Seixal Jazz International Festival 2015: A weekend in Portugal with the Gypsy Jazz Sinti Community

22305456105_4d5ec5bbc9_oThe 16th edition of Seixal Jazz International Festival opened doors to the public on October 16th 2015 presenting, for the first time in Portugal, the Paulus Schafer Trio.

Descendant of the Sinti community, the Gypsy Jazz guitarist performed his first presentation concert of the latest album “Letter To Van Gogh”.

THE CONCERT

The public flooded Seixal’s Municipal Auditorium, which registered a near full house attendance. Such packed crowd hasn’t been registered for a long time in Seixal, especially on opening nights of the Festival. The closest record that comes to mind is Ambrose Akinmusire’s closing concert in 2014.

"I saw the concert advertise on today’s newspaper and I said to myself I couldn’t miss it. It’s so rare to see Gypsy Jazz live music in Portugal. We have to take every opportunity available and keep ourselves close together" (Anonymous – at the end of the concert).

Paulus walked on stage alone with his JWC guitar, timidly applauded by the audience that didn’t seemed to know what to expect from this concert.

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With his guitar tuned in “Drop D” he played the song “Costas”, filling the room with its warm, strong and passionate tone. This inspiring and penetrating moment was likely to create chills down the audience that kept applauding while Romino Grunholtz (rhythm guitar) and Noah Schafer (bass) entered the stage.

The band began playing the Jazz Standard “How High The Moon” which echoed in the memory of many of those present at the Auditorium. The opening relaxed tempo of the song resembled a gentle summer breeze that prepares you for a sweet nap… followed by an exciting and brilliant execution on double time, revealing the soloist virtuosity.

“Paquito”, was the following tune where an intense Groovy Rhythmic Section blended with the long, endless melodic lines from Paulus. The dynamics of his phrasing ranged from a frantic intensity and a progressive relaxation, which gave a renewed spirit to the solo.

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"Paulus had the art to include dynamics and different textures throughout the concert, managing to capture the attention of the listeners. Although he struggled with his English, he communicated well with the audience showing sense of humour and, most of all, humility "(Alcides Miranda – musician).

In “Festival 48” the band played a whole note Pedal, in octaves, that created an expectant tension in the room. Following was an absolutely stunning and very fast explosion of the soloists phrasing, playing triplets over the solid rhythmic base provided by Romino and Noah.

The next song begins with a new pedal, but this time completely different from the previous one. The sound of Paulus guitar resembles a zither. The tempo is fast and it provides Noah Schafer’s his first solo. We should emphasize this moments Groove that lead to a strong and deserved applause from the audience. His solo was worthy of a Jaco Pastorius solo.

“La Roulotte” arises in this context as a gentle, melodious and sweet ballad. It preceded the interpretation of the Gypsy Jazz Anthem, the theme “Minor Swing”, composed by Django Reinhardt. Paulus honours the genius, father of this genre, and the greatest legend among the giants of the giants of Jazz by playing the original solo recorded in 1937. If there were doubts about the ease of Schafer’s skills on improvisation, these were shattered when he started using his left thumb to play the bass notes throughout the solo. That’s when the rhythm shifted to a Gypsy Bossa feel paving the way to Noah Schafer’s solo. Again the reaction came as a vigorous applause from the audience.

Closing the first part, the band played “Paulus Waltz” an original song from the new album” Letter To Van Gogh “. It was noticeable the humour and good spirit from the musicians on stage, always smiling, looking at each other with complicity, revealing a rare to see ease and joy up on a Jazz stage. There was no tension, just naturalness and well-being, as if they were playing in their own home. This was beautiful to witness and the audience responded warmly to this musical conversation.

Still there was time to listen to a traditional theme popularized by Django in 1947 – “Dark Eyes” (also known as “Black Eyes” or “Les Yeux Noir”). The initial “tremolando” raised chills of surprise and expectation on the listeners. Paulus erupts implementing the melody and interpreting the original Reinhardt’s solo followed by Noah’s solo, performed in octaves on bass. Paulus would still return to his improvisation over a “stop chorus” leaving the audience completely surrendered and eager for more to come on the second set.

A SPECIAL GUEST – PORTUGUESE GYPSY JAZZ

"Congratulations! Excellent concert and excellent surprise guest." (Comments amongst friends at the door of the Festival)

Since my first approach made to Paulus Schafer about the possibility of coming to play in Portugal the musician said to me:

“Hi Nuno, great news!!! October 16th The Paulus Schäfer Trio will be there! Do you want to play with us a few songs at the start of the second set? “

I was sitting on the other side of the computer, not knowing how to react or what to say. The feeling of responsibility mingled with the joy for the possibility of joining with these musicians on stage.

I shared my honour for the invitation, and Paulus re-emphasized:

“It should be nice to play some songs together!”

Here’s one of the best musicians in the history of Gypsy Jazz inviting me, a stranger and unknown, to play with him. He didn’t care about my musical level, or my experience, nor my musical qualities… by this time Paulus didn’t even knew I haven’t been practicing with a Gypsy Guitar.

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At around 9 am on the day of the concert, right after picking up Paulus and Romino at the airport (Noah would come later), we were alone over the terrace of a coffee shop near Tejo river, having breakfast, when Romino took his guitar. He held out his arms and said:

“Here, Nuno, play something for us.”

I looked slowly to the offering gesture from Romino, holding out his arms as if he was inviting and accepting me into their musical community. There I was, with a guitar in my hands made in the 50’s, playing for them. Only then I knew, for sure, that later that night these guys were going to call me out to play with them!

The ease and readiness how all of this happened was inspiring. During the day, and in conversation with Romino, he confided to me that everyone was invited to play, no matter their level, technical skills or proficiency. There is no competition amongst musicians in the Sinti community because they all learn from each other.

"If anyone is invited to play and Paulus sees that the guest is not so comfortable on the instrument he won’t start playing all those great things he is able to do. He will not start playing super fast. No, he will play in order to help who is next to him. We all do that."(Romino Grunholtz)

I smiled, happy to feel so much kindness and consideration amongst the Sinti musicians… reminding me, in contrast, so many comments and derogatory attitudes occurred in Jazz Jam Sessions against less experienced musicians.

"I loved the concert and of course the musical performance of our Portuguese Nuno Marinho." (Guta de Carvalho - Photographer) 

For the opening of the 2nd set, the four musicians played “J’attendrai” and “Djangology”. The audience reacted very well, infected by the high sense of responsibility and excitement that the Trio overflowed.

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Django Reinhardt’s “Coquette” and “Claire De Lune” with a solo introduction from Paulus followed that moment. Also, an original ballad from the new album “Theme For New York” and “Mimosa” introduced by Michael Jackson’s “Billy Jean” initial riff. The public was enchanted and melted by the guy’s genuineness.

The band returned later to the interpretation of the Jazz standard “Summertime”. Paulus performed a new solo introduction and Romino joined the leader with a light and witty comp in the Gypsy Bossa style. The melodic dynamic was varied and repeated with different interpretations, changes of octaves, and also with different attack and feeling over the execution of each note.

We were approaching the end of the concert and Paulus took the time to say thank you to the light and sound technicians as well as his guest Nuno.

We all stood there surprised when Paulus thanked the work of sound technicians and light. This rarely ever happens with other bands. (Carlos Garcia – Organization)

The concert ended with “Starry Night”, the last song of the new album from the Trio, which caused an immediate and deafening standing ovation from all present.

The public demanded more and the musicians obliged with the extremely heart-felt interpretation of one of the most amazing Django Reinhardt’s song in his repertoire – “Nuages”. The expression on the musician’s faces shone heart and emotion, culminating in a final beautiful solo ending from the master Paulus Schafer.

"Warm and disciplined energy and great technical skill at the highest level. I was rendered with the great simplicity and the peacefulness of these great professionals. I am a fan and so I await their return" (Susana, after the concert)

THE WORKSHOP

On the following day, JB Jazz School presented Paulus Schafer’s workshop. Around 20 varied practitioners and some teachers attended it.

Paulus began by talking about the importance of playing with feeling and emotion. That’s what’s important and that’s where our attention should focus, not on technicalities, not in the notes, but playing with heart.

To this end, the proper development of the right hand technique is indispensable and Paulus shared an exercise, note by note, with each and every one of the players.

Then Paulus played a long phrase at a dizzying speed, asking after completion:

“Do you want to play that?”

Among incredulous gasps and cheerful smiles there was someone back there saying: “but that’s super fast!” Paulus realized the concern of his disciples. His eyes seemed to mean that the suggestion was too elaborate and a far stretch for their current level of playing. This happened on all of the seven practical exercises that Paulus shared with the participants. And in all 7 Paulus, thrifty, kindly and patiently took each and every participant “by the hand”, guiding them note for note, and only moved on after ensuring that everyone was able to start building phrasing speed.

Apart from the technical exercise, Paulus shared – for the student’s rejoicing – two typical Gypsy Jazz phrases, rhythmic accents to the accompanying guitar, the dynamics of tremolando, improvisation based on chords and a typical intro from Django Reinhardt.

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At the workshop, Paulus managed to put everyone at ease, making no distinction between the most experienced and less experienced participants in this musical style. Here, once again, his sympathy and humility were captivating, as also his encouragement to less confident players. (Alcides Miranda – Musician)

The session took place with extreme ease and fluidity, becoming even more apparent the gentle, friendly, integrating, motivating and fraternal nature of Paulus Schafer.

The session would end greatly with Romino joining the leader to play “Starry Night” and, as requested by one of the students, “Paquito”. This song had caused tremendous impact at the concert’s evening and it would return to lift the spirit of the audience.

This would be the golden end of the public presentation from Paulus Schafer, Romino Grunholz and Noah Schafer. The three musicians gave everything they had, with an open heart, and an exemplary demonstration of humanity, humility and kindness very typical from the Sinti community.

The Paulus Schafer Trio concert was phenomenal and having the opportunity to attend the Workshop was even more fantastic. It was a day of great learning, for being able to see up close all that technical ability and the clarity with which Paulus plays is amazing! We also had the chance to meet him as a person and he proved to be very humble. He gave us tips and important words of encouragement. This is an experience certainly to replicate again and again. (João Menezes - student)

Joao Menezes com Paulus Schafer

MEMORIES OF AN UNFORGETTABLE EXPERIENCE 

Looking back, remembering all the little steps that were taken to bring Gypsy Jazz to Portugal and to mobilize people to build our own community, it is an exciting exercise. I can’t think of many musicians who combine event promotion, stage performance and journalism at the same time. But long ago I learned that no one will do the work only you want and can do.

What hold on in my memory to this experience are the feeling of togetherness with the Sinti community, deep respect for the music, a sense of fraternal responsibility, and a spirit of mutual aid.

Paulus Schafer is not only a great musician. He is a great person. It has a diverse and extensive musical knowledge. He lives and breathes music all around. During the time I was able to take care of him in Lisbon and Seixal Paulus sang, with delight, songs from Frank Sinatra, Billie Holiday and more.

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Noah Schafer, a 24-year-old young man, breathes energy and good humour. His posture on stage completely captivated the entire audience. He came to me, showed me photographs of his 3 months old son and sighed: “I miss my son.”

While routed him alone to the airport, he told me about the importance of playing with other community musicians. “Nuno, you have the Gypsy sound. Now you need to come to our camp in The Netherlands and play with us. “

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Before the concert, while the musicians enjoyed smoking – “Because it’s good for the heart,” Paulus said, in a good mood – I took the opportunity to grab my APC guitar and play a little bit. After a while Noah entered the room and started talking about a better way to perform “La Pompe”, monitoring the rhythm guitar. Shortly after Romino entered the room and exemplified in my guitar what Noah was talking about.

This willingness to give at any time has a strong power to make us humble. There I was alone, practicing the new advises these Gypsy Jazz giants had just given me. These extremely attentive gestures did not prepare me for what was about to happen…

Paulus enters the room where I was playing and asked me for the pick I was holding. He leaned over me and performed “La Pompe” with his right hand while I performed the chords with my left hand. We stopped, after some time, and without saying a word, Paulus embraced me while standing (I was sitting on a chair with the guitar on my lap) and he started playing “La Pompe” with his own hands. I felt I was being protected like in a father’s arms that tenderly, teaches a child the best way to play. There was the secret, a foot away from my eyes… the angle of the pick, the position of the right wrist, the grip of the left hand. There I was, in the arms of one my most admired musician, with the guitar on my lap.

These are the memories that I have of three friends who came to show me the deepest sense of community and responsibility for others I ever had a chance to experience.

And I would like to highlight, with special care and attention, the figure of Romino Grunholz, a fantastic human being. Behind that manly and imposing figure lies a man who is always willing to help, very protective of Paulus, quick to translate or explain the language barriers that separate us. Romino was always the first to show gratitude and appreciation for the smallest gesture and with him I have identified that the importance of this music is not in the virtuosity, or the ego or vanity top. The importance of this music is not the individual but the community – “Latcho Drom”, a great trip. The heart of this music is the rhythm guitar, the party, the celebration, and the friendship.

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That’s what I felt when I stood alone, for a few minutes, on the other side of the hotel room door hearing them play. This is what I felt in Seixal’s dressing rooms, standing on the other side of the wall hearing them playing a song that brought tears to my eyes. This is what I felt at the concert and at the airport’s farewell.

On our last day, heading to lunch over “Duetos da Se Restaurant”, we were climbing Arco de Jesus stairways and Romino started running up and humming humorously the victorious Bill Conti music “Gonna Fly Now” (Theme From Rocky).

Later at the restaurant Romino said something that filled me with pride and joy. “The whole trip was perfect”.

When writing the final lines of this article, lying in my bed, exhausted, I remember the last scene of the fight between Rocky and Apollo. Rocky did not win, but emerged victorious. He did not fall but remained intact until the end. Did he not give up, but persisted? He took a beating but he stood there until the end. Because the most important thing is not the individual achievements, it is the Music (in capital letter). What people keep in their hearts is not the overwhelming solos, or the height of perfection. People keep to themselves what the music gave them. And that’s why Gypsy Jazz is the most followed and dearest improvised musical form ever.

Receiving the Sinti community in our country does not solely marks the opening of Seixal Jazz International Festival. The truth is beyond: it was the Sinti who received us, with open arms, offering a great lesson to our Jazz community. We are all brothers: Swing, Bebop, Free, Contemporary, Modal, Gypsy Jazz … sons of the same mother. And we all learn from one another.

Maybe one day our Portuguese Jazz culture will grow healthy, compassionate, respectful and collaborative among its stakeholders. It is hard to understand the absence from so many Jazz Portuguese agents at Seixal Jazz’s opening night. It is distressing to see that the 7 Portuguese Gypsy Jazz bands, performing regularly in Portugal, did not join in mass to this party. And it is sad to observe some small, but still, less educated reactions of those who have difficulty receiving disinterested offers made with an open heart.

There’s no lack of calls or appeals. Musicians and Jazz agents are missing, deliberately, the events that should be of global membership. But fortunately, even without their presence, the concert halls are full because they aren’t the one’s buying records or attending live concerts. It is the public. The public is consuming, cheering, living the music, celebrating and rejoicing.

The great victory in this commendable initiative carried out by Seixal Jazz’s organizers is not a personal victory. Rocky emerged victorious without winning the battle. Seixal Jazz, Paulus Schafer Trio or Nuno Marinho only worked for the public to be the real winner.

And we should stress the fact that the group’s albums sales reached a number that has long not been seen in Seixal Jazz’s Auditorium or in any record store of any kind, for that matter.

"We LOVED it!!! We haven’t heard Paulus Schäfer Trio music before, but we rendered to the magnitude of his music. It was a great and pleasant surprise and a night well spent"(Carlos and Manuela)

This event had the happy ability to mobilize people from all around. We Received Spanish people who purposely flew from Madrid and Galicia to attend the concert; we received Gypsy Jazz lovers, eager for every opportunity to see live concerts; we received Jazz curious looking to broaden their horizons to other sounds; and even received people who had never heard of Gypsy Jazz before but were advised by friends or the journalistic reviews that announced the concert.

The concert was very good! I was unaware of the Gypsy Jazz genre so I was a little bit frightened that it would be a kind of jazz that I wasn’t going to like, but, in the end, it was very good and very nice to hear! This is the kind of music that, before you realize, you’re already tapping your foot and keeping up! Thank you for contributing to the coming of Paulus Schafer Trio! (Peter)

The international impact that this concert had has also been felt. Again, the Gypsy Jazz community throughout the world is eager to participate, consume and be aware of everything that happens within it.

In particular, the presence and participation of Patrus Cassey, a Canadian who travelled purposely to us, responsible for editing and publishing thousands of videos of countless musicians of Gypsy Jazz, did not go unnoticed. Within hours, the first video Patrus released generated 22,000 views.

Mind blowing…

The next day, back into reality, I reconnected my phone and computer. Of all generated activity, a number of notifications and positive impressions I only had one message on my inbox. It came from one of the most international, respected, recognized and esteemed musician in the Gypsy Jazz history, responsible for teaching this language to thousands of people all over the world (myself included):

"Congrats on the festival Nuno. I'm seeing and hearing great things about it. Great work! "(Robin Nolan)

The bottom line of this adventure is extraordinarily positive. Portugal is on the map of the Gypsy Jazz world and needs all the strength, energy and collaboration it can get to grow vigorously.

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Humbly I thank Paulus Schafer, Romino Grunholz and Noah Schafer their willingness to come to Portugal playing and teaching Gypsy Jazz.

I also appreciate Henk Van Beurden and Sinti Foundation for their help in the concert logistics and agency.

I Deeply thank, the Lala brothers from Duetos da Sé Restaurant, Carlos and Eduardo, which left us completely passionate about their food.

A strong word of appreciation to APC-Musical Instruments, for the excellent guitar built especially for me.

Warm thank you to Patrus Cassey for the videos and for living with us, so intensely, these days in family.

Last but not least, a special thank you to all the team in Seixal Jazz Festival 2015 for their example of professionalism and competence.

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The work I have done to bring this concert to Portugal is dedicated to the public, lovers, practitioners and interested in Gypsy Jazz and, in particular, Mafalda Corregedor who – day by day – have to listen to me, at home, practicing the style of music I love.

Over these days (October 16th and 17th 2015) I met a true (Gypsy) Jazz family. It is a pleasure and an honour to serve this music and its participants. Thank you.

On behalf of the team that made this show we thank you for the way everything happened tonight and the friendliness of the musicians. Thank you, Nuno, for convincing me to do this show. (Carlos Garcia – organization) 

We thank the managing board for the invitation, the hospitality and the perfect organization. We thank the great audience at Seixal Jazz and at last we thank Nuno Marinho for his great organizational skills! (Paulus Schafer)

Lisbon, 21 October 2015

(The day Marty McFly came “Back To The Future)

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