An expert in Brazilian rhythms, Rodrigo Simões' talents extend from Maracatú to Forró, while taking a tour through the Samba with exhilarating ease. We recently sat with Rodrigo Simões and spoke about his musical journey, life in Montreal, what it's like being a band leader, and more!
Rodrigo, tell us a little bit about your story. How did you start playing music?
Well, I’m Brazilian born, but now I am Canadian. I can say that and it’s been seven years now. I live in Montreal, and I am a musician and composer. I compose my own music and I really try to keep my roots by playing the music of my country, like the Choro or Samba. I also play as a sideman with friends, or people looking for recording musicians. One of the things I like to do is play my own music, compose and try to put a good energy in the world through my music. I consider it Fusion Jazz with Brazilian or Latin spices, something like that.
"I really liked playing around with music elements, playing different keys, different meters, and trying new things. I do it for me, and I use my own compositions to heighten the music level for myself."
You said you’ve been in Montreal now for about seven years, what brought you here?
Well, first, I came here on a backpacking trip in summer 2010, during the Montreal Jazz Festival. I was immersed in this energy from the beginning, I loved the city, and I decided, “one day, I want to live there.” That’s what I was working on, being able to immigrate here; it was a very conscious decision to immigrate to Montreal.
And now you’re working at McGill, right?
Yes, I am a lecturer. I have been teaching there for about three years now, a course called Afro-Cuban/Brazilian Jazz Ensemble.
I have a lot of students because that’s another part of my lifestyle, which is playing music and teaching. I love to teach music and I love to be in contact with people to socialize. I mean in general, not just at the schools I work.
At the same time, I’m becoming an ensemble teacher, so I teach Latin Ensemble at the Coopérative des professeurs de musique de Montréal and I teach Choro ensemble with my friend Gabriel at the Centre des musiciens du monde.
You were saying earlier how you enjoy playing all these different variations of music styles, but one thing you’ve been trying to move towards is more original music. Can you tell us more about what it’s been like creating and playing your own music?
Yeah, it happened naturally when I was studying back in Brazil, I was studying in a Jazz program and I saw my teachers and colleagues all composing. But my experience started even before that, when I went into university, although mostly simple stuff. With time, things developed. I really liked playing around with music elements, playing different keys, different meters, and trying new things. I do it for me, and I use my own compositions to heighten the music level for myself.
I saw you playing at Club Balattou. How did you meet those musicians? How did you put that group together?
This is interesting to talk about, because a lot of younger musicians wonder how they can organize their band and how they can find other musicians to play with. For me, I found those musicians through my time as a music student and then becoming a teacher. Accepting to be a sideman for someone – that helps you connect with other people. Actually, the singer of my band, I met her at a bar where I was playing. When she got on stage to jam, we clicked right away.
"Over the years, I realized that music should be accompanied by other elements, especially on stage, like communication between band members and with the general public. The keyword is communication because everybody has a message and you need to really know how to present it."
Earlier we were discussing being a band leader and finding one’s persona on the stage. Can you maybe talk a little about that?
For sure. I’m actually a very shy person. I was introverted, timid, and I didn’t know how to behave on stage, or even dance. Actually, after I put out my first CD in Brazil, I was still shy; which was conflicting. I believed my music in itself could send a message to people, to my listeners. Over the years, I realized that music should be accompanied by other elements, especially on stage, like communication between band members and with the general public. The keyword is communication because everybody has a message and you need to really know how to present it.
I also learned how to be a leader here [in Canada], because for me it really is all about organization. For example, you should always prepare your own charts, and consider how you’re going to book rehearsals and pay for the space as well as pay your musicians. You know, things really started to work out for me when I started investing my money back into my work. If you want to have talent next to you, you need to compensate them well. Sometimes I play gigs and I don’t make profit because I prefer to pay my musicians first, rather than keep the money for myself.
It’s kind of a way of showing your appreciation for the people you’re playing with. Would you consider this a more long-term way of thinking, such that if you compensate your musicians well, you’re more likely to have a better relationship with them down the road?
Yeah, for sure! Right away, we start by talking about money. But you also have to think as a leader by making people around you comfortable.
When I’m on stage I want to create and share the moment, and that’s why I got started in Jazz. I feel more connected to improvisation, and not only improvising on music, but on life situations as well.
This doesn’t mean my music is free-form. When I play a piece of music, we have an arrangement where you have the beginning, the intro, the middle part, and the outro. But there’s always a moment to improvise and every member of the band has its own moment. Sometimes two or more people are together in those moments. I think that’s what makes life beautiful, and I believe it resonates with the audience on a deeper level.
What are you working on now? And what does summer look like for you? Do you have any projects going on?
Right now I’m working on a new album. It’s my third album, and it’s titled: Tre, which means three in Italian. The title explains the idea of the project; since it’s my third album, I decided to put a trio together and do extensive research on the number 3. All the songs on the album circle around this structure of 3’s, we have songs in 3, 6, and 9, periods of three bars, etc.
This project motivated me to create new compositions because, as you know, our music is very binary. We have periods of 4 bars or intros of 8 bars and then we have sections of 16 bars, so I tried to think outside of this structure, and it really gave me liberty to create new stuff.
This summer I have a few gigs coming up! I’m really proud to announce that I’ll be playing for T.U. Jazz Fest at Ontario Place Summer Live Music Festival in Toronto on the 28th of July. On August the 2nd we are playing in Trois-Rivières, Québec at a museum called Boréalis. My trio is in their summer jazz program. Fourth of August, I will play with my big ensemble, a quintet, the same trio with extra percs and vocals, at the Maison des arts de Laval.
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