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Eddie Johnson & Novo Tempo

Eddie Johnson & Novo Tempo

Eddie Johnson & Novo Tempo

You're a San Francisco Bay Area guy, and yet your ease with Brazilian music might make one think you're actually Brazilian. How did your love affair with this wonderful music come about?

Well, of course the Bay Area is a culturally diverse region, and growing up in a University town (Palo Alto) gave me access to a lot of international music performed at Stanford. Also, my older brother played a huge role in my musical development, by exposing my ears at an early age to the modern jazz masters like Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Bill Evans, and so many others. Included in that mix were a couple of records by Antonio Carlos Jobim. Both my brother and sister played in California Youth Symphony, and there was always music going on in the house, including my mother playing piano and singing standards after dinner every night, with my dad occasionally joining in on ukulele and harmony vocals. All these elements set the seeds for my musical development. I started gravitating more and more to Brazilian music while studying classical guitar in high school. I had a teacher who was really into the modern South American guitar repertoire, and much of it really struck a chord with me (so to speak!), especially the Brazilian composers. From there I got into Brazilian jazz, and then eventually into Brazilian pop music. It all intrigues me. My friend Celia Malheiros, a brilliant Brazilian musician and composer who lives here in the Bay Area, tells me I was born with a Brazilian soul. I don't know what led this Irish-Norwegian boy to love the music of Brazil so much, but it's a life long love that will never die.

As a child, what was the first song you remember hearing that really excited you and influenced who you have become musically?

Wow! There are many, including classical pieces. I guess the earliest album I can remember devouring was when my sister brought home the sound track to "West Side Story." The songs of course are great, and Bernstein's orchestrations reall got me listening in a new way, much in the same way that Gil Evans' arrangements n miles' records captivated me. About a year after that, I first heard the Beatles, and I was gone in a totally different way.

What artist or artists have been the most significant inspirations for you?

From the Brazilian realm, there are many: Jobim, Joao Gilberto, Ivan Lins, Milton Nascimento, Elis Regina, Joyce, Toninho Horta, Gilberto Gil, Caetano Veloso, Joao Bosco, and so many more. From the American jazz realm, there is always Coltrane, a tremendous influence, Miles, Bill Evans, Gil Evans, Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Joe Zawinul, and so many others. From the classical realm, Bach, Beethoven, Ravel, and Stravinsky still influence me. And, I'm also still a rock and R and B kid at heart - the Beatles were a HUGE influence, as were Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, James Brown, Dionne Warwick. I've always loved James Taylor; I'm probably one of the few people who knows almost all his "non-famous" songs! And, being a lover of harmony singing, I'm a big fan of everything from the Everly Brothers to Manhattan Transfer and Take Six. There's an unbelievable Finnish a capella sextet, Rajaton, that absolutely blows my mind. I really love all kinds of music. I used to think that having such eclectic and varied tastes was a hindrance to my career development; now I see it totally as an asset.

How would you describe the song writing process as it applies to your work?

It's a very organic process. I have to feel visited by the muse to start a song. I may not finish it right away, and I may end up having a struggle to complete it, but the initial kernel of inspiration has to come from a place you aren't expecting. At least, that's how I feel about my most successful songs. Musical ideas always come to me first, and then the shape and intent of a lyric comes from that.

How long have you and Novo Tempo been playing together as a band, and could you share some of the highlights?

We've been performing in this configuration now for almost six years. There are numerous highlights. One that comes to mind is a set we did at the San Jose Jazz Festival in 2006. I felt our performance was great, but what really made this one stand apart was the energy flow back and forth between band and audience. I can't recall that we've ever had a performance that we were unhappy with. Some stand out more than others, but this band is so strong and together, individually and collectively, that we are confident every time out will be a successful and fulfilling performance.

Are there any social causes you have a special attachment to, and work to support?

There are several causes that I am attached to, and at times I become active in my support of them. One of the things that I care deeply about is our approach to severe mental illness and how it impacts us all, from homelessness and quality of life to family strife. Like cancer, the causes of mental illness are varied and much is still unknown. I'd like to see research into causes and cures for various mental diseases become an even larger priority than it currently is.

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