CIDADE: Latin Jazz & Tango
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CIDADE: Latin Jazz & Tango

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"Two to Tango"

Guitarist Charlie Apicella plays with two Valley bands: tango and Latin jazz group Cidade, and jazz/funk organ trio Iron City. We recently spoke with Apicella about the challenges of juggling two bands and playing different styles.

Advocate: How would you describe your bands?

Charlie Apicella: Iron City is based on the type of group you may hear in one of the jazz clubs in New York City. It is the classic 1960s organ trio format, and we feature Beau Sasser on Hammond organ. The records of Grant Green are my all-time favorites, and studying his style on guitar is what led me to fronting this band.

Cidade is based on the sound of violin and nylon string guitar. Those instruments have a long tradition in Latin American music. We play tangos for dancing and tangos for listening from Argentina, bossa nova from Brazil, and Latin jazz standards from Cuba and Puerto Rico, etc. I have always had an interest in bossa nova, because guitar is the central instrument in that music. Some of the greatest composers were guitarists: Antonio Carlos Jobim, Luis Bonfa, and Joao Gilberto.

I came to the format of performing tango at jazz gigs because it was something different for the band to sink its teeth into. The type of improvisation we incorporate into the tangos is very different from the melodic improv and the advanced harmonic concepts we are exploring with jazz tunes. The improv for tangos is more rhythmic and is solely to keep the people dancing.



What's your musical background/training?

I am studying with New York City guitar master Dave Stryker. This experience is more profound than I can appreciate at this time; he is very forthcoming in teaching me modern-sounding lines and chord voicings, which is giving me training I could not have absorbed any other way. I go to New York every month to his gigs and to his home studio for lessons. His teaching style is based solely on his playing style and I often ask him to demonstrate what it was he played on a certain record, or how he would approach a specific tune. He is a prolific composer and lately I have been bouncing ideas off him and questions I have in my own original tunes.

I had many great experiences as a student at UMass and got to study with Yusef Lateef and Archie Shepp. There I learned about history from Dr. Fred Tillis and Dr. Horace Boyer, and those two teachers awoke my love of jazz and the culture which produced it and that jazz is America's classical music.

Are there many similarities in what you're doing between the two bands as a guitarist?

Not only are there similarities, but I feel the two bands are one and the same. Artistically speaking, our intent is the same on every gig. What varies from one night to the next is the challenge of playing tunes the audience will respond to. I let the venue hire which band they feel matches their clientele, and I just keep my eyes open at the gig to make sure we are reaching people. I pride myself in how quietly the band can play while still making a statement.

Our material is varied and we have many tunes that are meant to be played quietly, and this works wonders at gigs where folks are there having dinner and trying to talk to each other. In those situations the audience may choose to listen to you, or may choose to be more passive.

What do you think makes for good jazz guitar playing in general?

What I like is simple: people who sound how they are. You can tell if a person is playing something they were told will work, or if they are playing something because they are saying something. It is a paradox because so much of the jazz language is learned through imitation of those you admire, but you can't imitate the need to make a statement.

What led you to jazz?

I started playing guitar when I was a senior in high school, and I took an interest in jazz because I knew it was difficult! I guess at that early stage I could hear that Wes Montgomery meant something when he played. For me it was a different feeling I got from the Eric Clapton and Led Zepelin I was into at the time. That year I attended a concert of saxophonist Sonny Fortune at the Iron Horse, and I noticed a very strong feeling in my chest when the concert was over. That excitement only grows every little step I take to becoming more competent on the guitar.

Is it strange to play without a bass in Iron City?

We are lucky to have the wonderful organist Beau Sasser. He plays all of the bass parts with the left hand on the organ. This is the established technique for that instrument, and the groove is heavy because the bass lines are not too complicated.

Having another personality in the mix in the body of a bassist would not really add to what we are doing. Now this is a different story with the larger Cidade gigs we do, where I have Alec Derian on bass as well as the organ. Alec has been with us for two years now, and that rapport cannot be matched.

What's on your calendar?

Iron City will be opening for jazz guitar legend Larry Coryell in a couple of weeks in upstate New York, and we will be recording a CD in coming months.

[With Cidade] we have our first studio CD coming out in the beginning of April, featuring Jennifer Isaacs: Last Night When We Were Young. We will be doing a few CD release events in the Valley which will be posted on the website. The best thing is to check www.CidadeTango.com for the itinerary of both bands. There are a number of monthly gigs, so it is easy for folks to check us out. - Valley Advocate


Discography

(2009) "Charlie Apicella & IRON CITY: Put The Flavor On It"

(2008) "CIDADE feat. JENNIFER ISAACS: Last Night When We Were Young"

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Bio

RESUME: Our musicians have shared the stage with luminaries such as:
• Kanye West
• Larry Coryell
• Marco Antonio Solis
• Dave Stryker
• John Blake, Jr.
• Tim Janis
• Freddie Bryant

VENUES: Our musicians have headlined some of the best jazz clubs in NYC such as:
• The Iridium, NYC
• The Fat Cat, NYC
• Cecil's, NJ
• The Greenwich Village Bistro, NYC

Our musicians have performed throughout the US. Some Northeast venues include:
• Carnegie Hall
• Trumpet's Jazz Club
• Boston's Aganis Arena
• The Mullins Center
• Albany's Egg Center
• Smoke jazz club, NYC