ONE OF THE LEADING FIGURES IN THE
modern Brazilian jazz scene is a young
guitarist/composer/arranger named Chico
Pinheiro. An outstanding performer on
both his vintage Gibson ES-175 (which
he strings with D’Addario Chrome
flatwounds and plays though a Fender
Deluxe Reverb) and a Zaganin nylonstring
acoustic, Pinheiro gained notoriety
in his home country and abroad with his
two solo releases, Meia Noite Meio Dia
(2003) and a self-titled second album
from 2005—both of which scored “Top
10 Best Albums of the Year” awards in
Brazil. A self-taught musician who started
playing guitar and piano at age seven,
Pinheiro began performing at 15, and later
attended Berklee College of Music, where
he studied with Mick Goodrick and Hal
Crook and earned several academic/
musical prizes before graduating in 1999.
On his latest release, Nova [Phantom
Sound & Vision], Pinheiro partners with
New York jazz guitarist Anthony Wilson
(an accomplished solo artist who also
plays guitar in Diana Krall’s band) to
record what Pinheiro describes as “not
an American album and not a Brazilian
album, but something in between.”
The result of their collaboration is an
alluring collection of songs that embrace
the rich rhythmic and melodic elements
of Brazilian music and the highly improvisational
aspects of American jazz. One
of the essential jazz guitar albums of
2008, Nova advances the notion of jazz
as an international language and highlights
the possibilities for expression that
lie in a two-guitar format.
The blending of Brazilian and American influences
on Nova is very cool. Did you write your
songs specifically for this album?
Yes, I wrote both “Planicie”—which
we played as a duo—and the title song
specifically for this project. I wanted to
fit them into this kind of environment—
which is jazzy and kind of open—and,
when Anthony and I first played these
songs, we thought they really sounded
nice. We discovered that we have a good
way of working together because on Nova
you have a lot of rhythms going on, and
when you play faster tempos or very
rhythmic things you can have some difficulties
playing with two guitars.
Why is that?
I don’t hear much collaboration by two
jazz guitarists these days, and I think it’s
because it’s not that easy. When playing
with two harmonic instruments it can be
tricky to get along well. When you have
piano and guitar, or vibes and guitar, you
have these different approaches, so you
don’t get in each other’s way like you do
with two guitars. But Anthony and I never
felt like either of us had to change how
we played to make it work, so this album
came very naturally to us.
How did you two meet?
Anthony came to Brazil on tour and
somebody gave him my first CD, and
that’s how we hooked up. I was recording
my second album when I got a
message from Anthony, saying that he
was listening to my CD while he was mixing
his own album. So we started to
correspond by email, and at some point
he told me he was coming to Brazil to
learn more about our music. So I invited
him to stay at my home in Sao Paulo
and we jammed almost non-stop for
three days—mostly just playing American
and Brazilian standards—and from
that point we knew we had to do an
Most of the songs on Nova feature electric
and acoustic guitar. Did you do that mainly
for textural reasons?
Yes, because the electric and acoustic
blend so well. When you play jazz on a
semi-hollow electric it has this very mellow
tone, while the acoustic has a totally
different sound because of the nylon
strings and because you play it with your
fingers. So we found that these two
sounds worked extremely well together.
Anthony’s song “Two Fives” has some nice
guitar interplay that starts sounding very harmonized
at around 5:10. Were those parts written
out, or are you both improvising at that point?
That’s a song we decided to play when
we were in the studio. I didn’t know the
tune, but we decided to play it because
somebody at the studio said, “Guys, all
this started as a duo, but you don’t have
any songs recorded as a duo.” So Anthony
pulled out this chart and we just started
to play it. And the third time through we
recorded it. It’s one of my favorite tracks.
But to answer your question, none of
what we did was written—we just worked
off a chart that had the chords and
melody. The part you’re talking about is
where we decided to solo together, so we
were both just improvising.
Your solos always sound very fluid and precise.
Can you give some insights on soloing?
There are two things that are very
important to developing your soloing ability—
ears and practicing. As a jazz player,
you have to develop your harmonic ears
in order to be fluid. And fluency is the
key word. You have to deal with a lot of
different modes and scales and have all
of this in your ears. There’s a mechanical
part to it for sure, but to me, the most
important thing is the hearing part. It all
has to be natural to you because you can’t
just play mechanically and not hear it in
your head. It sounds obvious, but it’s not.
You can mathematically understand
everything, but, if you don’t have it in
your ears, it’s not going to work.
What exercises did you do to develop your
ears to such an extent?
What I used do a lot is listen to songs
and just try to figure out the harmonies
without having a guitar in my hands. And
then I would try it with the guitar to see
if I got it right. I did this a lot, and eventually
I developed my harmonic ears,
which helps me immensely when I’m
soloing or composing. I think your ears
are the most important tools that you have
as a musician, and you should try to
develop them really well. Because, if you listen
to somebody who is playing that way, it’s
going to sound very natural. If not, then what
you hear is somebody doing a lick over a certain
kind of chord, and it’s very mathematical
Do you switch between your fingers and a pick
when you play?
Yes, I play both the acoustic and the electric
with my fingers as well as a pick. But
I’ve changed from using a heavier jazz-type
pick to a lighter pick in order to feel and
sound a little more like I’m using my fingernail.
It’s a black nylon Dunlop pick, and it
gives a similar sound to what I get with my
nails. When you play certain kinds of Brazilian
music, you have to use your fingers, and
some things you can only do with a pick.
How much do you practice?
Ideally, I play two to three hours a day,
even when I’m touring. Sometimes, if I’m
composing, or into something really interesting,
I play much more. I think it’s good
to just play a tune and try to hear the harmonizations,
or work on specific things—like
picking—for a half hour or so. But I never
work on just one thing for hours at a time.
Sometimes I like to practice with friends, so
I’ll just call a bass player and a drummer and
we’ll get together and play over some tunes.
I think practicing with different musicians
is a stimulating thing to do. My band
practices all the time—even when we’re traveling—
but it’s not like a commitment. It’s
just to have fun.
How did your background in Brazilian music
affect the way you learned to play jazz?
When I was a student, I was jealous that
I didn’t play like an American. I had an
accent. Brazilian music, of course, has an
accent just like the language. But once I
figured out that it was cool that I didn’t play
like an American, I tried to figure out
different ways to mix my sound into the
intersection of jazz and Brazilian music. The
important thing to understand is that music
is a code, and you have to really know the
code otherwise you’re going to be in trouble.
The code has to do with harmony and
with scales and sound and timing. It’s like
a language. So when I’m soloing or composing,
I just try to be lyrical—I just imagine
that I’m trying to have a conversation with
my companions. But if somebody isn’t as
fluent in the language, then, at some point,
the conversation is going to get stuck. So
everybody has to talk the code. If I’m playing
classical music or Middle Eastern music,
at some point I’m going to get stuck because
that’s not my language. But if I’m playing
Brazilian music or jazz, I just talk.
On the song “Cuba” you get into some very
interesting rhythms and horn arrangements. What
was the inspiration for that song?
In 2006, I had the opportunity to play
with some people from Buena Vista Social
Club here in Brazil, and it was such a
great experience. It brought me a totally
different perspective, because the Cuban
rhythms have a lot to do with Brazilian
music—the accents and everything—and
that’s because we have a similar history.
Cuban music is very different harmonically,
but the rhythms are similar. It goes to show
that it doesn’t matter where you are from—
it can be New York, San Francisco, Cuba,
or Brazil—there are commonalities in music
that we all share.
Want to learn more about Brazilian music? This list
of albums compiled by Chico Pinheiro is a great
way to get your groove on in Rio time.
• Moacir Santos, Ouro Negro (2001). Moacir Santos
was one of the best Brazilian arranger/
songwriters of all time. Winton Marsalis called
him the “Brazilian Duke Ellington,” which I think is
a great definition. This record is a tribute to him,
and features some of his most important pieces
• Rosa Passos, Canta Caymmi (2000). A great
singer and guitar accompanist with a bossa-jazz
approach to her music, Rosa Passos is one of
the most influential Brazilian artists today. Some
people have called her the female version of
• Edu Lobo and Chico Buarque, O Grande Circo
Místico (1983). A beautiful album from two of
my all-time favorite Brazilian composers.
• Baden Powell, À Vontade (1963). Besides being
a great soloist, Baden Powell is one of the most
innovative Brazilian guitarists. It was he who
introduced the modern style of samba comping
• Antônio Carlos Jobim, Matita Perê (1973).
A great album by Jobim that features Claus
Orgerman’s wonderful orchestrations.
•Gilberto Gil, Luar (1981). Gilberto Gil is still one
of the main influences for guitar playing and
songwriting in Brazil. Recorded with the great
producer Liminha, this is one of his best works.
• João Bosco, Dá Licença Meu Senhor(1995).João
Bosco accompanies himself wonderfully on guitar,
and is a terrific composer and singer. I love
• Cesar Camargo Mariano & Helio Delmiro, Samambaia
(1980). A masterpiece by two outstanding
instrumentalists—Cesar on piano and Helio on
guitar. It reminds me of the Bill Evans and Jim
Hall album, Intermodulation. Great stuff.
• Guinga, Cine Baronesa (2001). Guinga is like the
Brazilian Ted Greene, and a master of composition.
So deep and soulful, this album is my
favorite of his.
• João Gilberto, João Gilberto (1973). One of the
best albums ever from João Gilberto, which
means a lot, because he has recorded some
great, great stuff.