A look inside The Jazz Gallery

Pedro Giraudo and the WDR Big Band. Photo courtesy of the artist.

A New Yorker since 1996, bassist, composer, and musical director Pedro Giraudo maintains a strong connection to the music of his native Argentina. Giraudo’s compositions combine classical forms, Argentine tango, and folk music, as well as the spontaneity of jazz improvisation. He has been featured on records by Pablo Ziegler, Paquito D’Rivera, and Ruben Blades’ Grammy Award-winning album “Tangos” (2014), and has released seven award-winning albums as a leader on the Zoho Music label including “Vigor Tanguero” (2018), “Cuentos” (2015), and “Córdoba” (2011).

Giraudo has been commissioned to write for numerous ensembles and organizations, and has performed on recordings for Sony, Warner, Nonesuch, Naxos and Harmonia Mundi. He is principal bassist for the Hudson Symphony Orchestra and the Música de Cámara String Ensemble, all while leading his own Tango Orchestra, Tango Ensembles, and Big Band based in New York.

Giraudo’s most recent album, An Argentinian in New York (Zoho Music 2018), was recorded live with the WDR Big Band at the WDR Funkhaus in Köln, Germany. To celebrate the release, Giraudo adapted those compositions for his New York-based ensemble and will present them at The Jazz Gallery on July 14. We spoke with Giraudo about the development of this project and his personal style over his career to date.

The Jazz Gallery: Tell me about the birth of the new album, “An Argentinian in New York.”

Pedro Giraudo: I’ve been leading bands since 2000 of increasing size, starting with an octet, and through different projects my band gradually became a big band around six years ago. This project is part of the evolution. Four or five years ago, the WDR Big Band in Germany began reaching out to me for different projects. For this last project, which was two years ago this November, we did a concert that we recorded for a live CD which will be released on Zoho Records. Several of the pieces from the concert had been recorded previously with the 12-piece band, and one piece I recorded with a full big band, but most of the others were unrecorded compositions.

TJG: What comes to mind as you listen back to the CD?

PG: The whole session was an amazing learning experience. When I write new music, I usually write with my New York ensemble in mind, which is very much a band—many of the members have been with me since 2000. So for me to write music for a different ensemble was exciting and new. I got in touch with some of the people in WDR with whom I had personal relationships, especially bassist John Goldsby. He gave me a detailed, personal description of the band, going chair by chair, so I tried to write this music for WDR as much as possible, which made it fun and different for me. When I re-adapted the charts from the WDR session for my band, I changed a number of things so it would work better for my guys here in New York.

TJG: In terms of your own playing, how does your playing change when you’re surrounded by a big band?

PG: My bass playing doesn’t change much, other than that I try to play less behind the big band. My number-one priority is to generate comfort in the band, so I sacrifice activity to make sure everyone feels comfortable, that the changes come across, that everyone feels rhythmically solid. The biggest difference with the WDR big band concert was that I was only conducting. In my New York projects I’m usually playing and conducting from my bass chair. For the WDR project I didn’t have to play bass, so I could focus on the outcome of what the musicians were playing, standing in front, reminding people about dynamics, shaping things as they approached.

TJG: When you usually conduct and play, how does it work?

PG: I stand a tiny bit more forward than a typical bass player in a regular big band, but I’m not in front. The saxophones can turn their heads a tiny bit to see me with their peripheral vision. Alejandro Aviles sits in the front and leads the section, and he can see me from the front, so we have a system that works out well. At The Jazz Gallery, I’ll be playing bass throughout the evening, which I love. On the WDR session, I enjoyed conducting and not worrying the bass, but I really missed playing my music and bringing my energy through the bass.

TJG: What will Sofia Tosello be singing?

PG: Two pieces, one I wrote as an instrumental piece, a zamba, which is a kind of Argentinian ballad, not to be confused with the Brazilian samba. I wrote it originally as an instrumental piece, and Ryan Keberle the trombone player adapted it. He rearranged it for his ensemble, which has a singer Camila Meza. I don’t know how, but eventually they got in contact with Roxana Amed, an Argentinian singer-songwriter based in Florida. She wrote gorgeous lyrics for the piece, and since then I’ve been doing the vocal version. The other piece is from the modern folkloric repertoire of Argentina, music very much rooted in tradition, but with hints of what’s happening with music now in the 21st century. I arranged that piece for the big band and vocalist.

TJG: So there are two elements of your career, tango and jazz, which have lots of interplay. Do you try to keep them separate in your mind? As you write, does one take over?

PG: Not at all. I don’t believe that people must only do one thing. For me as a composer, when I write in any context, it’s all my music. I actually re-arranged some pieces for WDR big band that were originally written for my Tango ensemble: I love both versions, and I feel they’re both true to who I am. I’ve done things the other way around too, with pieces I wrote for the big band that I later adapted for the Tango quartet. It’s all my music. If you hear my Tango band and the big band, the way the music is played and the instrumentation makes things sound so different, but from an aesthetic and emotional point of view, it comes from exactly the same place.

TJG: So as a busy bassist, composer, performer, and father, how are you able to manage your time, especially when working in different idioms?

PG: Time is something I struggle with on a daily basis. Fatherhood fills my time with beauty and love, but it’s something I have to balance with my career on a daily basis. I’m always in a rush. Music itself takes so much time, to sit down, focus, write a big band or tango chart, on top of all the things musicians today have to do, from organizing rehearsals, social media and promotion, booking gigs for multiple ensembles and trying to fill venues. I always have it in mind to finish things, and I try to do one thing at a time. I have no magic tricks, and I’m not always successful, but when I have a huge to-do list, I just try to start and finish one thing at a time.

TJG: Speaking of time, It’s been about 10 years ago now that you were awarded a composers’ commission from The Jazz Gallery. Was that a significant moment for you, looking back?

PG: It was huge for me. Getting into The Jazz Gallery community was a major step for me, and it was kind of a “before and after” feeling in terms of it being a landmark in my career. The commission was a beautiful time to focus and work, which resulted in the CD “Córdoba” (Zoho Music, 2011). It was a life-changing experience where everything after that felt more solid, more professional. From that moment, The Jazz Gallery has played a very important role in my development as a musician and bandleader.

TJG: Since then, how have you seen yourself evolving? Has your voice become more your own?

PG: You know, I don’t think I have ever had trouble finding my voice. But I work a lot to maintain the quality of my writing. When I listen to the very first CD I released, a recording from my graduate recital at Manhattan School of Music, I hear so many things that weren’t written well, from a compositional point of view. But even then, I hear the sound of my own music. I’ve always been developing, but when I sit in front of the piano, guitar, or computer to write music, I use a lot of brain cells focusing on the quality of my writing, and making the music comfortable for everyone. I still write challenging music, but back in the day, it used to be borderline impossible: Now, my focus is to get my message across without having people struggle. When the music is comfortable and enjoyable to play, emotions can really come out.

Pedro Giraudo celebrates the release of  An Argentinian in New York at The Jazz Gallery on Saturday, July 14, 2018. The group features Mr. Giraudo on bass and compositions, Alejandro Aviles, Todd Bashore, Luke Batson, Jeremy Powell, and Larry Bustamonte on saxophones; Nathan Euklund, Josh Deutsch, and Nicole Davis on trumpets; Ryan Keberle, Stafford Hunter, Nick Grinder, and Jennifer Wharton on trombones; Jess Jurkovic on piano; Franco Pinna on drums; and Sofia Tosello on vocals. Sets are at 7:30 and 9:30 P.M. $25 general admission ($10 for members), $35 reserved cabaret seating ($20 for members) for each set. FREE for SummerPass holders. Purchase tickets here.