FB: Welcome to the ah...twentieth?-edition of the Berklee Oral History Project. It's March 7th, 2008, and spring is breaking all over Boston, and we're all getting ready for Spring Break, and I'm talking today with Mili Bermejo who's been on a semester break and a sebatical, ah..building her farm up in southern New Hampshire. Mili's been a member of the Berklee Faculty for over twenty-three years and she's um, always has terrific ideas to share. So welcome aboard today Mili.-
MB: Thank you Fred, it's pleasure to be here today, and yes I am on sebatical, which is a really exceptional time.
FB: A time of renewal.
MB: Ay yes, it is so far.
FB: Deep thought, and gathering of your forces.
MB: Having time off not to be running around having to do things constantly.
MB: It promises to be very, very, very ah.. creative and productive.- In a differnt way.
FB: We'll actually get to that in a little bit, but ah, let's ah.. ah, traditionally we start with a bit of biographical background and then..you know, eventually how you got to Berklee, in your case, from a couple of distant places.
FB: So, umm..
FB: You come from a very musical family?
MB: A very musical and unusual family because it is both sides.- Father and Mother. Ah, my mother comes from three generations of musicians in Argentina, and my father too. Ehh.. I was born in Argentina, Buenos Aires. - Grew up while they were working as musicians doing Mexican music, Argentinian music, - the house was surrounded all the time by musicians. They say I was singing at three and four, and harmonizing and things. We moved to Mexico city when I was eight, and the environment changed slightly, but now it was all about Mexican music. I discoverd mariachi's on my living room-midnight-trumpets, violins, - very exciting. So yes music was kind of like.. life for us it was normal. - I would go to school and kids would say "My father is a doctor."- "My father is a musician." -Ooh. It was normal. I expected kids to have the same family background, but I mean it was the best thing that happened to all of us. All of us, five kids, all became musicians. My mother sang on stage until the very last day of pregnancy, and I truly believe that has something to do with the vibes that we all got. We all were born ah..into it already.
FB: UmmHmm. - Positive Vibrations. -
FB: Music of Soul.
MB: Just Tuning, harmonically speaking, she has such a great voice, even now, eighty-six years old she singing again in Mexico City. Ah, I do think that, -if you are inside and she is singing on stage, and she had a profound voice you know.- In tune and very soulful so..I think..
FB: Viva la mama.
MB: Real mama. Yeah, yeah, yeah...
FB: Ah...anyway, also with kind of ah Sea Shift, politically, leaving Argentina which was having a lot of troubles, coming to Mexico, which was a little bit brighter and sunnier politically, and maybe ah, in other ways.- That must have had some effect as well.
MB: Yeah, well although at eight years old you don't see that yet. It was more about adapting to a differnt country.- So, at that point I had no idea, what was what, except we were taken away from Argentina, my country at that point. Adapting to being Mexican, and the first years were kind of iffy, and then, but then, I started loving it, and when I became eighteen I wanted to be Mexican, because I really learned to love it love it. My older sisters, eleven years old when she moved, had a much harder time than me and she always feel more Argentinian, I feel more Mexican than Argentinian.
FB: Were there family musical experiences? Were you performing as a kid on stage?-
MB: Absolotely. It started in Buenos Airies, my mother was doing adult music with my father, but also children's music. She was an incredible, important singer for a brand called Callicita, which ah, -a recording company dedicated to children's music. They had the most amazing chamber music and conductor/arranger that did incredible arrangements. It was such an alive type of music. Once in a while they needed a voice, a children's voice, so we started right there. - Then in Mexico, immeadiately as we came, we started working. So, we were featured, in childrens places; T.V. or Radio and that was the beginning. When I was still young; I mean I was like twelve; my sister Margie was already a Pop star. She had a show every day, television, 3.PM. She became really, really ,really, famous; Marjie. She still is in Mexico City, and she at that point, was doing Rock and Pop of the time. I was like "I wanna be like her." -but we were very differnt. She grew up very fast and I took forever developing, and I was teeny. And so, she was my role model at the beginning. So, yes always being stimulated to continue. Music was a game at home. We couldn't live without music. We were always singing. My father encouraged us, to do stuff; to arrange our stuff. So, my brother Miguel-guitarist. I was playing guitar too, and the three of us started doing stuff and experimenting, and then doing the Rock and the Pop over time.- The Latin American- we were born with it in a way. The Latin American important people like , Chau Conando, Marcel Sosa, Orel Ramirez were guests at our home. - Orch Hernando the great Peruvian, was our godmother for our first LP in Capital Records. I think I was 16 or 17. We started touring right away. So, we had a very early professional life of tour, television, acting....
FB: Only in Mexico? -
MB: In Mexio City- In Mexico- and Mexico is large has great programs and festivals and stuff so we were all over the place, and we did a background. I Learned my studio chops, but being background for big stars when we were teeny, and doing Jingles. They loved us, becuase Louis, Miguel, and I had such a language, that ah Coca Cola, - if there was something they needed voices, we would be there and the arranger didn't have to do anything. Just give us the line, and there we were. - AH.
(SINGS -) or whatever... Then ..there was a Pepsi one.. (SINGS) -and you know.. it was a really rich thing. We were all over the place, and we loved practicing and being good, and my father was unforgiving about musicality.
MB: Couldn't be out of tune. The corner with the hat you know.No, No, No it was a very .. It was a language. You could not be out of tune. It was like the pemise of the house. "Don't be out of rhythm."-"Don't rush."-"Be clean on your guitar."-"Come on!"- So, ah.. religion..
MB: Awareness...Religion almost. - Music was part of my upbrining, much before I even realized it. Much before I went to music school.
FB: and so umm.. now that spring is here. You're gonna be putting your little garden in up there..
MB: Little garden?
FB: Big garden!
MB: Ooh god. We are-next week, since we are on sebatical and we can tend to it, ah we are gonna put fifty tomato plants alone you know, and you name it- Every vegatable possible.-
FB: Are you playing wth the heirloom seeds?
MB: Of course, to be heirloom, and local possibly, and starting the germinations, - We got better, the next step on lights. - In new hampsire- We are all set up for that, we have three stations- the first one, where they have to sprout, and then the second where they grow better, and then they go to the windows where they come what they might become.
FB: Simultaneously your're working your manuals,-
MB: I am finishing my manuals very soon.
MB: Amost finished, because I have spent the last two months on it, and I really want to put it behind. It's really nice, and I have might have to do setups, slate it .. to present it.. But the bulk of the work is done, and then I can paint, pull out my guitar, take some piano lessons again.
MB:, and sewing. -
FB: That is always good.- You can make yourself a fancy jacket.-
FB: I've started!- I'm finishin...a red jacket.- all of my own pairings. I don't care how it looks at the beginning.
MB: Hand finished.- and not getting bored and old and things like that.-
FB: -and then of course you will also be examining some historical repitoire of your family that you haven't listened to in maybe twenty years.-
MB: Exactly, and then start writing.-
FB: Then that's when the seeds will start to grow.-
MB: It's already! My new song is called "Pure Beauty" - Pura Bauez- and I found myself humming this meoldy last summer in the middle of my ...now bounty in the peak of the garden. The birds... and I have two humming birds that come to my house when I am doing extra. - We have automated irrigation, but I do extra and I love it .. and they come and swim on it.. and at the same time you are producing the rainbows... because that is what water does..- I'm goin .. Oh my god! - There is a song already written about that.-I suspect this will happen more often now.-
FB: Humming birds are amazing.- Little bundles of energy.- Their little hearts are beating faster than you can imagine.-
MB: and they are ... (fluttering sounds.)
FB: I'm going to Arizona next week.- I'll be lookin for them, Do you have a little feeder? - The little red sugar feeder?-
MB: No because we have some many flowers. That they just go.. and we have a family now.. the fourth years..of Evening Rosebeaks-
FB: Oh man. SO amazing.
MB: They just showed up again. Now we know the routine - They come as adults, and they have their babies, - you see them training their babies, - the adults leave, and they young ones grow, they get fed strong, they go.- Now they are coming back, and they do come in fifties. Unbelievable, and they are so great.-
FB: Mili, this has been a wonderful chat.- Talking about creativity and music and..
FB:- all the good things going on at Berklee, -
MB: and changes.. and ..
MB: It is very good, I feel very privilaged ..to be..ah .. Berklee is my life now course, and it has allowed me to have this gig, in terms in salary, has allowed me to have all this freedom-to not have the flexability, to not have to pursue things to hard, and to keep like that balance of cleaness of spirit you know? because we get so eager sometimes, ambition is a factor, and we are humans and we have to be dealing with those things all the time.
FB: Well, may you and Dan thrive in mobility and grace and all you musical endeavors, -
MB: Before we get to old. -
FB: Thank you so much.
MB:Thank you too.. Thank you so much.
FB: But, Pop Rock, Folk, and Jingles, and Mariachi is a long way from Jazz. When didn the jazz kick in?-
MB:Well, the part of our voices that was so much into improvisation. There is impovisation in many folk genres, you know, African. Fo..Things from Mexico, there is a lot of improv. Not, in the sense of Jazz improvisation, but ah- bando covela, cosonason, all of those genres, are based on -you know (SINGS) -three chords, but the guy's improvising verses and melody and there is section where the harp takes a solo, and the harana takes a solo. It's just a little differnt, and like in the Cuban, you have the chanting -The choir and the soloist. So there is an element of improvisation.
FB: Okay. -
MB: So it wasn't foreign to me to make up stuff. I started writing songs since I was a kid you know?-Pop songs and whatever but, I was writing and I was using the elements, -and encouraged by my father to do .. to do right.
FB:So you tweaked the rhythms a little bit, you make up a few new words....
MB: Yeah..Yeah Yeah- An ABA whatever ...ah form I had to work on all the basic stuff, since I was a kid you know. - When we were arranging, the three of us, and that included my youngest who was a mistake and laid late, she was like thirteen years away from me, -of age. - She started with the percussion- the pandero. -Then she started harmonizing, and then she became an amazing musician.-
MB: Yeah yeah...
FB: And so on this background of having your ears and mind open to impovisation, somwhere along the line you heard...Miles Davis..Gill Evans..
MB: Somewhere along the line...Somewhere...along the line, we went, -the three of us at the same time, to the school of music,-the National School of Music for college, except early.- Earlier than finishing the full High School. Miguel my brother was already a guitarist.- He was doing some jazz, but he was a trumpet player. -One day he brings Miles. Ah.. "What's that?" - It was like a ...and him and Bird alone.- Sending mournful soulful sounds. (Gasps) - Just like that it affected me immediately, and I went like crazy. - I had a cousin who would take me.- For instance, ah-Charlie Mingus came one time to a beautiful theater and that was incredible.- And some cousins had taken me to concerts like that.- I saw, Charlie, I saw Stan Getz, I saw people like that. Earlier on-Earlier than eighteen.-
FB: Getz, had already absorbed the bossa nova. Mingus was definitely doing things with candonbae.
MB: Yeah but that wasn't was important for me.- I was discovering Jazz. I had the latin, I didn't need to learn the Latin.-
MB: I was discoverin the jazz masters. -and Miles had the first the thing.- Then Pharoah Sanders, and the Coltrane. and then it was like - I couldn't understand it yet, but I was moved.- In the mean time, all Latin America, -68- it was a stormy time for the world in general right?-Remember the student demonstrations in France, remember Oakland, California.- Civil Rights here.- In Mexico we were having a reaction to the Cuban revoloution, and to the Dictatorships in the south.- In Argentina, and Chile, and Uruguay, and even Brazil- we were recieving all these artists, scientists, and musicians. - The government opened the country for all these exilists to come to Mexico. So, all of the sudden I am in an environment, where you go jammin in a places, - laspanias,-a cafe concert type of thing. - Small gorgeous places where artists and everybody would gather for polotics, poetry and wine, and matte you know.- and all of the sudden, everybody is there.- All of the great musicians of Latin America.-
FB: Insane! -
MB: It was a scene.- and we were burning, our own group, and interacting, and doing marathons, and doing solidarity arts, and concerts, and in jails, and in big theaters.- So, it was like...really really a fascinating time. I think I had a full life at that time.- and life granted me the opportunity to have another life.- Ah .So we were learnin polotics, -social- cosmopolitan...I grew up in that world, so to me the thing of diversity, that we talk about so much now. It's kind of foriegn because I am diverse in so many ways.
FB: You grew up with it.-
MB: We didn't see each other differntly. The color of skin didn't have nothing to do with nothin.- We were all together.- We'd always been all together.-I didn't learn that part of the term ah...Discrimination, or Rascism, and all of that until I came to the United States.-
FB: How lucky to avoid it so long. -
MB: Well, it's- You know- I'm an idealist, in that, and in a way you won't get me any way else because I grew up from all of those angles and I found myself, no being a woman, a latina, and a jazz musician, that is also a minority you know? - Three times.-
FB: Yeah! - Three times a year! -
MB: (laughter) - Not so much.- But anyway I feel very lucky that I had, through my life, all these experiences and in, on the long, -I mean, a long the way, I had incredible teachers.-
MB: Always incredible teachers.- Father and mother first, and then at the school of music; the guitar teacher, the voice teacher, and then paths, always some guiding light, and the last one that pushed me - after all of that. I started working with... I was at the National School of Music, studying classical.- I studied classical, for about six or seven years even. - Did a lot of stuff, participated in classical choirs; -Professionally we were the young choir at the opera house.- Reinforcing the older guys doing Wagner or things like that; - or being conducted by really important conductors.-
FB: Wow, what were some of the big peices you did? - Kamina Barana?-
MB: Yes, and we were gonna do Mahler.-
FB: The second symphony?-
MB:Yes- but there was a strike in the University and...We did ah.. Polvetsian dances,
MB: We did Beethoven -of course.-
FB: Misa Soreness.-
MB:Yeah and ah .. the ah.. the 5th no?-
FB: of course.-
MB: And some other things.- My sister Luis stayed a little more there, and dedicated to classical.
FB: and she's still singing classical?
MB: Yes, she still.- She went away... I fell in love with.. and after all of that I studied all the new, modern harmony and all of that, but then, -popular...and then discovering jazz was a factor, and I got an incredible job at the radio station- cultural radio station, just five years before I came here.-Radio de Cashion- and it still exists.- It's about the most diverse and modern, radio, still now-a-days.- We were gathered by Julio Estrada was a modern classical composor. Very loco, very ah...daring.- He put us together as a students to create a radio. The musical program of a radio that wanted to be cultural without being boring. -
MB: So, it were challenged to learn the music from the world, before there was any world music fashion. And put ah... and learn to put a .. say.. Music From Ghana and and explain to the audience, and say where that comes from.- Then make a turn, and go to another music that could connect with that until you somehow, with three tracks you got to Beethoven. -Then from that you got to the Beetles perhaps, and then from that you got to Bob Dylan or whatever, and then you got to Miles.- Like we were challenged to build a whole trip of music every day.- So, Jazz was very much a part of that, and that's when I really got into Jazz, because I had that access,- Keith Jarrett all the time.-
FB: Oh Yeah.
MB: That's when I started singing Jazz more, with my brother and, Juan Jose Colata, he is gone now.- (says hello to sky) - Pianist fantastic composer,- and he encouraged me so much and got me into improvising, and got me into doing the changes, and really pushing it to go...go ...go... and then at some point at the radio, we did broadcasts, and concerts, of jazz musicians.- and there was Ron Blake.- That went to Mexico City, and he did this amazing concert, and I wasn't in the production, but I went to the concertwith my pals, of the radio, and was like -Very impressed.- Ron, was very friendly, and he wanted to meet Musicians from Mexico, and he ended up at my house.- He wanted to Tequila, and to hang out with jazz musicians.
FB: Beautiful.-He's still like that.-
MB: Thank you Ran, because that night was a change in my life. I don't know if he knows how deep this was. My brother at that point was in Chicago. - Ah He was was studying there.- He wanted to come to Berklee, and he did come to Berklee for two semesters, but I was pushing Ran to ... because Ran had started talking about his third stream and his summer course.- I say "No not me, my brother."- He says "No, No, No- let me hear you sing." - So we started fooling around a little bit in my house, I had an old white, upright piano.-
MB: He says , you should come to my five week program. - He said you should come! - He wrote me a letter, very amorous, he said "I won't charge you, I won't give you credit, but... I won't charge you." -That was a very great point, because I was very stable I had a relationship, I had the radio station, I was singing, it was all good! - Came for a summer, fell in love with it, and when I went back to Mexico, I was a differnt person, and I was, in crisis.- I was like "Sigh!"-
FB: What was Ran throwing at you? This is a Sarah Vaughn...Chris Conner..some of his favorites? -
MB: Not even..not even..Only ear training, it was all learning the musics, by ear, standards, it didn't have anything to do with names, nothing, it was all about making music. He had a method, that will teaching you ten songs.- Involved melodies, by ear, every day!- and you went home and you'd have nightmares.- You had to come back. This was the first time I heard Round Midnight, and I learned it - The melody alone.- I thought it was a Tango.- (sings) -
FB: So you ears -processing it... (laughter)-
MB: Gone.. (singing)- So it was a great reaffirmation that my ears and my sense of harmony were in the right place.- I ha... It had nothing to do with celebrites or who was what- it was pure musical experience. After all my classical and all those things, I said you know "This is the best thing." - I have to do it. This is the possible offices in Mexico that could grant me a grant. - A scholarship to come. The radio station gave me a whole semester's salary to come for my first semester.
FB:Great! - How Beautiful.
MB: I was excepted at Berklee, because at that time it was a very small school. - Very precious, very hard to get in.. Friends like Abey Labora, all his sisters were my friends, we went to the same school with Abey. - So, when I finally was able to come, very poor very little scholoarship, went back home worked the whole summer, came back with more money, scholarship and I stayed. - Broke all my relationships all of that stuff, and decided that this was it, and those were the four more important years of my life. - In the sense of gathering all up.-
FB: So you came to the conservatory..
MB:No no.. Berklee..
FB:Yeah Yeah...and it was an amazing challenge, because it was what I needed exactly to make the break from classical, pop, harmony- being a singer and nto really understanding my harmony yet... as a musician.-SO, ah ear training and Harmony were my best classes...and arranging...my teachers were like Ken Pullig, and of course Gregory Hopkins, and David Mash, Roberta Radley, was an amazing challenge in ear training and transcribing and all of that so... I really came to learn Jazz- and to really do the best I could in that you know?-
MB: So it was...you know. In spite of having nuemonia and all of that- and of course I immediately got starte performing because I needed it. Hook up with Burt Seagar my husband now, who wasn't at that point Dan Greenspan, Gary Chaefe, -
FB: I saw you guys play here and there.
MB: -and then we started playing all the clubs.- Which existed at that point.- You learned the language there...
FB: Let's name a few....Pous Pub, 1369, Riles, Michaels Pub,
MB:Pous Pub, 1369, Riles, Michaels Pub,
MB: The Willow,
MB: Ah...Mathapan had another one....
FB: Who did?-
MB: In Mathapan...
MB: There were so many, and also in Rhode Island, and this and that, and this and that.. so
FB: Burt always had good business chops..hustling the gigs.-
MB: Yes Yes..So that was ...what else could a woman want? - The best education here, and the best pals around me.- I was one of them anyway..I was never the gal, but I was always trying to be the musician in the band too.-
FB: Right...you weren't the chick singer.-
MB: No I never was the chick singer.- I could never be the chick singer.- Um...and they pushed me ..all of them pushed me to be better. My voice was having some stress because I was doing too much. I was learning so much of the improvising but my range wasn't as large as I needed it to be. Gary Chaefe pulled me aside one day but he said, "You need chops...so go get them"... I started my classical voice stud...studies with Elisa McPheely, an incredible opera teacher.- If I say that to people here in the conservatory she is the queen...she just retired. She has been a mentor for so many years to very important classical singers. She only took me because Luis, my sister, was her favorite student.
MB: But, she would never take anybody that wasn't doing classical. - I mean -she straightend me up, but it took a long time. My range got better, all my control, -I learned real technique with her; while I was doing Berklee. I was at the voice department but they were good teachers, but I needed really a coach that would push me and clean me up. - I did that. It took a long time. -A lot of frustrations.
The glory of all of that is that through all of this experience, I learned to put together the two worlds. You know...
MB: and sing well..and my range is better and better, even now, becasue my range is my pheely, My Mrs. Pheely support, My Mrs. Pheely understanding of the instrument; physiologicall in that sense, and like that.. and so .. at the end it gave me the free dom I was looking for. So you know.
FB: We took a quick break, and during that break Mili brought up the notion of the need for meaning and content in the singer's repitoire. -Not just reiterating old tin pan alley tunes that are irrelevant to today's life and issues ..something much more.-
MB: Yes, and this.. is not a philosophy, but .. and need in me, because I grew up in that period of-First of all, before the sixties, I was exposed to the voices of the time. For instance with the Alas, and the Sarahs and the people that created the language knew what they wanted to say, and it was genuine, amazing, deep, and in the moment, and it was grandiose.- I grew up with the latin voices like that, in those years, the Tango was as meaninful as possible. It was romantic, and tragic, and then the Mexican is the same, and all the countries there.- So I was exposed to the real singers.. the real artists all the time. -In my own house, because they were visitors. You know, pals of my parents. Then when the political part happens in my teens and twenties, because of what's happening in the whole contenient, the need to express yourself, the need to transform music into some vehicle of expression, eh we called themselves, and the cuban started calling themselves and Marcel Sosa. The singer -the musician- is a messenger too. We need to adopt a role of witness of our time. Which I think is a beautiful way of saying I see the world. I live in the world presently, and my art is not about me. It's about looking and expressing the best you can.
FB: A reflection of what you see around you.
MB: Exactly, and it doesn't have to be political or cheaply done. It's just that in that moment, we couldn't escape. The world was upside down and we were living in it every day. We were sharing lives with people who had been tortured or incacerated and they were now with us sharing these stories.- and so we had to. We had to integrate poetry on it. You see the situation out there-you go home and write a song about what you just saw, and then communicate it back, and the other part is that there was a moment of renaissance of all the latin elemnts. So all the latin elements of the country, we started rennovating. We took the repango back, the 6/8, -and made it in a modern way. The Peruvians is when the Afro Peruvian movement starts in the 60/70's -the mestisos and everything
FB: The shining path was going on at the same time..
MB: and everybody is trying to reincorporate our elements, forcloric elements, our black elements, into our music. So it is a very explosive time, and a lot of incredible music artists.
FB: You mean literally, and figuratively?
MB: Yes, all latin america, -no no.. black-African conteniental American, well all had africans brought to our countries, and we both had those influences of the african, mixing with the indigenous, and the spaniards.- So we all have this explosive African grooves and African elements in our music. Even in mexico, to a lesser degree, because, remember that the Spaniards came, we had a lot of indians that would do the work. So they brought less African slaves to Mexico, but they brought a lot Columbia, Venezuala, Argentina, and Urugay, the essential music from Uruguay, Candombe, is African. As African as the Batucala.-
MB: You know so, at this point in the sixites, the political thing, the rennovating and finding our roots, contenientally was happening, and then-fine poetry. A finer way of protesting after the protest song song -came this other rennovation of "How do I describe my world?" -"How do I communicate what I see?"-"How do I?--"- because I'm moved by a situation in the street, I have to put it in words, and give it back to you..so you can be moved by it.
FB: and it can be ...not with a hammer but with a feather, or a little ...
MB: a little poetic thing.
MB: So ... that is embedded in me. I had to after I learned all my jazz chops that allowed me to start manipulating, I started going back to my Latin. - Of course.- and started writing from a differnt point of view as a composer.- I consider myself a composer. I do repeat things and I recreate musics that I love and I love to have my own way of going. With my harmony-my jazz harmony, I started writing differntly, so my songs are never too catchy pop, never too jazzy pop, but they have all the elements of Harmony form and predictable places, and -like that.
MB: -and still preserve a great need as a person, as an individual, to be part of this world actively.-
FB: You know I hear something even more complex that that even in your early jazz work, and even more in your classical training comes out in your melodic line and your sustains...
FB: So you got the whole thing there. It's very complex- ITs ah..
FB: The jazz is your vehicle- your ...
MB: My language.- My tool. - Yeah you just said it- and thank you Fred.- I feel it .. but that's admition.. I mean- It's not exceptional for me cause that's how I grew up. - You got to take care of your melody, your harmony, and your rhythm.
FB: Or you sat in the corner with your dunce cap.
MB: and to me a lot of what happens to me in the newer interperations of jazz is that it is alot about style.- The line gets lost. When you even go to people like Eliz Reginia, and even her daughters are producers as very well, but um.. there is line, they are singing pop, but there is no interuption of the line by many many differnt embelishments you know. So, I find that the approach is sometimes, way too stylistic and not enough about what..what do I need to say?- So
FB: Is this also the problem with say Babel following Joao-To some extent.
MB: Ah .maybe... We cannot generalize you know?- But this is where I come from, and this is what I like to maintain. - That kind of asthetic in what I do.I change, I like myself, in change- being influenced and writing differntly. Nowaday's I'm even using a little bit of spoken word on stage, meaning- murmuring or doing other sounds in between the the texts and the percussion...or like that but..I see it all as a life adventure that never ends you know.
FB: Maybe we could go jump right in and apply that to your most recent project Le Teiara which is recorded at -Regattabar?
FB: Scullers.- Two years ago?
FB: This was ah..recorded and released in .. Mexico.
FB: -and it's had..ther's been a series of ripples and other waves of concerts that have come since then. -
FB: Tell us how that whole project ...
MB:of Le Teira. -I'll tell you what happens...as I said...I find some people who..of my generation feels the same. We are not musicians only. We are human beings in this world. I got ..I used to be affected by the world. Maybe because I don't have children of my own I feel- I have energy to get involved and to feel affected, and to wanna. I'm an independant person and I take initiative you know. Sometime in the wrong places too. I was so-Me and my husband so discouraged.-Dan and I have been partners in music and crime -for a long time, and happily, exceptionally working well, sometimes it doesn't happen with husband and wife. Ah- but emotionally we've been kind of disturbed with the era. These last three years of government - war. The things we have lost, am- as humans, as citizen's of the world. Our relationships, -because I am an American citizen, and in that sense, I feel also like a world citizen. I have Argentinian, Mexican, and the United States.
FB: We are international outcasts.
MB: My life is here, and I adopted the country, and I love the country, and I hate what's happening with us and the world, and all this...ah..living in fear, ah - I can't live in fear myself.- So we were both very discouraged and depressed. Work started getting so much worse, after ah- 9/11, because there was no work, no budget. - Aritsts all of the sudden have no way of getting ahead unless it's the real commercialism, -unless you have a real..true..big support behind you.
FB: Voices have been quieted just as the news media has.
MB: Yes exactly...so it all got to a grey spot....the up of this is that Dan and I -coincidence of life-ten years ago, ran into a parcel of five acres. -Very close to here, and hour and a half to New Hampshire.- We build a natural reserve.- That cost nothing.- It was really nothing. We bought this- nobody wants to live out there, and there was no house. It was all the woods - wild. We bought it and then started going .. (crazy motion) - After a couple of years, Dan got creative, this was the second call of life- the beginning of our second call- both of us. He didn't know anything about carpentry or building, but had help from friends who had that as a life, and he himself with his own hands, and me when I could paint or I could do like that; we built a house.- We started small, it became-have addictions..additions!
-While we also started developing the land. I never grew nothing in my life, except for some little small plants in my apartment that died you know..So, today this is a house, with three bedrooms, three places to sleep, my sewing workshop, -I'm sewing now-ah, the studio, is a gorgeous thing with gorgeous acoustics-only an upright piano.- You can paint in there. -So, this year, I'm getting ready to expand my organic garden/farm. Slash farm-because it's large now.-I don't know if it is 4,000 square feet or more.-We'd been eating all our vegetable's frozen until now, I still have brocolis and many things in my freezer.- So now we are completely into the land now. It was sort of our own take. - It was..."How do we contribute to this?"- To the industry, the bad food.- All of these things, -the gasoline, actively speaking- Instead of just being mad, we started buliding something, and now-a-days, it is the center of our lives, the center or our creativity, -ah right now, there in the winter...- The house was built huge, with all local, -all recycleable, our own wood, our own water source, all self contained and productive.- and full of windows.- So you are inside on your piano, doing transcriptions, looking at this amazing...birds... of course we have a habitat for the birds! -and it is the most amazing thing for me to have discovered -how you can be a vehicle for life.- How you can - do the lines, and put your seeds, and take care of them, and fight the pests- organically, and sort of it has given us so much hope.- and we share it.
FB: It's the old think global act locally.
MB: Exactly. So, we put so much into that.- We buy our meats and our chicken from very local farms around us. - have developed relationships-we trade vegetables for apple cider, and we're well into the community there, and it's very small, the town is two-thousand people maybe.-So, the Tiera comes, in a moment of despair -in terms of -what am I in the world, - like AItno used to say, "I'm alienated in this new liberal world." -he says in one of his songs. and-I didn't wanna sing anymore.- To fight so much to have some gigs, what does it mean for anybody?- People want lights and glamour, and you know, I'm not into that.- I could never be.- and so, we started -both - listening to the musics that have moved us for a long time.- and started to recover that part of us. - The great singers, my tapes of my families parties-that my mother always recorded, my brothers and sisters singing at that point,-doing incredible music, and then I said "You know what?"- "I can't stop, this is where I come from."- Funny enough, it was the tapes of the family gatherings, and my brother who passed five years ago, I had already written something for him. - I started hearing his raw singing.- El mano.
MB: Another omage to him. I hear your voice- it provokes me but I can't find you, and you musical self. A gorgeous little piece.- Then I write one for my father, beautiful songs you taught me.- Not only that you taught me to live trying to find beauty. You taught me to be cry and be moved by the mysteries of the world. The.. and that one has a jizmonte sort of thing..and it's a through composed thing.. and then ..imigration problems we were having with all my bisanos, and the big demonstrations in California, and Chicago and all of that, and I was getting so angry you know, - I wish we could understand and feel as all the fact that my bisanos come here because the fact that my government in Mexico can't help the people.- It's a two way street, so they come here.- But, the fact that these people come here and do all the work so we can have lettuces on our table.-but people don't think about it that way.
FB: All they think about the fear and the wall. -Put up a wall, throw them out. It's not the way this country was built.
MB: Exactly, Exactly, -Exactly-So, I write a song - the last one, that I wrote. Bendiciones-Blessings for those that don't kill, don't lie, don't cheat... blessings for those who transform, create, find each other, love each other.-
FB: In other words-Not Washington D.C. but.. El Paso.
MB:Yes and ah..to change ourselves, to wash out ourselves, to be good to your neighbor. - To be included, we need to keep our memory in our hearts, and remember our history. and it says-"Too each one freedom, to each one peace."-And it is written in a candombre feel, and then it has a solo that is complex, harmonically very complex. - Half step motion, ala jizmonte. - So, I find myself in that project kind of putting everything together -being the musician, the person, the interest. The Tiera is the hope for part of the thing, -Let me tell you everything, I'll tell you everything, we'll build a paradise of birds and flowers, and we'll find peace in each other. - We'll share it and take care of the land and the land will give us back it's beauties. We'll transpire in water, we'll wash out our skins, -your skin will have smell of wet soil. - Anyway, it got me going again.
FB:This has got to speak to young people very strongly.
MB: Right now!- Right now I am very excited, because I see this...this...awareness coming back a little bit, because we-for ten or twelve years -quiet and consuming, watching T.V. and that is it.-
MB: I mean I'm generalizing, and no interest to see the world. -Everything that is happening now, the elections, things like that. - Whatever happens - I see movement. I see energy among young people too, of wanting to change things around themselves, or integrate things around, and it's hopeful. I feel happy now.
FB: Kids come to a music school, because they are full of hope. You don't become a professional musician with a tremendous sense of uplift, and a sense of ...well hope.
MB: Yeah. They also come, by .. the world now is so influenced by "Making it" or "Being a star." -Commercial and Glamour. Which is fine, but I wish they also can, pursue that part of it. - Pursue the art first. - Not the "Making it first." -Finding your voice. -Who are you? - What do you need to say? -
FB: I think well what I see among the Berklee students is much more of an afinity for the small singer songwriter with a great amount of integrity, than the big splashy, Brittney Spears...maybe even Christina Aguleria, is a little bit over the top. They want something that has integrity, and a real feel to it.-
FB: So you know they're buying little tunes online here and there, but not going for the big ..they have a sneaking suspicion that there is something not right about the big record industry. -Of course now it is come to pass.
FB: It's sort of blown up and its gone out into the free world.
MB: There is so many ways of doing it. -
FB: Artist share for the jazz people and all sorts of interesting marketing techiniques that are deployed by people like radiohead and nine-inch-nails. Everybody is trying to find a little niche. -It's happened with the media too, look at radio.
FB: Streaming you get stations all over the world.-
FB: How does this work into your classroom?- How do yo convey this kind of rebirth -your sensibilities to your students?-
MB: You know, I ah...I don't have...I do have within the classes I have designed the environment to touch bases on this. - Mostly I am a music teacher here, -my personality and whatever comes out of my mouth of course includes who I am, and of course, they get the idea, and once in a while, we touch bases on a few things but, as a teacher I like to convey education.- I like to be my father- "Intoation!"-"Rhythm!"-"Melody!"-"Harmony!"- "Come on!"-
FB: Get the basic stuff.
MB: Yes -So I am strict in that sense...and not strict hard.. strict as I try to convey that these are the things we need now. - We cannot be thinkin to be stars or do anything else if we don't have this stuff. - I find a lot of singers out of tune. - So I find myself ..."Why do we need to be in tune?" - This is essential, this is Harmony, you cannot be out of tune you know?! - So in any case I try to convey all my global experience of..."Let's have good chops!"- "Let's learn to control the voice of this universal musical element." - Not in a classical way.. but in a healthy, productive, foundation...Let's have confidence in ourselves, because we know how to produce a quality sound. Then you can manipulate it and give it whatever you want. - I'm much better at giving my students that type of tool, than a sylistic first, and then I have classes that I have designed over the years that are geared twoards for instance...the advanced vocal improvisation class, that I created after Berklee, I went to study with Jerry Burgosi privately for like three years, he is a mentor for so many of us, he treated me an instrumentlist- Oh my god, I learned all the horn paterns and...deeper into the harmony and like that..so I created this course with the intention of conveying in once semester- all of these elements to...it's a jazz course...and it's a required course for the voice department, for performance majors.- It has been enormously gratifying for me because sometimes I get students from Europe who are incredibly informed already and challenge me with the transciptions we do. We do solos, we write solos, we do horn patterns, we improvise every class. -In a scientific way, -so it is my take on the people that are improvising already a lot ... by ear.. and well.. .to say "Okay ...let's go mental now.-Literally mental."
FB: Give me some examples...For vocalists and horn players.
MB: Ah ..Vocalists mostly, no no no.. We transcibe Miles, and Chet Baker, and Clifford Brown.. and
MB: What I am trying to do is to compensate the singer's mentality -which is natural to us to have memory ears and that kind of chops.- Then we sort of get unbalanced in terms of really knowing what we are doing.- So we do alot of ...It's a Harmony jazz course. - It is actually a sebatical project that I have now, is to make a manual of that class that I have been teaching for probably twenty years- for others to take on later, -to take my take, if one day, when I retire, there will be something there.- I love it that it is a jazz course.- Anyway I have also designed a seminar on latin American music. - When so many years ago, when so many of us here yet where I feel the need for my own identity to come, where I felt the need for my students to know more about latin america. -And this was fifteen years ago. It was very differnt, and it is an informative geographic history, what happened during conquest. What kind of Africans came to each country. - How the music in columbia, - how the black fused with the columbians and the natives and so we got two different not alike ...completely deep..but deep enough - and it is not about chops, its not really about learning
FB:Social history, Musicology.
MB: Social Musical History... we listen to the greatest singers. - The older singers of all the countries, and compare notes, and the meaning of the lyrics. We transcribe a song or two but just as an exercise of putting it all together music message, where the music comes from, and the power of the music. - Because if you know more - Like if I know where jazz comes from..originally, I'm gonna put that into the context, into the meaning of my new songs. - If I know where Samba comes from in brazil, and this was.. the original was.. the slaves that would flee the plantations, would escape into the mountains and then they start dancing this fertility dance, called zemba, -then became Samba.- So, I find that all the great musics that has endured Jazz, the Blues, the Groove, comes from a survivalistic type of moment. All the human need to create something -to make meaning.
FB: Maybe we can make some field trips to Havanah again sometimes soon.
MB: But you know what I'm sayin .. In that sense I'm very religious about where music comes from nd in that class I have a chance to figure out where the music comes from.- and in that class I have a chance to talk about those things -the power of the music.- and students love it.- It's a very tiny class because it's two credits because people don't have sometimes the time or the credits... and the last course I designed is more pro-active, and it's a Latin and Jazz performance. The Voice department provides me with a fantastic Rhythm section and there are eight students and we explore musics from all Latin America...students..I provide, but I suggest, and I have found that when put in the right spot, students transcribe and they learn to build the charts perfectly, because we have a professional rhythm section the intercaction I try to create is completely a workable thing. They learn to write good charts and good rhythms and to speak the language. Learn new music, learn new rhythms, and I get a recital every semester, and get people from Isreal speaking in Spanish. People from Japan singing in Portugese and three or four of them doing background. -It's just the most fun thing in life.
FB: So the ..of the three classes probably gives you a chance to balance the tradition with the innovation.
MB: Exactly, and to teach -Method. Because there are no bad charts in my class. No bad intonation, no bad rhythm, so we get a chance too...and we get a chance to make the singer aware that we are one of the band. - That we must include everybody. -All my classes, everyone there, the improv class, - the environment- the non competitive environment- to learn to learn. We're pushed into situations all the time that are very competative and very scary sometimes for many singers. So, I try to give them to be in a completely safe and nurturing environment where they can be themselves and not compete with each other - "How many syllables I do?" - "How many lines I do?"- -To me each individual is precious in the sense of capable of growth. So I really try to establish this in my classes that we are all equal in this sense and that we are all responsible for each other. We're not better than others, -to learn. We all know that we are differnt, we all know that you have more chops that me, who cares.. My mind is capible to do the same so to do method, lines, patterns, science, - I know that this person who was already good..more advanced...is learning..but then ...this one is also learning. You know so, In that sense It is exactly what I like to do.-
FB: Miles always knew he wasn't Clifford Brown. - So he tried to make an advantage out of that by playing lyrical, laid back, ...
MB: God and He created... SO, this is what I like the most about what I have developed through the years at Berklee. Now, I am fully happy incorporating my personallity in this. There is no stars in my room.- No one. We are pals, -we learn from each other, and we really need this interaction to - we need to learn that we can learn better, if we are not trying to be better than the next. And with singers this happens a lot you know.- Not me , but I see it around,
FB: Because of the mentality that is instilled by the jazz community-that the singer is apart from the jazz musicians, - that's been a bug bear for decades..
MB: That added with with the woman, -chick in front, - pretty -all of that and then add it too the stylistic thing, we don't get the right path to become the musician we are.-as singers.
MB: Because if you do that then you are fine.- You won't care anymore about, you were prettier today or yesterday, or that somebody is better, no..because you are having fun in a differnt way. It's a different kind of fun.-It's a deep kind of fun. It's not a fun of show and -you still can show that part of you. - but it balances, and it helps you be more original. Because you don't have to repeat the same syllables and the same scatt, that's how jazz musicians do it, I've been trying to give my little grain in that sands...
FB: Yeah that's good... too many people get into the kind like the ..ah ..cheerleader mentality - they've always gotta be up and on.. and the make up's gotta be alright and ..it should be irrelavant when music is an..aural thing.. rather than just a light show.
MB: Yeah, Yeah, Yeah....So in other words it is to me I try to watch myself also for the same reasons.- Balance.-If you have the right balance. - If you are aiming in life for balance ah..you're always gonna be learning. I think for us, at our age, that is the most important thing I have learned in life.-That the learning is not over. I need to be excited about what is next. -Me at my age, so -That way I communicate that to my students too, by keeping active, or being creative, or by forgiving myself when I am not. -but there's other things going on, there is other kinds of creativity. Creativity is the key. It doesn't matter if I'm learning to sew now or I'm painting, or I'm taking my guitar back, or maybe my sebatical, take some piano lessons that I need.- Or go back to my voice teacher-you know. But the point is to keep active and keep curious. To relly adopt for the kids the fact that life is a Journey.
MB: I get excited about that. It's part of your life, that you don't stop and then your are done. -
FB: I think that um..there is a tendancy to ah.. for young people who get focused on their own little projects, to ah..put the blinders on. - Spend way to much time, at the keyboard, the computer screen, with their ipod, or headset on. -and not to ...kind of shut out the world at large.
MB: In that sense I love technology for what it has brought for us - many things. - But it also has brought this other world that doesn't include others. - So in that sense the people that are only doing it here are not the developing the relationship with the band... the life context. The ineraction, and that is the jazz part of it, that we cannot live without each other...I cannot play.. with a track!- We have to be there.
FB: What is your challenge with the constant flow of kids from new places coming into the classroom?
MB: From new countries you mean? You mean international kids? -
FB: Whether it be China, Isreal, Equador, or .....How do you get them to find the best in what they've got. - ...and they are all here to learn Jazz....some not...
MB: No no .. I mean...people come here for so many reasons. First of all it is to me ..fascinating..to have you know.. United Nations types of classrooms. It happens to me a lot in the courses I teach. - They are very open and so.. they come from many differnt countries, and ah.. it's a challenge, I am curious about them, I think as a teacher it challenges you to... for that.. ..to treat everybody equal. To not expect...in that way to expect the best out of anybody you know? - In terms of interactions it takes time and is work for us distinguish people from differnt countries to pronounce their names well-for instance, which was something that I went through. - So that we are not like .. numbers..as a student..because it happend to me, -more at it.. try it... and sometimes it is really hard to pronounce certain kinds of names..or you think a person is from China but is actually from Thai or from these .. or from the others or..Korea, so these things are a challenge all the time and I try to give attention the best I can because I want people to feel that they can count. I don't like my students to go in and out of my class not knowing anybody, and not even acknowleging each other, sort of like manners you know?- So in that sense I do that too, I teach a class for the performance division that is, recital preperation, fifth semester performance majors, -there I get everybody-the drummers, the trumpet players, the singers, the bass player, the guitarist...and it is a fascinating class, amazing talent...it's a beautiful class, nothing to do with singers, but performance-all of the issues about stage and being yourself and being better. It is a lovely class, because it is designed to make students develop three projects during the semesters about performance, in a room with lights and stage and sound-They do a solo, is the first challenge, -whatever you're a cellist or a trumpet, or a singer...accapella, - Second is a duet.-Third is trio or more.So the class allows for these people to develop a better sense of themselves, or to bring their own proejcts from outside. -Some of them are already working, I had had an incredible latin jazz band of eight people, great horn players...virtuoso kids ...makin sense ...over there.. or I had a three singers something...or a guy from Isreal doing something with the Chinese....because ...I love it.. because that is exactly what I am trying to say. We are all here for a reason. Music.- It is the power of music. The better we are the better we can interact with each other. and in my classes those ones, I make people interact. I don't want people to come sit.. and never look around.
FB: Is what you do unusual for music classes do you think? - This interactive mentality.-
MB: I have no idea. - They say... Once in a while I hear that, it's great to be in this class, because we actually talk to each other...and we actually talk to each other and we actually give input....
FB: Well, music is such a performance vehicle by nature. I on the other hand, am in liberal arts. Reading and writing can be a very solitary experience.- So, I encourage reading aloud in class, and ecourage them to collaborate on writing. -
FB: Sit down and write something ..say a Dialouge..say between Jimi Hendrix and his bass player, -outside of class, then come in and read it in public. -I like to push that.. and make em always answer questions ...
MB: Yes for jazz musicians, instrumentalits, -males. It is not fequent that they are asked to express themselves in words. - So I work on that a lot. The beginning is like .. ah.. uh...So, I make the same point. We are here in this semester to help eachother. It is not about me, its about you, its about all of us.. Your comments are important for all of us. - We learn to recieve criticism, we learn to respect criticism, even if we don't agree. We learn to tell each other- things that are helpful. In musical terms. - "Oh it was nice..."- "Why?""Why was it nice?"- "Was it the rhythm, was it the melody?" - "Were all these musical elements working?" -Oh yes. - and soon after people are talking to each other and giving intellegent comment.
FB: You have to make the music critics.
MB: and they learn to express themselves.- That is the point though. I see then at in the evoloutions that they do, that they actually like that and I don't know how many teachers do that , its up to us to do that... but since its me- I have to do it my way.
FB: The dialouge is critical.. You have to have some kind of exchange.-
FB: Speaking of which, there's been a community of Latin teachers and professors that have evolved over the last several years. I know that you and oscar and Victor Mendoza, what is the what is the ...what is coming of this? - Other than having a Latin music event once a year...Is this forging a coalition and a more better consciousness of Hispanic cultures on campus here? -
MB:I'll tell you my part of this. I don't know if I can answer, exactly in detail what you ask, within again, of my own process of being a latin in campus. -Eight years ago being in touch with Latin students, of course I am with Mexican students, and it was the students initiative, the students clubs, initiative, eight or nine years ago, through the students activites office, and the one person that must be credited is Jane Stahoviach, she is the god. -She is the power behind, even now-a-days, when we have taken a more active role on this, but this was nine or eight years ago that were proclaiming that they needed presence in the campus, that they wanted to have a week of concerts dedicated, and activites dedicated to their own culture. Jane went after, Jane solicited me and Oscar, and Victor, initially to please aid, - and we started advising these people and helping them. - but it was their descion who was coming, what was going on and like that, and I was so happy to start participating, ever since, every year, closely with Jane, more than with faculty, each one of us would put a little effort on something produce a concert or be the contact for the artist from outside, but the philosophy, for me at that point, was to make awareness in town-in campus, that we were here and that there was more to just Latin, commercial, and that, that we were all from differnt countries, and that we needed to expose our countries and clutures and traditions to everybody else, and that was the point of view. Then it kept getting better. - The students themselves, - got funding from differnt departments, and from the presidents office and that point with Lee Berk. Ah..and it started developing. Then we got a little attention from other places. - Then there was the six one. Then we started being able to bring, with the administration's support, better people that needed, to be ah .. paid better or presented better, or presented better. - Then we brought...the one that was amazing was ah.....eh....Ruben Blades,
FB: - that was just two years ago right?
MB: Three years ago.. And there was Cacao the last one- because of that initiative, and I tell you Jane Stacoviah -powerhouse behind it.-
FB: She really is determined. She gets alot done.
MB: Oh yeah, and she has an incredible personality of being able to..put people together. So it has evolved to the last one, which was, Rosa Pasus, in which differnt faculty...differnt things.- I've been personally advising producing, performing and every one in some sort, wheather it is a tribute, or my own band, or a part of another band, ah .. helping students do what they do, Ah, doing panels...whatever,- I think that many of us have started finding our place within that. I don't see it as a niche of all Latinos but in putting together a week or more of ah activities that include movies, and include library trip, and include more historical things, and panels about stuff. Now-a-days - I think that last year- it was a more formal call organizing ourselves into ah..being a latin faculty group, community whatever, and I think we are going to be doing more and more in this way.'
FB: Good Good..
MB: So there is good for everybody, = I mean when Rosa Pasos came, she visited one of my Latin Jazz class, and students performed for her. - And guess what she said at the end of her comments- So sweet- inspired me enormously. - She said "I wanna tell you that we need to take it easy." - "People don't need to see you breathing."- "All musicians are in the same tribe." -"We are all messengers of music." -"We must treat it with respect and elegance." -"and generosity." - It was so beautiful. - So for me that was my highlight - Of course seeing her later and being part of gatherings was really great too, but to me the minute things are more important than the huge light things you know...and in that one we participated in a tribute to Natasha Stavnez, the filmmaker, wife of my dear friend, Claudio Regassi, who I work with-guitarist.- So, I see each part of this week very important. That one was very solemn and beautifl and poetic, and then there was the huge other Rosa Pasos, and then there were places for students to perform. So I see, it is alot of power into this and I look forward to continue.- and I see all my other pal faculty doing what they can do.- I find what is important is to find who we are and to find what role we can plays- like a families you know. You cannot force anybody to be what is not. -
FB:Try to find your niche and contribute as best you can. =