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Jorge Degas

 

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by Brent-Anthony Johnson

As a bassist with 11 released discs as a leader with well over 100 recorded works as a sideman, and a regular guest musician at the Montreux Jazz Festival Brazilian born and current Denmark citizen, Jorge Degas, is well known around the world as an exceptional and particularly gifted musician.  Unfortunately, as of yet, he is not as well known in the United States.  This certainly hasn’t hampered Jorge’s career!  More so, it is the American public who needs an ‘education’, in this regard. The failure to recognize a “World Talent”, by the sheltered American public, is the reason some of us chose to write interviews, isn’t it?  Without the need to write an absolutely necessary story about a player who should be a household word… I wouldn’t have a job.

Concerning the matter of Mr. Degas, Robert Kaye of Bass Player Magazine had this to say, "I was awestruck with his bass playing. I have never heard anything like that before. (And I have been listening to bass guitarists most of my life…) I think Jorge is a gifted, one-of-a-kind player who’s created a highly unique stile on the bass guitar - one that is technically demanding yet exceptionally lyrical. To me his bass is extraordinary."  I am inclined to agree with this statement! 

The following interview took place via email, and Mr. Degas’ answers were translated by his wife.  Through are continuing conversation, I can easily say that Jorge’ is an incredibly warm and friendly person, with a passion for life and the pursuit of conversation with other human beings.  It is unfortunate that many players of his extraordinary talent aren’t as pleasant to speak with!  Here’s what Jorge’ had to say. 

BAJ:  Hi Jorge’!  It’s good to talk with you again!  Tell us about the latest section of your website titled, “Arrangements For Choir”. 

JD:  Arrangements for choir", page on my website is information about a project I’m doing together with my wife, who is a music teacher and conductor.  I’ve written compositions that we have arranged for choir. My wife writes the lyrics and we go out on "music-days" to schools (in Denmark) and spend an entire day singing with the children. They are often as many as 300-500 children in the choir, and we have a great time together!  

In Denmark there is a strong tradition of singing together - both unprepared singing, and in choirs. With this activity we mix the older beautiful song tradition with new music and other rhythms. The children are very open and interested in our cultural mix...

In spring 2002 we will release a songbook through Danish editor, "Dansk Sang" which will include 10 songs arranged for 2 or 3 voices that also includes a CD with the same songs recorded with a children’s choir!

(Editorial: I’m going to buy this for my children!) 

BAJ:  That’s really cool man, and I’m sure it will do very well. As the United States is such a very young country, we generally lack a singing tradition of any sort.  It would be better, if we learned to sing together, instead of tentatively observing each other’s music!

Relocating from Brazil to Denmark is a HUGE change…  How did that come about, and what’s the music environment like in Denmark, versus Brazil – as Brazil is known for nurturing a musical environment, culturally? 

JD:  I moved to Denmark because I found Stenia, my wife. We went to Denmark to give birth to our first child in 1988. I never thought that I would leave Brazil! But… I liked Denmark. In the beginning, I worried most about my new family (which quickly grew!) - as I already had two sons from my first marriage. I settled down in the countryside in a nice house and started learning Danish!  I trained on bass every day, and I slowly began to accept some of the contact opportunities I began to receive in Europe.

First of all, I knew percussionist Andreas Weiser from Berlin - who introduced me to the Berlin music scene. We recorded and performed a project together with the guitarist Michael Rodach. The German record company VeraBra was interested in our music, and we released the first CD under the name Xiame. Xiame, is also the name of my son who was born in 1990 - when the CD was recorded. It means "Our world".

The CD got very good reviews in well-known magazines and we were all very happy about the very special Xiame sound we created together - with producers Wolfgang Loos and Stefani Marcus, from Traumton Records, Berlin. Wolfgang and Stefani later took over VeraBra. So, that was a good start in the European music environment! 

Coming back to the question… you can see that I began working more in Berlin, Germany, than in Denmark. I did start a project in Denmark though, with a Danish singer called Vini K. We are still working together as a duo, or as a trio with either the Brazilian percussionist Robertinho Silva or the Danish drummer Jonas Johansen.   

In Denmark there are a lot highly educated musicians, and I feel that it has developed a lot in the past 10 years, specifically. Danish musicians are very open-minded and interested in learning from other cultures. That is a very good quality, I think. Though, sometimes I feel they should value their own valuable traditions and culture more.    

BAJ: You have a very ‘chordal’ approach to the instrument (slightly reminiscent of Kai Eckhardt and Dominique di Piazza).  However, you bring a very intimate element to your playing.  How did you develop this approach? 

JD:  As a small child, I began playing percussion. My mother was a medium in Macumba (African religion) and I was supposed to play the right rhythms in order to please the spirits. Each spirit has its own preferred rhythm, or maybe, a particular song. With out noticing I got a very unique cultural education from my family - who still practice Macumba!  The Afro-Brazilian culture and rhythms come to me naturally. When I grew older, I began playing the guitar. I was a teenager, and I wanted to play like Jimi Hendrix!  From the guitar I move on to the bass. So, in a way, I took all the rhythm experience from my childhood and my harmonic education from the guitar and put it all in to the four stringed Alembic! My past also influences a lot of my work as a composer. 

BAJ:  Who are you favorite bassist, and what are you listening to at the moment? 

JD:  My favorite bassist is Stanley Clarke. I like to listen to every bass player I can! Other favorites include Luizao Maier from Brazil - who means a lot to Brazilian bass players everywhere; and, Luis Alves - another Brazilian bassist. Before even thinking about going to Denmark I admired the Danish bass player Niels Henning Řrsted Petersen. Once in Denmark, I saw other talents like Mads Vinding.

At the moment I’m listening to my new CD which is on its way to be released. 

BAJ:  Man… Niels Henning is one of my absolute favorite musicians!  I imagine we’re not alone in this! Other than bassists… what other musicians do you sight as influences? 

JD:  I listen, a lot, to Pat Metheny.  He once said to me, “When you are famous, one day, I will tell everyone, ‘I knew him first’!”  I like to listen to musicians who manage to create their own style - and its good that there are so many to listen to! 

BAJ:  Have you always known you were a musician?  Also, how did you choose the bass guitar as the palette for your art? 

JD:  No. I never thought, “I want to be a musician.” It came to me naturally, as if I had no choice!

As I mentioned… I played guitar, before becoming a bassist.  My friend Vico (a drummer) introduced me to Cidinho Teixera - one of the Brazilian musicians I most admire by the way, who lives in NY - who was looking for a bass player.  As I was without work at the time, I told him that I also played the bass.  He had been to the States, and his project sounded interesting to me.  When we began to play he looked at me and said, “You don’t play the bass!”  But, I was very stubborn (maybe he liked my will), so he decided to teach me. He has a fantastic left hand on the piano, and I learned everything he did in the left hand on my bass!  It was quite difficult, but I succeeded, and soon I could play all his songs perfectly!  No one could play what I played… and I couldn’t play anything else but Cidinho´s left hand! We made a CD on Polygram called, "Cidinho Teixera and Som Tropical Muito suingue". 

BAJ:  Amongst the vast number of jazz artists you’ve worked with, you also sight (guitarist) Al DiMeola and (drummer) Bob Moses.  However, you have worked with many other European, South American, and African artists.  Are there specific musical tendencies you see in American players that are different from players from other countries and regions?  Also, how do you prepare for playing with a particular artist, and do you take into account where they come from? 

JD:  We, Brazilian musicians, have always looked up to the American artists, for their capacity and creativity.  When preparing to play with an artist I listen to their CDs, more than not. Sometimes I will get a tape of the material, and I will work on the songs and see how I can contribute. 

BAJ:  How did you find yourself playing with the number of different artists you work with as a sideman, and how does that influence your own compositions? 

JD:  After the "Muito Suingue" recording, playing became a bit easier. A lot of artists have helped me (as they liked my playing) and many have opened doors that were new to me. Others helped me by believing in my "strange way" of playing the bass.

To mention some who have helped me:

Martinho da Vila (samba singer); Paulo Moura (Conductor, sax in the Chorinho style); Wilson Meireles (samba drummer); Ruy Quaresma (Arranger, Conductor, producer); Alceu Valenca (a singer from Northeast Brazil); Jorge Aragao (samba singer); Joao de Aquino (Afro-Brazilian guitarist); Helio Eskiavo (samba drummer); and Paulo Rafael (Northeast Brazil guitarist). All these wonderful people have had great influence on my compositions and musical opportunities.  

BAJ:  What will be your musical focus for the next year? 

JD:  I will get my new CD released, and follow it with shows. 

BAJ:  What instruments are you currently using? 

JD:  I am playing a 4-string Alembic “Spoiler”.  I have played Alembic basses for 20 years. I just got a new Alembic last year. An exact replica of my old instrument! 

BAJ:  What instrument do you employ when you compose? 

JD:  I compose on bass, guitar, and sometimes piano.  Most of the time I compose without instrument - compiling the details in my head. Then, it’s prepared when I take up the bass.  Another great activity to compose is cooking or working in the garden!

Brent-Anthony Johnson is a bassist/producer/author/composer currently living in the Denver Metropolitan area.  “BAJ” is currently completing his premier solo record with multi-instrumentalist Chris Ball under the band moniker Sonal Anu.  He can be reached through his website at: http://www.myspace.com/brentanthonyjohnson

Read this article in German

Read this article in Spanish

 

 

 

                                  

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