watch us. He sat in and really liked the music. He had a producer, Yves Chamberland, and he wanted to make a record with us. We invited Chet to be part of the project and it actually became Chet's record [Chet Baker and the Boto Brazilian Quartet, recorded in 1980].

The back cover of Rique Pantoja and Chet Baker

Chris: Did you enjoy playing with Baker? It must have been a thrill for a young musician.
Rique: It was a great experience playing with him. After that [record], he called me from Rome and said, 'let's go on the road.' So we started doing an island off Naples, then Naples, Sicily, Milan, many places. Chet influenced a lot of people. Caetano [Veloso] told me he used to listen so much to Chet Baker. João Gilberto listened to him. An influence from that cool kind of singing.

Chet Baker performing Pantoja's "Arborway"

Chris: What about his heroin addiction? Was he using while you were playing with him?
Rique: Sometimes it was hard. He would go back into the drugs. It was a sad thing. But his music had such a strong heart. If I had to show him a tune and ask him what he thought, he would close his eyes [and listen]. He didn't listen to music and talk [at the same time]. Then he would tune back into the planet. He was a very nice, sweet person—from somewhere else.

Chet Baker performing Pantoja's "So Hard to Know"

Chris: Was he a mentor for you?
Rique: I definitely have been influenced by him. I learned from him. He would tell me little concepts and things about improvisation. I remember once he was telling me that for him, improvisation should always start with a melody a little kid could sing. You can burn and play fast, but it should start with simple motifs and build up from there. There were a lot of good things like that and, also, lots of sad moments.

Chris: Can you talk about your other jazz and pop influences?
Rique: I love jazz music. I listened to Gil Evans and Herbie Hancock, and at the same time grew up singing Beatles tunes, James Taylor, Carol King, Stevie Wonder, Leon Russell.

Chris: And Jobim?
Rique: I listened to Jobim, Satie, Debussy, Ravel. My father used to play a lot of that. I loved those harmonies.

Chris: How would you classify the types of songs that you write for your solo albums?
Rique: One side of my compositions is really pop or romantic. I try to keep the two repertoires separate. My solo work is more pop, maybe easier to listen to than Cama de Gato. My solo work is hard for me to label. I wrote a lot of ballads.

Chris: What about for the group?
Rique: I wrote most of the stuff for Cama de Gato. We're more on the jazz side, but we play maracatus, samba, baião. The rhythms are more Brazilian, but with modern, avant-garde harmonies, dissonant.

Cama de Gato performing Pantoja's "Pé de Moleque"

Chris: You guys were well received when you played in the U.S. recently.
Rique: We got a standing ovation at New York Town Hall concerts.

Chris: Why do you think Brazilian music has been so well received recently in the United States? You, Ricardo Silveira, Milton Nascimento, Djavan, Ivan Lins and many others have been releasing albums in North America.
Rique: I think what we [my generation] have to offer is fresh music, not trying to compare or judge. I think music has been too pasteurized, the patterns are cliché. And Brazilian music has such a strong vitality. It's like a fresh fountain and people have been drinking there. Pat Metheny gets a lot of ideas from Toninho Horta or Milton Nascimento. And there's Dave Grusin, Al Jarreau [who have also been influenced by it].

Chris: Do you think Americans or Europeans can hear the difference between what you do and what some U.S. jazz fusion bands play?
Rique: I played at Jazzmania [a club in Rio]. Americans sometimes come up and say they think the music kind of sounds like Al Jarreau or Spyro Gyra. But it isn't the same as their music.

Chris: And it's complicated because a lot of the North American groups have been influenced by Brazilian music. American music, from rock to jazz, has always absorbed rhythms and styles from elsewhere.
Rique: We [Brazilian musicians] don't have the structure to get the music out there. Our [marketing] is very primitive in a way. Pat Metheny or other big names sell thousands or millions of records. People relate to those tunes more. People don't know who Toninho Horta is, who had a big influence on Pat Metheny's music, but they know who Pat Metheny is. So if Toninho came here [to the U.S.], they would probably say, "Hey he sounds like Pat Metheny."

Chris: A lot of jazz musicians, like Metheny and his partner Lyle Mays, have acknowledged the influence of Brazilian music on their work. But the average listener doesn't know that.
Rique: Brazil is still known for Carnival, samba, but it's not just that. It's so rich. There are so many fusions we can get. I think we [Brazilians] have a lot to give to music in general. The speed of information is so fast now. People relate to music from all over the planet. Pretty soon it will be hard to say this is typically Brazilian. The new streams are tied to each other. Soon it will just be tendencies. 'This has a salsa flavor with Brazilian harmonies,' as an example.

Cama de Gato performs Pantoja's "Melancia"

Chris: Does your music have any similarities with any of your contemporaries, like  Ricardo Silveira or Marcos Ariel?
Rique: Each has a different approach, a different way. Marcos is very Brazilian, more [steeped] in tradition. He plays choros. Very rich, fresh. Ricardo's approach is more that of a guitar player. I also compose there [with a guitar], but my main thing is the piano. The voice element in my music is really strong as well. I did vocalese with Cama de Gato and on my first solo album [on "Lua Nova"]. I like to use the voice as an instrument, doubling on soprano sax, going to more of a head tone in singing. I learned from playing jazz, listening to a lot of things. It's a different way of doing it, my own way.

Chris: It's hard for jazz and instrumental musicians to compete with rock, in any country.
Rique: Nothing sells like that [rock].

Chris: It's always been tough for instrumental musicians, even in the bossa nova days.
Rique: A lot of musicians from that generation became hardened. Bossa nova was a type of music that kind of got lost when the Beatles and Roberto Carlos came. They had to go back to nightclubs, piano bars, things like that. It's sad because many of them are still great musicians. There is a new breed of musicians from Brazil now. People are more open and are into listening to all kinds of music. They are positive about their own style. It just matters if the track is happening, if the musicians are burning.


Extended Discography
(U.S. Releases unless otherwise noted)

Rique Pantoja
Rique Pantoja featuring Ernie Watts*. WEA (Brazil), 1985.
[*released in the U.S. by WEA Latina in 1986].
De La Pra Ca. Som Livre (Brazil), 1989.
Love Brought Us Here, Pony Canyon (Japan), 1990.
Live in L.A., NET Records, 2001.

Rique Pantoja & Chet Baker
Rique Pantoja & Chet Baker*, Warner Music Latina, 1993.
[first released in Brazil in 1987]

Rique Pantoja & Tommy Walker
Night Prayer: Oração da Noite. Net Records (Brazil), 2005.

Cama de Gato
Cama de Gato. Som da Gente (Brazil), 1986.
Guerra Fria. Som da Gente (Brazil), 1988.
Sambaíba. Som da Gente (Brazil), 1990.

Select Rique Pantoja Songs Recorded by Others
Yasuko Agawa with Ivan Lins. "More and More." Amizade, JVC (Japan), 1994.
Chet Baker. "Arborway." Four: Chet Baker in Tokyo. King Records (Germany), 1989.
_______. Various songs. Rique Pantoja & Chet Baker, Warner Music Latina, 1993.
Ron Benise. "Sonata in E." Carnaval. Rosanegra Music, 2003.
Cama de Gato. "Arpoador." Dança da Lua. Line Records (Brazil), 1993.
_______. "Sweet Dance." Amendoim Torrado. Albatroz (Brazil), 1998.
_______. "Bimini." Agua de Chuva. Perfil Musical (Brazil), 2003.
Hélio Delmiro. "Inaiá," "Romã." Romã. Line Records (Brazil), 1990.
Kali. "Pitu." Kali. Som da Gente (Brazil), 1985.
Kevyn Lettau. "Foundation of Humanity." Another Season. Samson Records, 2001.
Arthur Maia. "Cama de Gato." Planeta Música. Cabeçadura Records (Brazil), 2002.
Tim Maia. "Sem Volta." Somos America. Continental (Brazil), 1987.
Raul Mascarenhas. "Bem Verão," "Um Dia Mellow." Musician. WEA (Brazil), 1988.
_______. "Voo Livre." Sabor Carioca. Chorus Estúdio/Som Livre (Brazil), 1990.
Christine Miller. "Christmas Time," "Miracle Morning." All is Bright. R.M.I. Records, 2005.
Russ Miller. "Brincadeira," Be-Pop," "Inaiá," "Salseada," "Frigiano." Cymbalism. R.M.I., 2006.
_______. "Mosquito Bites," "The Last December," "Rhythm Conversations." Arrival. R.M.I., 2007.
Christopher Parkening & Jubiliation. "Lamento," "Ciranda Bambolê." Jubilation. EMI, 2007.
Raphael Rabello & Romero Lubambo. "Melancia." Shades of Rio. Chesky Records, 1992.
Mauro Senise. "Tudo ou Nada." Mauro Senise. Visom (Brazil), 1988.
Ricardo Silveira. "Story Teller." Story Teller. Kokopelli Records, 1995.
Zoe Theodorou. "Shining Star," "Life Without You," "I Believed It." The Essence of Life. Gruvu Records, 2005.
Trio da Paz. "Melancia." Partido Out. Malandro Records, 1998.
Paulinho Trompete. "De Lá Pra Cá." Um Sopro de Brasil. Visom (Brazil), 1990.
Tommy Walker. "Te Alabamos." Live at Home. Get Down Records, 1999.
Ernie Watts. "What Do You See?" Stand Up. Odyssey Records, 1992.

Appearances on Chet Baker albums
Four: Chet Baker in Tokyo. King Records (Germany), 1989.
Chet Baker & The Boto Brazilian Quartet.  Dreyfus Jazz Line, 1991.

Select Participations (as keyboardist or arranger) on International Albums
Yasuko Agawa with Ivan Lins. Amizade, JVC (Japan), 1994.
Torcuato Mariano. Paradise Station. Windham Hill, 1994.
Russ Miller. Arrival. R.M.I., 2007.
Brenda Russell. "Please Felipe" Paris Rain. Hidden Beach, 2000.
Steps Ahead. "Red Neon Go Or Give." N.Y.C., Intuition, 1988.
Robertinho Silva. "Lilla." Speak No Evil. Milestone Records, 1994.
Zoe Theodorou. The Essence of Life. Gruvu Records, 2005.

Select Participations (as keyboardist or arranger) on Brazilian Recordings
Barão Vermelho. "Bete Balanço." Maior Abandanado. Som Livre, 1984.
Chico Buarque. "Brejo da Cruz." Chico Buarque. Philips, 1984.
Gal Costa. "Topazio." Profana.  RCA, 1984.
_______. "The Laziest Gal in Town." Gal.  BMG Ariola, 1992.
Hélio Delmiro. Hélio Delmiro in Concert: Romã. Line Records, 1991.
Eduardo Dusek. Cantando no Banheiro. Philips/Polygram, 1982.
Gilberto Gil. Um Banda Um. Warner, 1981.
Guinga. Simples e Absurdo. Velas, 1991.
Kleiton & Kledir. Kleiton & Kledir. Ariola, 1983.
Edu Lobo & Chico Buarque. "Ciranda da Ballarina." O Grande Circo Místico. Som Livre, 1983.
Tim Maia. "Sem Volta." Somos America. Continental, 1987.
Raul Mascarenhas. Musician. WEA, 1988.
_______. Sabor Carioca. Chorus Estudio/Som Livre, 1990.
Pascoal Meirelles. "Anna." Anna. Independent, 1985.
_______. Paula. CID, 1990.
Milton Nascimento. Anima. Ariola, 1982.
_______. Yauaretê, CBS, 1987.
_______. "Feito Nos." Miltons. CBS, 1988.
Angela RoRo. "Querem Nos Matar." Polydor/Philips, 1982.
Mauro Senise. Mauro Senise. Visom, 1988.
Paulinho Trompete. Um Sopro de Brasil. Visom, 1990.

More Interviews with Brazilian Musicians
The Brazilian Music Book by Chris McGowan

The Leading Introduction to Brazilian Music
The Brazilian Sound by Chris McGowan and Ricardo Pessanha 


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