Jazz in Portugal II :

Luís Hilário, Hot Club Portugal.

The Hot Club Portugal is the oldest club entirely dedicated to jazz in Portugal. Opened in 1948 and since then as developed its activity of divulging, training and diffusing of this musical genre. Situated in a cellar on Praça da Alegria in Lisbon, this club is a place where you can, at the same time, breed history and have a perspective of the future, wondering by the photo panel are the ghosts of Louis Amstrong, Dexter Gordon or Count Basie but it’s also here that the new generation of jazz musicians’ plays. Macao.fr has decided to know better this club and went to talk with its Artistic Director, Luis Hilário.

The Hot Club is intimately connected to the history of Jazz in Portugal, can you tell us a little about its path ?

The Hot Club Portugal (HCP) was founded in 1948 by a jazz lover, one of the firsts and most enthusiastic in Portugal. I’m talking about Luis Villas-Boas, our number 1 member, founded the club after a radio show with the same name that he presented at that time at the “Radio Clube Português” radio station.

Along these 60 years of activity the HCP has as objective and merit the popularization of this musical expression, enduring and resisting at the same time, the big social and cultural changes which were produced in our country. Since it was created, almost all the Portuguese jazz (and not only) musicians passed thought the HCP, and also jazz world-famous and historic names like Count Basie, Dexter Gordon, Thad Jones, Lee Konitz... Countless names have passed here, not only from the past but also from the present times.

In spite of its small room and thin financial resources the HCP came through all these years as a true jazz Club maintaining an excellent reputation among the musicians who visit us. Our biggest attractive it is maybe our informal atmosphere, very “jazz”, already lost in many other clubs.

Is it difficult to maintain a frequent programming ? Which are the main challenges ?

In the last 20 years the quantitative and qualitative evolution of the Portuguese jazz musicians was without any doubt the biggest that ever occur. For that reason there are uncountable groups / projects nowadays with the quality to be presented in any part of the world. The difficulty at the moment in the programming is to decide to exclude some of the candidates. The Club calendar for 2009 is complete with national and foreign musicians and 2010 has few agenda dates because it is not our intention to program for such a long period.

How do you see the existing jazz panorama in Portugal ?

I partially answer this question in the previous one. There is a considerable quantity of musicians and projects with great quality and it’s a pity that the places where they can show their work and their evolution, do not appear in the same rate. Several stylistic currents mainly from the "mainstream" to the “contemporary ", are represented in the Portuguese jazz panorama today.

Do you consider that in Portugal already exists a jazz culture ? Does already exist a Portuguese Jazz ?

Jazz is all over the world, a music of minorities. In Portugal at the moment and besides the uncountable concerts, there are approximately 30 festivals annually. Many city councils and private entities support this music using part of their cultural budgets in the promotion of jazz concerts. I am convinced that exists a jazz culture as much as in most European Countries. In Portugal at the moment exists approximately 20 music schools with a jazz department. Every year these schools present new talents to a market that in spite of better, continues very small to welcome and to give work to everyone.

Is the Jazz made in Portugal recognized in Europe, in the world ?

The jazz made in Portugal is almost unknown in the rest of Europe. Only the musicians who visit us with certain regularity recognize the quality of many of our interpreters. In any way I should recognize that the fault is fundamentally ours. We always have difficulty exporting “culture ". Only Maria João (voice) and a few others have a little international recognition. Now, also a series of new singers of the so called “new Fado” are recognized in the rest of the world, but this is World Music and not exactly jazz.

Do you consider that it is necessary to leave Portugal to succeed as a Jazz musician ? I mean to obtain the appropriate training and experience.

I don’t know! As I told you in our days exists several schools in Portugal, with jazz departments, besides the Academies, tree of these schools are Music Universities. There are options! However, to leave, to know how other musicians of different origins and backgrounds, that have different perspectives, will always be something enriching. From what I know most of the Portuguese young musicians who chose to study abroad go to Holland (Hague, Amsterdam) or to the United States (New York and Boston). The contact with experimented musicians in a more cosmopolitan environment from the jazz point of view is without doubts important.

How do you see the Portuguese public ? Who is the Portuguese public ? In your opinion jazz is still music for a certain elite ?

As I already said Jazz will always be a music of minorities. I do not remember a single Jazz musician to fill a football stadium, it just doesn’t happen. Anyway, and after saying this, I have to admit that is a greater knowledge of this musical expression now than it existed 20 years ago. The first big Jazz festival in Portugal (Cascais) was in 1971. From there until now everything has evolved. The public who goes to the concerts is a very heterogeneous one, from a social point of view as in what respects their age. That’s reflected in our public in HCP; there are 14-year-old young people and then others young people with more than 70 years-old.

Do you believe that Jazz in Portugal is still a mystified musical expression ? I mean, do you believe that there’s not a big knowledge (from the Portuguese) of the music which is made and musicians who exist ?

There is already an environment of knowledge, to be in Lisbon, Porto or in the rest of the Country. But, and I guess that happens everywhere, out of this circles only the more mediated name s are known (Maria João, Mário Laginha, Bernardo Sassetti) they are recognized by a less attentive public. The great majority of Portuguese do not imagine that there are more than 20 jazz schools. They don’t imagine because they don’t have interest for it or for other artistic expressions. This majority do not know also how many museums there are in Portugal or even in Lisbon.

Hot Club always invested a lot in the formation of jazz musicians, what is the frame of Jazz training in our days ?

The Hot Club always invested and invests in the formation of their students, with big incidence in the knowledge and the development of their own jazz language. To sum up we try to train musicians focusing in performance. The general reality frame as improved, in quantity and in quality and HCP continues to have a bigger value in training/formation because it counts in their team with a good part of the best Portuguese musicians in this sector.

What does differentiate Luis Villas-Boas School from the others Portuguese Jazz Schools ?

Today all the schools, I believe, are better prepared to pass on the musical knowledge that the students need. The Villas-Boas Jazz School / Hot Club Portugal cannot claim to be the best. But for the reasons already steered in the previous answer it is one of best! We have the merit of being the pioneers and launched by the hand of our director, the double bass player Zé Eduardo, the seed that 30 years later gave this considerable evolution.

What future for the Jazz in Portugal ?

I want to believe that will be better ! That’s why we are here for !

Interview by Isabel Viegas (june 2009)


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