steve schwelling takes a workshop from Airto

steve schwelling is a wonderful percussionist friend of mine living in austin. he went to a workshop with airto and was pretty pumped about the whole thing. here he discusses relevant points.

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"Just love one another"

Music is a wisdom path. If you doubt this I encourage you to see Airto Moreira as soon as you can. Yesterday I was blessed to hear Airto in both workshop and concert setting. Both experiences were transforming for me. I have been listening to Airto for a good part of his career and long before I had one of my own. Back in the 70’s I listened to him on "Bitches Brew" and "Live Evil". I also devoured "Free" and "Fingers". When I was in college I traded an Eric Dolphy record for Light as a Feather. I went to see Airto and Flora at Paul's Mall-Jazz Workshop a number of times. I first met him then. I was eighteen and attending Berklee. As I often did in those days, I talked my way past the door for the sound check. Airto, the force of nature that he is, was characteristically kind, generous, and frightening all at once.

If I could describe Airto's drum set playing with one word I guess it would be "floating". Whenever I hear him I feel buoyant like I'm in a zero gravity environment. All of my adult life I have been trying to figure out how he achieves that feeling. I think I got a little closer to understanding it yesterday. First, Airto approaches all aspects of life, including music, as an expression of pure energy. His music emanates form a place of pure sound energy. I would add that one of the things he has contributed to the vocabulary and aesthetic of Jazz is the use of idiophone and mebranophone instruments (as well as his voice) as a means of expressing the ground state of pure sound (much as how John Coltrane used his horn in his later years). Second, Airto is also a master rhythmist and, deeply understands the power of African based rhythms as a source of universal power, truth, and beauty. So he also brought to North American Jazz an entirely new vocabulary of rhythms that had a deep history going back to the slave trade in Brazil. Airto introduced many musicians, including me, to Baio, Marcatu, Xaxado, and Samba. Moreover he introduced these rhythms in a purely Jazz context which encouraged experimentation resulting in numerous metric and harmonic innovations on these traditional forms. Third, Airto has a very personal approach to time and I think this is where the weightless feeling comes from. Last night I noticed how he manipulated the articulation of the quarter notes and eighth notes - often placing notes behind or in front of the bass and piano just enough to create the impression of floating time. The groove came in waves rather than as a straight linear progression. Last and most important, this is how Airto feels and experiences time. It is not conscious but rather an expression of his relationship with the wavelike quality of energy.

If you are a musician you will hopefully evolve to a point where your music informs as well as expresses the totality of your life. All of us will sooner or later have to face our mortality. If music is an expression of one's entire being and life experience than we should hope that the older wiser musicians among us can find a way to communicate and teach the important lessons of that life stage through their music. Yesterday’s workshop and performance by Airto was an object lesson on this point. Airto seemed more concerned with communing than with performing. Or maybe, more precisely, he doesn't distinguish between the two. Airto has been dealing with serious health problems. Despite what appeared to be some physical difficulty he gave of himself compassionately and generously. Rather than talk about the mechanics of percussion and rhythm he launched into a philosophical discussion of energy and sound. His performance more resembled a shamanic healing ceremony than a workshop or concert per se. But characteristically, he was concerned as much for the audience's healing as he was for his own. He understands that one can not be achieved without the other. He imparted his life wisdom to all of us who were ready to hear and accept his gifts. Thank you Airto.