Misha Piatigorsky On Brazilian Jazz Basics

What could be more addictive than Brazilian Samba?

Lesson by Misha Pitatigorsky

What could be more addictive than Brazilian Samba? When I first heard pianist Cidinho Teixeira at New York’s Zinc Bar in the mid-’90s, it was as if I’d discovered a whole new way to breathe music. Leading Brazilian jazz pianists such as Teixeira, Tania Maria, Sergio Mendes, and Eliane Elias all have two important things in common: a rich harmonic vocabulary, and an incredibly strong sense of the upbeat. Let’s learn how these elements work together.


Click thumbnails below for larger images.

Ex. 1: Rootless Chord Voicings

Brazilian tunes have much in common with jazz standards. They’re usually packed with ii-V movement—minor-to-dominant progressions like Cm7 to F7. Ex.1 illustrates typical Brazilian left-hand voicings that follow the Bill Evans style, where the chord doesn’t include the root, but is built starting on the third or seventh. I’m also adding color tones, most noticeably on the dominant chords where I’ve altered the fifth and the ninth.


Ex. 2: Rhythmic Subdivision

In Ex. 2, we use these chords as a template for soloing and comping. Start by playing bass notes in the left hand and rootless voicings in the right to see how they fit together. Brazilian music is usually written in 2/4 time, not 4/4, so we subdivide each of the bar’s two quarter-notes by four sixteenth-notes. The upbeats are the second, fourth, sixth, and eighth sixteenth-notes in every measure. The bass line moves much like the way a jazz bassist would play on a swing tune.


Ex. 3: It’s Got That Swing

Ex. 3 illustrates a simple F major melodic pattern in the right hand, with our upbeat-centric comping in the left. Accenting the final sixteenth-note of each measure creates a swing feel in your right-hand lines. Try tapping your foot on beats 1 and 2 to bring out the groove.


Ex. 4: All Elements Together

In Ex. 4, I’m putting all these elements together. It’s okay not to play all the time in the left hand. Often, I play upbeats in my left hand when my right is taking a break. When my right hand is busier, my left will either play sustained chords, attacking them on upbeats only, or not play at all.