Duduka Da Fonseca has one of the most softly insistent touches on the drums, particularly when he's using brushes. As he whisks up a rhythm, the sound is like the wind swinging through long-limbed willow trees. You hear the steady rustle of the leaves but the force is gentle and coaxing rather than trunk-splitting. This combed sound gives your ear a chance to enter Duduka's space, to hear what he's doing rather than merely feel the time he's keeping.
Since 1979, the Brazilian-born bossa-jazz drummer has recorded with many different artists and led many different types of groups. He's perhaps best known for being the founder and co-leader of Trio Da Paz. Duduka's new release, Samba Jazz/Jazz Samba (Anzic), continues his effort to integrate jazz and samba without the result sounding too commercial or gritty.
This is what sets Duduka apart: your ear hears a samba rhythm and you think you're about to be served up a Rio-pop recording. Instead, you're treated to a bossa with enormous jazz energy—meaning it's neither bossa nor jazz but a synthesis that at once soothes and challenges.
I caught up with Duduka, 61, last week to talk about his career and new album...
JazzWax: Is Duduka really your first name? It sounds like a royal title.
Duduka Da Fonseca: [Laughs] My birth name actually is Eduardo. Duduka is a nickname my mother and grandmother used to call me. I had no idea what the name meant until I played with Astrud Gilberto in the 1980s in Washington, D.C. A radio station invited me on for a conversation and the interviewer, who was originally from Nigeria and spoke Yoruba, said “du-du” in Yoruba means black and “ka” means all over. So who knows?
JW: Growing up in Rio, do you remember the music scene in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s?
DDF: Yes. I was born and raised in Ipanema, a beach area in the south of Rio de Janeiro. At that time, Ipanema was a quiet area with just a lot of houses. We played soccer in the streets, and once every half hour a car would pass by. It was a very gentle, musical place.
JW: What’s one of your first recollections?
DDF: I remember going to the beach with my grandfather, before The Girl From Ipanema was written [in 1962]. My grandfather was a poet. Since there were so few people at the beach back then, he used to recite his poetry in a loud voice, to hear how his verses sounded. In the late '60s, the government finished building a tunnel that connected the city’s north zone with the south, and traffic grew along with the construction and tourists.
JW: You loved jazz from an early age, didn’t you?
DDF: Yes. In 1964, when I was 13 years old, I formed a trio with my brother Miguel, who played bass. We modeled ourselves after the great bossa nova and jazz musicians who performed in Rio. By the time I was 15, I was playing in bossa festivals in Rio and on TV. This was the golden era of Brazilian music. In the late '50s and early '60s, Brazil was experiencing a cultural explosion. Bossa Nova was created, the president of Brazil was well-liked, and for the first time Brazil was the world champion in soccer. There was an enormous sense of pride.
JW: So why did you move to New York in 1975?
DDF: I moved to pursue my dream to play with great American jazz musicians. From the time I was a kid, my parents loved to listen to musicians like Louis Armstrong, Gerry Mulligan, Chet Baker, Ray Charles, Frank Sinatra and Nat King Cole—along with Joao Gilberto, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Dorival Caymmi, Jonnhy Alf and many others who were influential. So I grew up listening to bossa nova and jazz and fell in love with them. Even then I wanted to find new ways to mix samba with jazz—in equal parts. Most people who played jazz used the bossa as a rhythm, and most artists who played bossa used jazz to showcase solos. I wanted to have them both together but distinct, not one serving the other.
JW: Where does your new album fit in with this evolution?
DDF: Samba Jazz/Jazz Samba is another attempt to achieve perfect balance, since it can be either/or. A distinguished journalist, Bill Milkowski, recently said that my music can be jazz samba or samba jazz—meaning that the emphasis can be viewed from either side. This is where the title comes from.
JW: Jazz seems to be having a hard time attracting new fans. Is this also true of Brazilian music?
DDF: We perform for the love of the music—that is our motive, not necessarily to be commercially successful. Of course, we need to make money. But playing jazz and Brazilian music is a labor of love. In earlier years, I believe that there were more places in American cities to play jazz. A lot of things have changed thanks to the Internet.
JW: How so?
DDF: People used to communicate by talking. If you needed something or wanted to know something, you called up and had to talk on the phone to express yourself. Now everybody just sends emails, so verbal communication and even leaving your house to attend a performance can no longer be as special as it once was. So much is available on the computer. It's a double-edge sword.
JW: Ever feel the urge to move back to Rio?
DDF: I moved to New York in ’75 when I was 24 years old. I love New York and have been living in Manhattan for most of my life. Naturally, I also love my Rio—I was there already twice this year. I go there to relax and be with my family, and also to record and play. In fact, I am going very soon to Rio to finish up an album with my Brazilian-based trio, featuring David Feldman on piano and Guto Wirtti on bass. This is going to be a follow up to our CD Duduka Da Fonseca Trio Plays Toninho Horta.
JazzWax tracks: Duduka Da Fonseca's quintet features Anat Cohen (ts, cl), Helio Alves (p), Guilherme Monteiro (g), Leonardo Cioglia (b) and Duduka (d). You'll find the Duduka Da Fonseca Quintet's Samba Jazz/Jazz Samba (Anzic) here.
JazzWax clip: To hear tracks from the album, go here or click below...
And for Duduka's magnificent brushwork, here's Duduka in 2000 playing Bala com Bala from his Samba Jazz Fantasia release...