Al Bergstein just can’t get enough of choro music, or sharing it with Americans who have no idea what it is.
“Many of us who play it have fallen in love with it because it allows you to play with some really fun and beautiful melodies and harmonies,” said Bergstein, a member of Combo Choro. “They are unusual songs because most Americans have never heard this music.”
Choro, popularly known as “chorinho,” is an instrumental genre of Brazilian music originating in the 19th century in the city of Rio de Janeiro with the arrival of the Portuguese royal family, who were fleeing from Napoleon’s invasion, according to choromusic.com.
Groups performing choros are referred to as “Regionais” and the musicians, composers, or instrumentalists are called “chorões.”
Choro is translated into English from Portuguese as “cry,” but is generally characterized by upbeat and cheerful rhythms.
The choro regional traditionally consists of one or more solo instruments such as flute or mandolin, cavaquinho, acoustic guitars and pandeiro. The cavaquinho performs the rhythm and harmony, the guitars perform the harmony and the pandeiro keeps the rhythm.
Choro is a uniquely Brazilian musical genre that is to Samba and Bossanova what bluegrass is to country music in America, Bergstein said.
“The music has been evolving over the last 150 years or so. It is just like jazz and has had a variety of stylistic changes. Just like there is New Orleans jazz, and the Roaring ‘20s jazz and then Big Band Swing, choro has done very similar things.”
Hiding in plain sight
While choro generally isn’t a household word in America, many Americans have heard it without realizing it, Bergstein said.
“Most Americans are actually very familiar with the most popular Choro ever written, but they don’t know it. That is ‘Tico-Tico.’”
“Tico-Tico no Fubá,” which translates as “bird in the cornmeal,” was composed by Zequinha de Abreu in 1917. The song has been part of the soundtrack of such films as Woody Allen’s “Radio Days” and “Copacabana” starring Carmen Miranda and Groucho Marx.
There have been many great choro musicians over the years as well, Bergstein said, including Alfredo da Rocha Viana, Jr., better known as Pixinguinha.
Pixinguinha was a contemporary of Louis Armstrong, Bergstein said, adding the two became friends after meeting in Paris in the 1920s.
Bringing choro to life
Combo Choro will perform a variety of choro music during a performance at 7:30 p.m. May 18 at Laurel B. Johnson Community Center in Coyle.
Entry to the all ages show, part of the Concerts in the Woods series, is by donation. Complimentary cookies and coffee will be served at intermission.
“I first heard about choro music from some musician friends who played jazz standards and were suddenly all excited about discovering this new music that was actually old music that originated in Brazil,” said Norm Johnson, founder of Coyle concerts.
Choro uses improvisation much like traditional jazz and offers the players an opportunity to display their virtuosity on their particular instrument, Johnson said.
“This lively and fun music has a wide appeal to all ages and musical tastes. You don’t have to be a jazz aficionado to enjoy choro.”
Johnson said each show, even when the same songs are played, are unique every time.
“As often happens in jazz groups the players are different for each show.”
This parallels their style of music which is often improvised on the spot and played in a different way each time as their moods and instrumentation changes,” Johnson said. “That keeps it fresh even when you’ve heard the same piece many times before.”
For this performance, Combo Choro consists of Bergstein on Mandolin, Dick Lynn on guitar, Kindy Kemp on flute, Brandi Ledford on pandeiro, Baila Dworsky on bass and vocals and an unannounced special guest.
“Those of us who play it usually fall in love with it because it is complex, very challenging to play and is very beautiful music,” Bergstein said.
Bergstein said most audiences enjoy choro when they hear it.
“It is very melodic and a very Brazilian style, and has that backbeat of Brazilian music that people love to tap their toes to.”
That isn’t to say this is dancing music, Bergstein said.
“It is more of a listening music.”