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Jonathon Grasse: An Awful Lot of Music in Brazil



Jonathon Grasse, assistant professor of music; photo by GK

Jonathon Grasse: An Awful Lot of Music in Brazil

Jonathon Grasse, assistant professor of music, presented “The ‘Minas Sound’ of Belo Horizonte: Regional Consciousness and Popular Music in the Brazilian 1970s” at the 51st Society for Ethnomusicology Conference in Honolulu, Hawaii last November. The paper was based on research completed in Brazil during June and July of 2006.

“Along with coffee and shoes, music is one of Brazil’s biggest exports,” says Grasse.  “The 1970s in Brazil produced a range of talented artists, who combined sophisticated harmonies, universally appreciated rhythms, and a certain sensuality of Portuguese language traits in their music. There are fans worldwide of bossa nova, samba, and other Brazilian styles that have influenced rock, jazz, and funk, enjoying noticeable popularity outside of that country.”

While an adjunct professor at UCLA’s Ethnomusicology department from 1999 to 2005, Grasse frequently taught a course on the music of Brazil. The research for the paper examines the regional quality of the popular music created by singer and songwriter Lô Borges. The Belo Horizonte native is known for his collaboration with Milton Nascimento within the genre of Clube da Esquina, a mix of progressive rock, bossa nova, Brazilian country folk, jazz, and medieval or baroque classical music. Grasse took extensive film footage of the artist last summer, as well as Festa Junino (June Festival) celebrations and Congado processions. The latter combine African and European traditions, celebrating the Our Lady of the Rosary and black saints who are looked to as protectors of Africans in Brazil, including especially Saint Benedict the Moor and Saint Ephigenia.

“I have been visiting Belo Horizonte, Minas Gerais regularly for almost twenty years,” says Grasse. “This is a very large city with a rich urban music legacy and surrounding rural musical heritage. My wife Nanci, who was born there, and I began examining regional music there more than ten years ago by visiting groups engaged in folkloric traditions. To me, these valuable interviews are forms of ethnographic fieldwork that flesh out so much of what I study and teach.”

The CSUDH Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL) assisted Grasse’s summer excursion with a CTL Travel Grant, available to all faculty who wish to present original research.

“Part of CTL’s mission is to cultivate a positive work environment,” he says in appreciation. “It is important that the campus support faculty for research and conference activity in any way it can. Such forms of assistance offer a real sense of professional validation as well as financial help.”

Grasse is a composer and music theorist with a Ph.D. from UCLA in composition with the cognate in ethnomusicology. His work as a theorist led to his involvement in the founding of the Institute for the Pedagogies of World Music Theories where he lectures on Brazilian and Indonesian music, among other areas. His writings have been published by Oxford University Press, Illinois University Press, Cambridge University Press, and the Pacific Review of Ethnomusicology and he has presented his work at many international conferences. The Journal for Popular Music Study and the Music Librarians Association newsletter Notes are publishing two of Grasse’s book reviews featuring recent writings on 20th-century Brazilian popular music subjects.

Since 2000, Grasse’s compositions have been performed by the Pori Sinfonietta of Finland, The UCLA Percussion Ensemble, The Los Angeles Flute Quartet, and the Elgart-Yates guitar duet. Since 1995, he has played electric guitar for the Los Angeles-based improvisation ensemble Surrealestate, which has appeared at the Big Sur Experimental Music Festival, San Francisco’s Luggage Store Gallery, Long Beach SoundWalk, the Jazz Bakery, and other venues.

Grasse also received an American Composers Forum grant for his Artist-in-Residence concert held last November at El Camino College’s (ECC) Marsee Auditorium in Torrance as part of the ECC Performing Arts series. During this appearance with Surrealestate,  several of Grasse’s new works were premiered, including a thirty minute, site-specific piece for 13 musicians. UCLA professor and saxophonist Doug Masek and USC faculty guitarist James Smith, also appeared at this concert, having recently recorded Grasse’s Letters from Brazil for a CD release.

- Joanie Harmon-Whetmore











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Last updated Monday, January 15, 2007, 4:56 p.m., by Joanie Harmon-Whetmore