INTERVIEW: Drummer Adam Osmianski (new album from Samba Azul)

Adam Osmianski
Photo Credit: Wong Horngyih

When Pittsburgh-born, London-based drummer Adam Osmianski went to Brazil 12 years ago he says that he “absolutely caught the bug for Brazilian music”. He was amazed by the range of music in all the different areas of such a vast country. “Their music comes in so many different, cool variations,” Osmianski explains. He has been playing Brazilian music ever since and his band Samba Azul, which was formed in 2012, is releasing a vibrant new self-titled album that features African candomblé-style tunes, north-eastern baião music and exciting Samba tunes. Feature by Martin Chilton: 

Brazilian music was a long way from his mind as a boy growing up in Pittsburgh. An uncle who played drums in his spare time in a rock and roll band got him started and he then took lessons in school. “I learned a lot of rock and prog-rock songs as a kid, as many young drummers do. I practised a lot of Rush tunes,” Osmianski, 36, says. “Being from the United States, I also did the whole marching band thing in school.”

At 15, he started going to a tutor, who introduced him to jazz, almost by stealth. “Very cleverly, he didn’t try to change my mind about prog-rock,” says Osmianski. “He kept teaching me the Rush tunes and things like that, but he would also slip me a John Coltrane disc and say, ‘do me a favour, just go home and check out this music.’ He introduced me to great drummers such as Jack DeJohnette and Omar Hakim, and slowly it took hold.”

One of his formative influences with Brazilian music was the great Rio de Janeiro-born composer and pianist Antônio Carlos Jobim. “I’m a big fan of Jobim’s work. He is the figurehead of bossa nova. There are so many other great musicians, but Jobim was my first introduction to Brazilian music and his tunes are so versatile. He has written so much fantastic music that he is almost like a Gershwin or Irving Berlin of Brazil. His compositions are so good that you can pretty much do anything with them, play them in a band, or jazz piano trio, or as a solo guitarist with a vocalist.”

On the new album, the band lean towards a Samba-style of music and the record features the fine singing of his wife, pianist/singer Joy Ellis, whom the drummer met in 2008. Ellis, who is working on her own album, is joined as a vocalist on the album by Mishka Adams, singing individually and together on various tracks.
                                                        
The album has an enjoyable range of moods. The song Maria Du Socorro – which Osmianski describes as a “goofy, fun love song” – mentions the term “Baile Funk”, which is kind of Brazilian discotheque sound, and the track reflects the joyous nature of Brazilian music.

Mambembe, on the other hand, “is quite a lonely-sounding song,” Osmianski says. “Brazilian music is emotional,” explains Osmianski. “Brazilians are always singing about happy things such as food or football, or the sadness of love. There is a Brazilian term called ‘saudade’, which you hear all over the place. It is word that doesn’t exactly translate. It sort of means ‘longing’ or ‘missing’, but not quite. There is a lot of that in Mambembe.”

Another key track on the album is Especiaria, which was written by Brazilian Flávio Chamis. It is a song they play at every gig. “Chamis was an assistant conductor to Leonard Bernstein for a time and he lives in Pittsburgh,” remarks Osmianski. “Especiaria is about Pedro Álvares Cabral, who was the guy who was trying to get to India to find spices and ended up a bit lost and finding Brazil instead.”

The launch for the album, which was produced by Osmianski, will take place at Pizza Express, Dean Street, on Sunday 7 April, 1.30pm. The songs will be performed in Portuguese, as they are on the record, and Osmianski says the band enjoy interacting with audiences. “We explain the stories of these songs and then let them hear the tunes.”

Osmianski, who moved to the UK in 2015, enjoys teaching at the Junior Guildhall School of Music one day a week. “Jeffery Wilson teaches there and he has been a sort of mentor to Joy,” says Osmianski. “He brought me in to do some percussion workshops and they seemed to like them. When a position became available, he encouraged me to apply. I started out teaching a musical awareness programme and moved over to a jazz role.”

Most of his students are British and he loves their enthusiasm about different styles of drumming. “One kid is into modern playing and loves Mark Guiliana,” says Osmianski. “Another one is super into Elvin Jones and wants to talk about him a lot, while another is into Art Blakey. I also do some online teaching for West Virginia University, doing about five or six classes from home. I do classes and email work in the morning and in the afternoon I have time to practise and work on the albums.”

Osmianski believes the London jazz scene is buzzing at the moment. “Jazz here is full of an exciting energy, with pockets of different scenes throughout the city and so many young, talented musicians. Ever since I started playing Brazilian music, I was looking for an outlet. Coming to London allowed me to meet all these amazing musicians. This is the biggest project I have done by myself.”

Along with Osmianski on drums and the two main vocalists, the album, recorded at the Fish Factory in London’s Dollis Hill, features guitarists Greg Sanders-Gallego and Pedro Velasco, percussionists Alex Talbot and Jeremy Shaverin, bass player Greg Gottlieb and features harmonica player Philip Achille on two tunes.

Above all, Osmianski wants listeners to have a good time with his music. “I want people to enjoy the album and, in a way, not take it too seriously,” he says. “I take music very seriously and I strive to make it the best quality it can be, but part of what is cool about the London jazz scene is that it seems to be going back to a dance and party atmosphere. On the album, we only have one tune that is over five minutes. I wanted a fun project, with loads of people and loads of percussion.” (pp)

LINKS/ FORTHCOMING GIGS:  Samba Azul on FacebookAdam Osmianski website

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