Brazilian-raised drummer, composer, and bandleader Mauricio de Souza divides his time between the U.S. and Brazil, and musically, he divides his time between the worlds of traditional jazz and the world of Brazilian and Latin jazz.
He enjoys the best of the New York City and New Jersey jazz club and festival scene but also returns to Brazil every six months or so to visit family and musical friends down there — for Christmas and New Year’s, as well as during their winter, which is July and August. De Souza will perform with his Brazilian jazz group, Bossa Brasil, Wednesday, November 15, at the Cornerstone in Metuchen, accompanied by Lee Marvin on bass and Carl Viggiani on piano.
De Souza first came to the United States and to New Jersey in 1997 to study with legendary drummer and drum teacher Joe Morello. Morello, now 77, lives in Maplewood, and played with pianist Dave Brubeck for a period of 12 years and has accompanied many of the legends of traditional jazz.
With an alternately authoritative and feathery touch on drums, de Souza has two self-produced albums, “Bossa Brasil” and “Mauricio de Souza Quartet.” As a composer, bandleader, and drummer, he has a bright future in jazz. The Rowan University graduate has led his two groups — Brazilian and traditional jazz — since graduating from college four years ago.
De Souza was raised in the city of Brasilia, about 14 hours by car from Sao Paolo. Brasilia, a city of 2 million, is near the geographic center of Brazil, and it has a fairly vibrant club scene, he says in a phone interview from his apartment in West Orange.
“My dad is a big jazz fan, and he always played jazz in the house and in the car, so we were always exposed to it,” he says. De Souza’s father works in real estate in Brasilia and his mother is a housewife. Both parents were very supportive of his decision to pursue jazz for a living and to come to the U.S. to study.
His first professional gig was at a school festival in Brasilia, says de Souza, who began his musical studies with guitar before switching to drums as an 11-year-old.
America’s greatest export is rock ‘n’ roll, so not surprisingly, “everybody I knew was into the rock ‘n’ roll thing,” says de Souza, “but after a while playing drums, I realized it didn’t pose that much of a challenge. That’s when I became interested in jazz and Brazilian jazz because it was more involved and challenging.” Enamored of the subtleties of playing jazz drums, de Souza spent a winter studying with Morello, who is blind in one eye, at his Maplewood home and then attended William Paterson University, later transferring to Rowan University.
From the legendary Morello, who taught the likes of drummers Max Weinberg, Mike Stern, and Danny Gottlieb, de Souza says he learned sensitivity. “From the beginning he has been a really wonderful teacher. He is very sensitive, and everything he teaches you makes sense. It’s endless, and so I still go in for a lesson every once in a while. He has been a major influence and a great teacher and friend.”
Although he has only been on the New Jersey and New York club circuit for a short time, de Souza has already made great strides, performing with his two groups at Cecil’s Jazz Club in West Orange, the Zinc Bar in lower Manhattan, Trumpets in Montclair, and the Priory in Newark, among other venues.
As an accompanist, de Souza works with a fellow Brazilian, pianist Helio Alves, who makes monthly appearances at the Cornerstone. The Brazilian jazz boom started in the 1960s when the late composer Antonio Carlos Jobim, and saxophonist Stan Getz had a huge crossover pop hit with his “Girl From Ipanema.” Other icons of the Brazilian pop and jazz scene include Joao Gilberto, Gilberto Gil, and Astrud Gilberto.
De Souza says the jazz scene is growing again in Brasilia, but the scene remains more fertile for musicians in Sao Paolo and Rio de Jeniero. “This past summer, I did few gigs down there. My uncle is a concert producer in Rio, so I’ve been trying to arrange some gigs over there, too,” he says. Closer to home he says that Barca Velha, a club in Little Falls, totally embraces Brazilian jazz and pop while serving Portuguese cuisine.
The atmosphere at Cornerstone is an intimate one, but the audience is clearly there to hear jazz, so they’re attentive. The bandstand is a relatively small area but the sound is excellent inside the club, which has been a home for traditional jazz players for more than two decades. “We’ll be doing bossa novas and sambas, and we also do Brazilian tunes called baiao’s — it’s a different style of music that comes from northeast Brazil,” de Souza says. “They are a different style of music, and we’ll be doing some choros too.”
For people unfamiliar with Brazilian jazz and pop, de Souza’s live shows can be educational as well as entertaining. “We’ll be doing mostly Brazilian jazz standards and a few of my originals but the standards are tunes by Jobim, Milton Nascimento, and Igberto Gismonti, all well-known Brazilian jazz and pop composers.”
Bossa Brasil, with drummer Mauricio de Souza, Wednesday, November 15, 7:30 p.m., the Cornerstone Cafe and Bistro, 52 New Street, Metuchen. 732-548-5306, www.cornerstone.nj.us. De Souza also plays every Friday at the Portuguese restaurant Barca Velha, 440 Main Street, Little Falls. 973-890-5056. For more information, visit www.mauriciodesouzajazz.com. Directions to Cornerstone: Take Route 1 north past the Ford plant. Take Metuchen exit. Follow Main Street straight to second light. Make left on New Street. One block on left.