A Conversation with Richard SorceJune 18, 2021
Richard Sorce took his first steps in music when, at the age of eight, he began to learn accordion, but he confesses that his preference has always been the piano. He tells us that, according to his mother, since he was a child he had his “ear glued to the radio” and that, regardless of what he was doing, when certain melodies passed, all his attention was focused on the music.
“I remember that since the beginning of classes, I showed my father how certain songs that I had to practice sounded better when they were reharmonized or embellished with additional chord factors. Honestly, I didn't know why, since at the time I didn't have any training in musical theory and harmony.”
Around the age of eighteen, he finally began to learn piano (thankfully, I say).
Today he has been a professor at Ramapo College and William Paterson University since 1999. He has been on the New York University faculty as Professor of Theory, Listening Training, and Composition, and has been director of the Music Theory program.
We asked him what adds to the life of a musician, being a music teacher.
Richard Sorce – Sharing our professional experiences with university musicians is a very rewarding experience, and one in which we are really obliged to pass this knowledge on to the next generation of musicians.
He remembers the first piece he composed, but he also remembers that he came to realize later that it was a variation on an existing work that he would have heard somewhere.
But the first truly original piece titled it Windsong, is a work for solo piano.
Artes & contextos - Can you identify the moment when your creativity, associated with your taste, turned to Brazilian music?
LOL – After my first years with the accordion, I moved to the piano and studied the classics; along with these classes I also studied auditory theory and practice. A few years after graduating from high school, I entered a conservatory with a degree in piano and, later, a course in theory and composition. Although my concentration was on Western European Tradition, I was also interested in jazz and current music and as a result I formed the first of many bands in which I incorporated the “best” current music, as well as some Brazilian pieces that had appeared in sales tables. It was at this time that I felt inspired to try to write Brazilian-influenced songs. I believe the first Brazilian melody that caught my attention was Meditation. (No. of R. Meditation, by Tom Jobim).
Bossambal Brazil, (Bossambal is a neologism created by Richard formed by: Bossa, Samba e Baladas) the fourth album by Richard Sorce, continues the path of exploration and reconfiguration of Brazilian sounds that he loved for a long time. Samba a Bossa Nova and Ballads are a source of inspiration and raw material for this, after all, jazz musician.
B.C - In your fourth album, you are still devoted to Samba and Bossa Nova. Do you adapt Brazilian musicality to your Jazz or do you adapt your jazz to Samba and Bossa?
LOL – I adapt Jazz.
This record is a journey of 3 caravels in the opposite direction, this time departing from Monte Pascoal loaded with bossas, sambas and ballads. Sorce, the commander of this expedition, opts for the absence of words and points to sweet harmonies, delicate arrangements and creates a sea of sugar for magical and improvisational melodies, with woodwinds, pianos and guitars.
Like a finely tuned sextant, at the rudder we have a fabulous rhythm section, a yoga bass sound and translucent percussions.
The theme Ballad for Claudio is one of those to listen, listen and listen.
A&c - The sound of Bossambal is remarkably different from previous records, starting with the bass that surrounds it and the way the drums shine in that background. Was it an aesthetic option, did it happen by chance?
LOL – When I enter a recording session I start with just piano, bass and drums; unless there are specific bass lines or drum gestures, musicians are only reading from a score (melody and chord changes). However, I will note that all notes are written for the brass section. We usually play the piece once or twice, discuss it, and in the third step it is recorded to “stay”. All the musicians I use are full-time professionals and can read virtually anything I present to them. Except when preparing for a live performance, we rarely rehearse. For the last three albums, I've used the same drummer and bassist; I know them well and know that their interpretation will be what I intend; occasionally I will be able to guide your performance, but it doesn't happen very often. What you hear in the last master, regarding the sound of the bass and drums, is the result of the mixture and, of course, the fact that I let the musicians play what they feel, is the essence of the melody. So, I guess you could say it's a little bit of both: an aesthetic choice and a fluke.
B.C - Bossambal Brazil it's also a wordless record. Was it with the intention of giving more space to the instruments' melodic language?
LOL - No doubt. With the exception of a few areas that contain vocals, my intention with this album was to keep it virtually instrumental, with shorter solos, shorter duration and no words. I must also admit that over the years I've noticed that the longest tracks are the least popular on “commercial” radio, and I didn't want the album to emphasize the voice, which tends to get the most attention on any record.
Richard arranges his themes, but if he could choose freely, he would call Claus Ogerman for his arrangements. As for playing live, he prefers jazz environments, with an audience that appreciates the "softer side" of jazz and prefers to interpret its themes, by the book, but with extended soils.
A&c – What makes Bossambal Brazil a Jazz album and not a Samba, Bossa Nova or Ballads album?
LOL – I don't consider it a jazz album in the typical sense. Several critics over the four albums have referred to my work as a hybrid (I like that!). The fact that the melodies remain virtually unchanged throughout the tracks and are not improvised in the way a jazz melody would normally be, disqualifies my work as being typical of a jazz style; however, the solo or soloist sections are chord-changing improvisations; some of the solo progressions are in the progressions that support the melody/melody of the song while in many cases I write a completely different chord progression for the soloist.
So, in that sense it could be said that there is a jazzy element in many of my arrangements. Regarding Bossambal Brazil; is the most commercial of the last four albums; for example, the duration of tracks is quite short; soils, when there are soils, do not extend; most of the tracks take the form of an easily recognizable song, and the vocalization element on some of the tracks serves a bit of “sweet to the ears”.
B.C - Some Brazilian authors from the 50s and 60s of the century. XX, as mentioned by Jason Borge in the paper Jazz and the Great Samba Debate, and Vice Versa they argue that there is a blood tie between “Samba do Morro” and Primitive Blues and Jazz. Do you agree?
LOL – It seems very likely, given the difficulties faced by these two indigenous populations.
B.C - Many of the main composers of the beginning of Bossa Nova, such as Laurindo Almeida, Luiz Bonfá and Garoto, had erudite training and deep knowledge of harmony, however some authors argue that Bossa Nova is Samba jazzified. What is your opinion about this?
LOL – Personally, I don't think that Bossa Nova is a “jazzified” samba. As you know, many Brazilians criticized the evolution of the commercialized samba and, of course, the whole concept of Bossa Nova. When analyzing the melodic structure of many of the Bossa Novas that have become popular, it is obvious that it is the harmonic basis of these often simple melodies that makes them so appealing. I know that these melodies are often heavily syncopated and that the harmonic content is often considered “jazz harmony”, but this is not jazz or “jazzed” music. Numerous Bossa Novas and Sambas have filled the “commercial” charts in the past and continue to appeal to a large international audience; unfortunately, that can't be said of most jazz standards, and here's the proof.
B.C - What has changed in the relationship and fusion between samba and jazz since Jazz Samba by Stan Getz and Charlie Byrd from 1962 or Getz/Gilberto of 1964?
LOL – Over the years, there seems to be an overabundance of virtuous interpretation and presentation of jazz and samba standards, so much so that much of the beauty of the melody is lost in the artist's apparent need to demonstrate his mastery of instrumental technique. My work and my recordings avoid a lot of that; the focus is on melody, harmony, rhythm and form, not virtuosity.
Richard enjoys Literature and Painting and mainly reads Biographies, Philosophy and Science.
He writes songs and composed several songs for poems for choral pieces, but poetry itself doesn't.
B.C - Can you never imagine other words for the themes you interpret?
LOL - No.
B.C - We listened to the album and the theme of the election is the Balade for Claudio, which we know has a story. Can you tell us details about this topic?
LOL – I met Claudio Roditi a few years ago at Blue Note in New York after he called me at the suggestion of an acquaintance of both. After the performance, he and I sat for a while and talked about his performance, and it was at this point that I handed him a copy of Samba for Life.
A few days later he called me back to tell me how much he enjoyed listening to the album and, above all, the first track, writing in the wind, also telling me that he started the day listening to it! To my surprise, he composed Samba for Sorce. I reciprocated by writing Ballad for Claudio that he performed at Shanghai Jazz in New Jersey. We are considering your appearance in the Bossambal Brazil, but as you know, that wasn't supposed to happen. (N. of R. Claudio Roditi died in January 2020, aged 73).
writing in the wind won the 2017 Best Brazilian Song Award at The Sounds of Brazil Radio, in the United States. I was recently informed by Claudio's wife that Ballad for Claudio will become part of the file is in the process of creation.
B.C - Nowadays in Brazil, when a beginner picks up a guitar, he starts with an advance in harmonic terms, which seems to be something he is born with. How do you understand the fact that, in the mid-twentieth century, music in Brazil evolved into such complex harmonic structures, and the naturalness with which this complexity spread to the entire Brazilian musical universe, being adopted by all musicians?
LOL – Ontology: time and place. The sounds, or harmonic structures as we are discussing, are part of the Brazilian collective ear, just as the Vienna sounds of the 18th century were part of the Viennese ear, and just as the sounds of popular music of the 21st century are part of “Millennials” and “Generation Z” and so on. As an example, however erudite an American composer may be, consider, say, nineteenth-century Russian music, she or he would never be able to fully grasp the essence of the Russian spirit; it's just not in your world. This may seem overly subjective, but I believe that the harmonic palette that exists in Brazilian music is a reflection of Brazilian expression, visions and passions.
B.C - Do you see Brazilian-influenced jazz with another set of less conventional instruments?
LOL – Apart from the proliferation of synthesized instruments, I don't see any changes that might come from the use of current acoustic instruments. In my recordings, the only synthesized parts are the strings (at least for now).
B.C - Do you ever wonder to what extent your music could be reformatted if you went to Rio de Janeiro, strolling through the Bairro do Estácio, where modern Samba flourished, to breathe the air, step on the streets and drink a glass of and with the people who love it. inspired?
LOL – I think occasionally, and once again I mention ontology. As a non-Brazilian, I don't believe I can truly capture the essence of Brazilian music, but being there could certainly have a profound effect on the interpretation.
B.C - I suppose this record was made during the Covid-19 pandemic, as were the meetings and disagreements with the other musicians and technicians for its execution.to the?
LOL – The recording of Bossambal Brazil started in June 2019. I managed to finish all of the accompaniment and most of the mix before the lockdown. However, the final mixes and mastering had to be done remotely.
B.C - How do you see yourself in this increasingly generalized formula where each musician in a band records their part of a theme, in their own home studio, and then everything is mixed together for final production? All this remotely.
LOL – The few times I've tried this process of musicians recording tracks and uploading files to later be mixed with other musicians' tracks proved to be much less “musical” than when at least the primary rhythm section (drums, bass, piano) was recorded together and then have other instruments, for example, horn section, guitar, percussion, vocals and soloists overdub in the studio. So, to answer definitively, I'm not interested, nor do I incorporate the sharing process in my recordings.
B.C - Tell us a composer from outside your universe that you truly appreciate.
LOL – Virtually all composers of the period of common practice, the romantic and post-romantic periods, and the impressionists.
(N. of R. – Period of Common Practice in Music History, is the period between 1650 and 1910)
B.C - It is a band?
LOL – Chick Korea; Earth, Wind and Fire; New Band.
B.C - You breed, compose, play, write and teach. What's in your life as fun, beyond music.
LOL – Create, compose, play, teach and write books; and it all. For me, that's all I need.
B.C - What would you ask Óscar Castro-Neves?
LOL – I would ask him if he thinks (as some do) or if he considers our styles to be similar.
B.C - Three people you'd like to sit on a terrace with.
LOL – Jobim, Beethoven and Debussy.
B.C - Thanks and best wishes.
Translation and back-translation: Bruno Freitas
In addition to the aforementioned, Richard Sorce is a published author, with books and articles in several specialist publications; is an arranger, producer, and composer referenced in the table of Billboard.
He holds a Ph.D. in Music Theory and Composition from New York University, and a Masters in Composition from New York University; has a degree from the Manhattan School of Music and the New York College of Music, and studied piano at the Shenandoah Conservatory of Music.
You may be interested in: The Richard Sorce Project: Closer Than Before
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