Polish-born progressive jazz vocalist Grażyna Auguścik (pronounced [gra-‘je-na][au-‘goose-chick]) and Brazilian guitarist/singer Paulinho Garcia met in Chicago in 1995 after a mutual friend recommended that Grażyna see Paulinho’s performance. “I saw him and I immediately knew it would be the best duo in the world,” both laugh as Grażyna recalls that night, “If only he could listen to me.”
Paulinho agreed to play on Grażyna’s 1996 album, but due to other projects, it wasn’t until years later that they started collaborating as a duo and recorded the first demo. Since then, they have released four albums and toured in the United States and Europe, bringing their smooth, acoustic sound to international audiences.
On the eve of the US release of “The Beatles Nova,” a Brazilian-inspired collection of Beatles covers, they sat down with Jetting Around over a cup of excellent Brazilian coffee, courtesy of Paulinho, to discuss their musical connection and share memories from the road.
You come from countries with very different musical traditions. How did you find common ground?
Paulinho Garcia: For me music is melody and then the rest is all embellishment. Melodies are the same in everybody. It’s just like poetry – it comes from your soul, from your heart. So when you sing beautiful melodies, it doesn’t matter where they were composed. The difference is the embellishment that you put, chords behind it, and things like that. Brazilian music, for example, became well-known for the beat, for that groove behind the music.
Grażyna Auguścik: And melody.
PG: And melody, a good taste in melody. I think music is the same no matter what it is – the melody that comes from Brazil, or Chopin, or Tchaikovsky. Music has no countries.
GA: For me music is either good or bad. Brazilian music has all the elements that good music should have: rhythm, melody, harmony, and lyrics, and I fell in love with it years ago. And the type of music that Paulinho sings and plays to me is like roots – very emotional and honest, it’s what music should sound like. I fell in love with Brazilian music first, then I fell in love with his singing, and that’s how our journey started.
How do you choose what songs to play?
GA: We bring our feel to the music, and it’s easy when you’re working with somebody who understands music in the same way as the other person. It’s very easy to communicate. We don’t have to talk about it, we just play. Sometimes we adapt any kind of a song – from the Polish repertoire or from the American repertoire – and everything sounds Brazilian [both laugh]. But we don’t only sing Brazilian music.
PG: We always try to play songs that we like, both of us.
How did your latest release, The Beatles Nova, come to be?
GA: We were thinking about putting together a duos CD, and it was very hard to choose tunes from the Beatles. We ended up with a bunch and I said, “Well, let’s do the whole project.”
What did you want to achieve with this album, musically?
GA: We didn’t actually have an ambition to make another Beatles interpretation. We just love their music, because it has – again – beautiful melodies. I think with the Brazilian rhythm, two well-arranged voices, and beautiful harmonies we bring something new to the music. So far people really love our interpretation.
PG: For me it’s just like we do with any CD – just to have a nice album with beautiful songs.
The Beatles Nova was recorded using only two microphones. Tell us about this technique.
PG: It’s called true stereo. It’s an old-style way of recording. Today, in this age of technology, we can change so much that we decide to not trust ourselves anymore. You go in the studio, set up microphones here and there, then you mix, and you change, and you cut etc. But with this album, we went all the way back to do true stereo. There’s no way to mix. When you finish singing, it’s done.
GA: It’s all natural. And it was possible thanks to Ken Christianson, who lives in Chicago and specializes in recording classical and jazz music in true stereo. He chose a little concert hall, and we just sat down and started to play songs from the beginning to the end – no editing, nothing. We had to remember all the arrangements and couldn’t make any mistakes, because there was no way to edit and everything had to be in balance. I was watching how he recorded this project – even moving the microphone a few millimeters made us sound different.
How would you describe the album? Who do you think might enjoy it?
PG: Anyone who likes Brazilian music. Actually, this CD could be anywhere – it could be pop, it could be smooth jazz, because we have some improvisations there, it could be anything.
GA: It’s jazz, Brazilian, world music. Anybody can listen to the album. Even if somebody is looking for music for the car, when they’re stuck in traffic, it’s perfect. We call our group a therapeutic group. We’ve met a lot of people after our concerts that felt more relaxed and would say, “You made my day. I was very much in stress and you calmed me down.” It works for me as well. After playing a gig, sometimes for three hours, I feel much better afterwards. I don’t feel tired, I feel relaxed.
“When I’m 64” from “The Beatles Nova”
Video by TheBeatlesNova|YouTube
You have performed around the United States and in Central and Eastern Europe. Can you share favorite memories from those concerts?
PG: I have many and some very powerful ones. There is a small town in Poland – I still have to find out what town it is, because it’s a very small. It’s like if you drive too fast, you’ll miss it. We were playing in the town and there was this family with a little kid. The kid was sitting right at my feet and was looking at me the whole night. He couldn’t speak English, but his mother could speak a little. When we finished, they came to me and she said, “This is my son. He has been waiting for you for two months. He’s been counting the days, counting the hours till you’re here, because he’s trying to play classical guitar and he loves Brazilian music.” And so I looked at him and said, “That’s great that you’re doing this,” and he got my hand and replied, “Thank you for coming to my town!”
GA: We’ve had a lot of big concerts, e.g. a huge one on TV with lots of cameras, 2,000 people in the audience, and an orchestra. And it was wonderful. But sometimes you go to small, small towns and people are waiting for you like you’re huge somebodies, big stars. They respect the artists and the arts, so it’s really something. For me it’s a very emotional time when we perform in front of those audiences.
Paulinho, what are your impressions from travels to Poland?
PG: Because I go there as a musician, I see people in my musical way, and Polish people are very, very musical. Besides that, traveling makes me see how similar Polish people are to Brazilians. They are hard-working people that don’t see hard work as a bad thing, but a way of living, just like in Brazil. Brazilians go to work for a few hours a day, and then they go to the beach and bars. The same thing in Poland – you work to make your living, not to be a millionaire, not to power anybody. And that’s very close to Brazilians, so I feel comfortable. I feel like Poland is my second home. If I could speak the language well, I think I could consider myself a Polish guy.
Grażyna, how does it feel to perform in your home country?
GA: I love performing in Poland – our music is so nicely received by the audience. Like I said, they respect the artist, they respect us as hard-working artists, and they love to hang out with us – take pictures, have CDs signed. And we play beautiful concert halls – it’s not like gigs at clubs where people come by accident. They come to see us, they pay for tickets. I always say we’re very fortunate to do what we love to do, and people come and pay for our hobby, our passion. We’ve also been in the Ukraine, Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Russia. Everywhere it’s very similar, people really respect the art.
What is your favorite tune to play together?
GA: In depends on the evening. [laughing]
PG: Every night I have a different favorite Beatles song. I also like Here comes the sun by George Harrison. And I think because it was one of the first, I always call it our warm-up song, it’s Agua de Beber. We’ve never made a mistake in that song.
GA: And Fragile by Sting, which is also the title of our first CD. As for Beatles songs, Hey Jude is great. I really, really love Samba em preludio by Jobim. And Apelo – I sing Polish lyrics by Jonasz Kofta, and Paulinho sings in Portuguese. It’s an emotional tune and Polish people love it, because it used to be a hit in Poland.
We can mention of a lot of songs. We love to sing together and make each other better. We don’t have to be perfect, but we are honest. And mistakes can lead to something new.
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Grażyna and Paulinho can be found at:
(All photos courtesy of Grażyna and Paulinho)