Friday, August 12, 2011

The Calgary Scene - Rubim DeToledo

Today's "Calgary Scene" interview features a frequent musical partner of mine, bassist Rubim DeToledo - one of Calgary's busiest sidemen and also an accomplished composer and band leader in his own right.

1) Can you tell us about your musical background? How did you learn to play Jazz?

At the age of nine I began studying the violin. I was honestly terrible. A neighbour was a retired piano teacher and my mother thought that studying the piano would help my violin playing. Little did she know, I was going to be just as bad at the piano.
Fed up with negative musical experiences (at the ripe age of 12), I was asked by my grade six lunchroom mates what electives I would take in Junior High school. I said, ‘anything but band.’ As it turns out they were all going to take band except me. Peer pressure kicked in and I enrolled in band just to stay close to my friends. That elementary school lunchtime conversation changed my life.

On my first day of band we got to choose our instruments. My band teacher happened to be a working bassist so offered bass as an alternate instrument. I saw on the page, bass guitar. Guitar? That sounds cool. So there it was, secondary instrument bass guitar (primary instrument euphonium.)

Well being bad at violin and bad at piano had prepared me perfectly for grade seven bass playing. I had some facility and ability with my fingers and the strings and could read the bass clef reasonably well. I was better than everyone else instantly. This was the only encouragement I needed.

I had the luck of having an amazing and inspiring band teacher named Dan Breda (who has since passed). He, with a great sense of humour and incredible patience, turned most of us into decent school level musicians and most importantly implanted in us a great respect for music, our teachers and for each other.

After that I went through the paces, attended high school and in grade twelve attend a summer jazz workshop. There I met a great teacher named Gordon Towell. He encouraged me to audition for the Littlebirds Big Band put on by the Yardbird Suite in Edmonton. There I met a lot of great young players many of them I still know and work with today. Doug Berner, Jeff Hendrick, Lina Allamano, and Lyle Molzan in particular. I then attended Grant MacEwan College and met many more great young musicians that I also still know and play with such as Chris Andrew, Jim Brenan, Johanna Sillanpaa, and Don Berner.

During my early career I was really fortunate to be called to play in the house band for the Yardbird Suite jam sessions. Basically I am sure I got called because I was the only guy that owned an upright bass and was available on really short notice. I got to play with the very best musicians in the Edmonton Jazz scene on a weekly basis such as Gord Towell, Sean McAnally, Bill Elmes and Mike Gillespie. This was truly a school for me. They showed me the ropes, tune after tune and eventually I started getting calls for casual and jobbing gigs from them. At the same time I was doing regular jamming with my peers pianist Chris Andrew and drummer Lyle Molzan. We would lift Oscar Peterson arrangements of standards and shed them for hours every day. At that time I started playing in ‘Big’ Miller’s band. One of my first professional gigs was a ten night stint at Emerald Lake Lodge with Big Miller and Chris Andrew and Lyle Molzan. Those are still some of the best and scariest moments of my life. After that I got the chance to work with Tommy Banks and PJ Perry on a semi-regular basis. Playing with these real Canadian Jazz heavies was the best experience I could ever have dreamed of.

From there, all I can say is that I have been trying to develop the skills that all these great musicians shared with me. I can honestly say that I was very fortunate to have this great beginning as a musician and that twenty years later I am still working on trying to achieve the level that these masters introduced me to.

2) Who are your musical influences and why?

It’s a complex question. As a bassist, the usual suspects appear: Jaco, Ray Brown, Mingus, Dave Holland, John Patitucci. I have always been a very groove oriented player and a bassist who enjoys well constructed basslines. James Jamerson, Aston Barret, Me’Shell, Cachao, Cachaito, Paul McCartney and Sting also come to mind.

As a musician or composer I have always been interested in Brazilian musicians such as Caetano Veloso, Djavan and Chico Buarque. I also have been highly influenced by mainstream artists like Jeff Buckley, Radiohead and Daniel Lanois.

Most of all, I am influenced by great traditional music. This could mean folkloric music from Cuba and Brazil or Americana and tradition Jazz styles. I am also very interested in people that take these traditional styles and push them forward in unique ways.

As far a traditional Jazz musicians go my favourites are: Cannonball, Coltrane, Miles and Mingus. Modern players I enjoy are: Robert Glasper, Joey Calderazzo and Jason Lindner.

3) Name your top 5 favorite albums and how they have influenced you.

In no particular order:

Weather Report "Heavy Weather" - It was what I needed to hear as a teenager to get me hooked on Jazz music. It was energetic, it had great grooves, the playing was killer and the writing was one-of-a-kind.

Miles Davis "Four and More" - It showed me the possibilities that could come out of playing standards. It also taught me how a rhythm section should work together and also work with the soloist. This was a real band improvising together.

Branford Marsalis "Crazy People Music" - I actually heard this before I heard "A Love Supreme". It had an intensity to it that I was attracted to. I later found that in" A Love Supreme" but I may not have accepted it until I had heard Branford’s band first. It was like an initiation to high-energy post-bop.

John Coltrane "A Love Supreme" - Besides the intensity of the playing and the quality of the playing it was the concept behind the record that really affected me. Coltrane’s revolutionary approach to an extended improvisational concept when put into context of the history of the time is huge. The idea that it’s not the technical playing that mattered in "A Love Supreme" but the spiritual or emotional element that really matter to him. That really struck me and really gave me a deeper respect as to what Jazz could become.

Miles Davis "Birth of the Cool" - What I got out of this record was the beauty and sophistication of the arrangements and the understated approach to the playing. When you’re a young or immature player the flashy, higher, louder, faster thing is really easy to embrace. Then you hear something like this and you, for the first time, take a peek into the crystal ball and see a new musical universe. It really messes with your preconceived notions of what “it” is really all about. Many musicians (with a lot of talent and technique) NEVER get past the initial phase. They stop at the flashy, higher, louder, and faster kinds of music. But there is so much more. Really that’s the beauty of music (or art). You think you've got it and then ‘Boom’ you’re back at square one!

4) What sort of things are you practicing or developing musically these days?

The things I am working on these day, and it seems forever, are technique (lots of classical etudes, exercises, scales and arpeggios), ear training, time/groove/feel and learning more standards. I'm pretty sure that this is what everyone is working on.

5) What interesting projects do you have on the go at the moment? (gigs, recordings, etc.)

Right now my primary musical goal is composing new music. I always try to keep my bass chops up but really I enjoy writing new music or I like improvising in a band context. I hope to record a new jazz record in the next 12 months so I want to really gather a strong batch of original tunes and get out there and play them with as many combinations of musicians as possible. I really want to workshop my material live before I hit a studio to document it. I feel a lot of people (including myself), with the new ease of recording, are putting out a lot of CDs but maybe aren’t really ready yet. I don’t want to rush my next recording. I want it to be special.

6) In addition to being an accomplished Jazz player you also have extensive knowledge and experience playing Brazilian music and genres from South America and Cuba. Can you elaborate on how you learned about those styles of music and how they have influenced your Jazz playing?

My parents are Brazilian and I have always been drawn to Brazilian music. I love the balance of rhythmic, harmonic and melodic integrity that Brazilian music incorporates. Few styles music can compare in this aspect. I have been to Brazil countless times and have lived there from time to time. I have checked out a lot of Brazilian music on record and a lot of live Brazilian music while in Brazil. I have been fortunate to gig there and all of this makes everything I play and compose, inherently, have a very subtle but underlying Brazilian tinge to it.

I have also studied quite a bit of Cuban. I have been to Cuba four times and have studied with a variety of Cuban bass players including Carlos del Puerto of Irakere and Cubanissmo. Along with fellow Edmontonians Mario Allende and Chris Andrew, I played in a Latin-Jazz group called Bomba extensively. With Bomba we have recorded 4 albums and toured Canada extensively as well as many international dates. Most importantly though is that we have had many great Cuban, Latin and Jazz musicians work with us throughout the years. These people really became teachers to me. Raul Tabera, Toto Berriel, Luis Emilio Rios, Luisito Obregoso, Aldo Aguirre, Neraldo Duran, Levan Morejon, Jose Seves, and Oscar Valdez come to mind. It is incredible the natural and technical ability that these musicians possess. Their rhythmic sense is so deep and there energy is tireless.

7) Favorite place to eat in Calgary?

I can’t possibly narrow this down to one but I will settle for four places:

Jimmy’s A&A NW (Go there now!)

Gaucho Grill (Brazilian BBQ)

Mimo (Portuguese home-style cooking)

Home (My wife is a great Cuban inspired cook and I love to cook myself)

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