John La Barbera is a renowned composer/arranger who has worked in the jazz world for over four decades. He has had works performed and recorded by Buddy Rich, Woody Herman, Count Basie, Dizzy Gillespie, Mel Torme’, Chaka Khan, Harry James, Bill Watrous, and Phil Woods just to name a few. John’s Grammy® nominated big band CD “On The Wild Side” along with “Fantazm” and his latest “Caravan” have been met with tremendous artistic and commercial success. In addition to his work in jazz, Mr. La Barbera has created works for diverse large ensembles and chamber orchestras. John is a Professor Emeritus at the University of Louisville School of Music and also active as a clinician and lecturer in colleges and schools throughout the U.S. and abroad. His career has been profiled in dozens of publications and encyclopedias and his published works are considered standards in the field of jazz. education.
While on tour in Brazil in 2001, I was given an insider’s view of the infamous Morro da Babilônia Favela in Rio de Janeiro, which few outsiders could experience at that time. The sights, sounds, and smells, and the harsh reality of the residents’ daily lives, where even a basic staple–propane–was controlled by drug lords, will stay with me always. The dichotomy between the opulent, lush beaches of Copacabana and its poor neighbor was equally striking and haunting. There seemed to be a predominance of natural rhythms created by the actions of the daily routines of the population. The sounds of crowded streets and alleys had a striking crescendo and diminuendo. These easily translated into musical language and allowed me a foundation on which to build this composition. In addition, the deep blue patches of the rooftop water reservoirs contrasted with the earthen colors of walls intersecting in asymmetrical angles suggested musical patterns and textures I have tried to capture in this work.
In this setting, the adolescent street circus performers seemed an anomaly at first, but the explanation was equally enlightening and a testimony to the human spirit and outreach. Homeless children in high-risk situations, such as juvenile delinquents and slum-dwellers, were socially integrated into circus schools to give them a purpose and skill to lead them to more self-assurance and independence. The revelations about the “Children of the Candelaria” massacre highlighted the plight of these youths and begged their presence in this composition.
The history of the Brazilian “choro” or “chorinho” is strikingly similar to that of the American jazz art form: both coming of age in the early part of the 20th century and featuring improvisation as a commonality. Loosely translated, “Rodas de Choro” can mean jam session; for me, this evokes the same joy and freedom of musical expression as our native jazz.
In this work, Morro da Babilônia, I have drawn upon these memories to musically convey my emotions with these musical vignettes that, hopefully, will expand proportionally and be the embodiment of a larger work.
listen to John’s Sant Anna: