By Felicity Clarke, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – After a meteoric rise to prominence on Rio’s nightlife scene, Nova Lapa Jazz’s hugely popular Wednesday night jazz show on Rua da Lapa is to move to the Praça Albino Pinheiro next to Praça Tiradentes in Centro following an intervention by the city authorities last week. Over the last four months, have built an enormous following with their free jazz show in the square on Rua da Lapa.
What started as an open jam session on the Wednesday after Carnival quickly became a vibrant street party of proportions and atmosphere comparable to the most popular Carnival blocos, drawing crowds of over two thousand people to the more disheveled side of the Lapa arches.
With exhilarating improvisations, musical virtuosity and energetic performances from all five members, Nova Lapa Jazz have captivated a diverse, young audience with instrumental jazz, something which is not commonly heard outside the city’s more exclusive bars, clubs and restaurants.
Nathan Allen, a British student living in Rio who’s been frequenting the jazz on Wednesday for the last few months, highlights this aspect of the event: “There aren’t any other improvised jazz events that are as accessible as this anywhere else in the city.”
The immense popularity is surprising, even to the city’s jazz musicians. “Music and partying in the street is normal but not this type of music,” says Marco Serragrande, trombone player with the Monte Alegre Jazz Band, “They’ve managed to introduce jazz to a lot of young people.”
Bass player Josias Pedrosa whose jazz trio plays Monday nights at Bohemia da Lapa, agrees, saying “it’s a big cultural explosion of our time, getting a large audience to interact with jazz like this.”
The democratization of what is often perceived to be an elitist genre has been part of the band’s mission ever since the event started growing. “A lot of people have never seen a musician improvising in front of a band and felt the energy of music without a single word sung”, says trumpet player Eduardo Santana. He goes on, “jazz has been played in Rio for a long time but not on this scale, to this audience.”
However with growing numbers, unlicensed street vendors, tensions with residents over performance times (early shows went on well into the early hours) and the area’s lack of infrastructure to cope with such crowds, the event’s future has been increasingly uncertain. These concerns culminated in the arrival of Choque de Ordem and Municipal Guard early last Wednesday evening.
“They confiscated some goods from some vendors while others ran away,” recalls saxophonist Nicolsky, “then politely explained that if we started playing, they’d take away our instruments.”
Mayor of Rio’s Centro, Thiago Barcellos, who had ordered the intervention, arrived at the scene to explain the action and invite the band to discuss the future of the event the following Monday, August 15th.
“We have a large cultural manifestation in the street every year, Carnival, but there are rules and regulations for this to happen” explains Mr. Barcellos. “[The jazz on Wednesday] may be free and have a large following, but it’s happening in a public space below a large residential building. We support culture bringing value to the city but it has to be in harmony with the place, it cannot inconvenience the residents as this event has”.
In Monday’s meeting alternative locations were discussed including Cinelândia and the Lapa Arches. “The Arches would have been our first choice for an alternative location but since the area is under construction, Praça Albino Pinheiro was suggested” says Nicolsky.
Of the result, he says “I’m sad we won’t play in the square [on Rua da Lapa] any more. Both the band and the audience love the square; it was a new thing for an abandoned place, but the new square is beautiful, can accommodate a lot of people and doesn’t have a residential population. It’s sad to be leaving Lapa but we can’t not be happy with all that’s happened.”
The band, who have recently appeared on Brazilian TV news and been playing all over the city from the Vila Cruzeiro favela to Lapa’s legendary Circo Voador, now hope to continue thrilling their audience in their new Wednesday night location behind Centro Cultural Carioca. “We have a new space where we going to do a great show” enthuses Nicolsky. “Things are only going to get better.”
Nova Lapa Jazz play Wednesday nights in Praça Albino Pinheiro, next to Praça Tiradentes in Centro from 8PM.