Monday, January 2, 2012

Article in Brazilian newspaper

I did an interview with a fellow by the name of André Simões who writes for a daily paper in Maringá in the southern Brazilian state of Paraná.

André's blog is here.

Here's the link to the article:

For those that don't read Portuguese, here's my translation:

Mr. Guitar of the Web

Ten million hits on Youtube. Some adolescent cracking jokes for the camera? Some young girl confessing her sexual intimacies? Who knows, maybe a pop star? As improbable as it may seem, the North American Tony Clef, 52, manages this impressive number of views just making videos with his guitar on the Internet. Without jokes, without special effects - just instrumental music of the best quality.

More relevant to us is that a quarter of his output (47 of a total of 182 videos) is dedicated to new arrangements of classics of Brazilian music. Only the finest things: Villa-Lobos, Tom Jobim, Edu Lobo, Carlos Lyra, Milton Nascimento, Chico Buarque, Caetano Veloso...

When it comes to adapting songs for guitar solo, Clef attains the most impressive results. In his arrangement of ""Um Girassol da Cor de Seu Cabelo" (A Sunflower the Color of your Hair) (by Lô and Márcio Borges, originally recorded on the album "Clube da Esquina", from 1972) the guitarist synthesizes the vocal melody, the basic harmony and the complex instrumental arrangements of Wagner Tiso.

On rarer occasions, Clef plays the arrangements of other Brazilian guitarists, but always working with the cream of Brazilian guitar: Baden Powell, Paulinho Nogueira, Luiz Bonfá, among others.


His promotion of Brazilian music on Youtube has earned him enthusiastic comments from Brazilians that seek him out on his channel, and there are others from other parts of the world that encounter MPB (Brazilian popular music) for the first time through the interpretations of this North American. "I'm interested in getting people to listen to new things. But there are already many people all over the world who know about the beauty of MPB" says
Clef, in an exclusive interview with O Diário.

His first contact with Brazilian music, "like many Americans", happened when he was still a child upon hearing "Garota de Ipanema" (The Girl from Ipanema), in the version of Astrud Gilberto accompanied by her then-husband João Gilberto on the guitar. Later, studying classical guitar, he came in contact with the works of Villa-Lobos.

But the big bang only came about when a friend recorded a cassette for Clef with an ample selection of MPB containing many classics as well as "lesser-known gems" from artists like Os Cariocas and Leny de Andrade. "It took me to the next level. What really made me crazy was "Tarde em Itapoã". I couldn't stop listening to it", remembers the guitarist.

His enthusiasm for Brazil inspired the musician to study Portuguese, now exhibiting sufficient fluency to respond to his fans in writing and even to sing in our language on a version of "Pra Dizer Adeus" (To Say Goodbye), by Edu Lobo and Torquato Neto. On his blog, he also translates Brazilian songs into English, as he did with "Olha Maria" (Look Maria), by Chico Buarque, Vinícius de Moraes and Tom Jobim.


Beyond Brazilian songs, Clef also has had success with new arrangements from the most diverse musical genres. Having started in rock, he has adapted with a classical guitar touch songs by the Beatles, Led Zeppelin and The Kinks along with many other bands.

Recognition in this area came from the most vaunted source possible: when Paul McCartney promoted a contest on his website for the best version of the classic "Maybe I'm Amazed" (from his first solo album of 1970), the winner was Tony Clef, with his guitar incorporating the voice, organ, piano, bass and guitar parts.

A little of this eclecticism can be found on his album, "Tuesday Afternoon", released in September. Along with Brazilian music ("A Felicidade", "Clube da Esquina nº2" and "Melodia Sentimental") and rock (Beatles, The Kinks) there is space for waltzes, French songs, soundtracks, Broadway themes and classical pieces. "I sought to mix in a selection of what I do on Youtube with other things that I haven't posted there. That way people would have a reason to want to buy the album!", he says.

Success came as a surprise

How did the idea of making videos on Youtube come about?

A friend told me about youtube in April or May of 2006 (about 6 months after it went online) and I posted my first video in early June of that year. For years I'd worked on the same songs over and over with no way of registering them and considering them *done*.

Was your success unexpected? How has it influenced you personally and musically?

It was very unexpected and delightful. Getting views and comments from people all over the world within an hour is something that is strange and beautiful and really remarkable. I credit the fact that when I started, there were maybe only a couple hundred musicians on Youtube in the whole world! Nowadays, there's probably 200 in my neighborhood alone! I was just lucky to be in the right place as Youtube was becoming the worldwide phenomenon it is now.

When did your interest in writing arrangements come about?

I fooled around with working out transcriptions and arrangements at a pretty early age but never
really took it seriously. Even now I don't *really* take it seriously! :D I feel like mostly I do "transcriptions" as opposed to true arrangements. A good arranger has to be a bit of a composer, and I don't compose at all. A transcriber just needs to have a good ear and a knack for working out the solutions lurking somewhere on the fretboard.

Among the youth of Brazil, there are relatively few who know about the great composers like Tom Jobim, Edu Lobo, Francis Hime, Baden Powell. How do you see that in relation to the youth of your country and their knowledge of the great American songwriters (Jerome Kern, George Gershwin, Cole Porter, Richard Rodgers, Irving Berlin)?

Oh, yeah, that kind of thing is true everywhere, right? The marketing people have a vested interest in making sure the kids only listen to what they want them to listen to. But everybody has to grow at their own rate. Most kids hate it when someone says "Eat this, it's good for you" or "Listen to this, it's better than what you're listening to". It's like parents who try to force their children to like classical music or something. If it doesn't come naturally to the child through your example of enthusiasm, they're never going to get it. Like swallowing a pill. No fun.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

The Brazilian Masters

It's great to see that Brian Hodel's book "The Brazilian Masters" is back in print. Lots of great arrangements many of which my teacher worked with me on and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in the classical/brazilian style of playing. All standard notation arrangements. No guitar tab.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

My Album reviewed

I'm very happy to announce that my album was reviewed on The Minor 7th's website:

And they seemed to like it, too! :D

Listen to a sound sample and check out their other reviews of eclectic musicians out there.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Olha Maria

This is the next song I'm working on and I hope to have it right and finished and recorded soon.

This a version that Jobim recorded live with Milton Nascimento singing

The original is by Chico Buarque on his fifth album "Construção" which is as close to perfect as an album gets. One of the greatest albums ever recorded. (The album is inexplicably and inexcusably not available in the American Itunes store, though. Many other of the great early albums are)

I worked for quite a while on it last winter or spring sometime but then gave up the project as there is so much compromise involved in a one-guitar arrangement and this is such a masterpiece and it's so meaningful that I don't want to mess it up. But I started work on it again a couple of months ago making a couple of self-teaching videos to help me remember some of the ins and outs. It's inevitable that I need to add a beat or two here and there and I hope it won't be too distracting to those who are most familiar with the song or those who are most rhythmically adept.

I worked on and off on it. Then something amazing happened.

I just saw the film "Mayerling" this weekend. I feel certain that Vinícius and Chico were thinking of the plot of this Anatole Litvak masterwork when they wrote their poetry to Tom's music. (So many of the great Brazilian composers were huge film buffs after all; Caetano wrote film criticism for a while, Milton and Márcio Borges wrote their first songs in a blaze of inspiration after watching "Jules et Jim", Vinícius was actually on the film censors board for a while (!), that my theory is at least plausible. Anyone with a real biographical understanding of the song can feel free to shoot me down.)

It's one of those movies that I wish I hadn't seen yet, so I'd have the pleasure of seeing it for the first time again.

Of course even without knowing a word of Portuguese you can tell it's a sad love song. The movie (without being too much of a spoiler) is a sad love story. You can read about the historical basis here. But don't if you don't want to spoil it, blah blah.

Anyhow, in the film Baroness Mary Vetsera (mostly called the French "Marie" or Maria) is played by (once again, my dream of perfect beauty come true) Danielle Darrieux.

Now, I've known the song for over 15 years probably, but like many things I never listened much to the words and my Portuguese listening comprehension isn't so hot. Yesterday, I decided to pull up the lyrics off Chico's website and here is a rough English version:

See, Maria
I had so wished
To make you a present
Of my poetry
But today, Maria
To my surprise
To my sadness
You must part.

Go now, Maria
You that are so beautiful
You that are so afflicted
Having to abandon me so
Just feel, Maria
That you go but on a visit
That your body trembles
Wishing to dance.

Go now, Maria
Just as you are, fully nude
For it is the Moon that calls you
You that are such a woman
Burn, Maria
In the flame of the moon.
Maria, the gypsy
Maria, the tide

Go your way singing
Maria fleeing
Against the wind
Playfully, sleeping
In the Lap of the Mountains
In an empty field
In the bed of a river
In the arms of the sea

Happiness, be gone
For Life, Maria
Lasts only a day
I won't keep you
Run, Maria
Life won't wait
It is a springtime
And you mustn't miss it

Go, Maria
For I would have only
My agony
To offer you

Go, Maria
For I would have only
My agony
To offer you

Full Portuguese lyric (no copyright infringement intended)

Olha, Maria
Eu bem te queria
Fazer uma presa
Da minha poesia
Mas hoje, Maria
Pra minha surpresa
Pra minha tristeza
Precisas partir

Parte, Maria
Que estás tão bonita
Que estás tão aflita
Pra me abandonar
Sinto, Maria
Que estás de visita
Teu corpo se agita
Querendo dançar

Parte, Maria
Que estás toda nua
Que a lua te chama
Que estás tão mulher
Arde, Maria
Na chama da lua
Maria cigana
Maria maré

Parte cantando
Maria fugindo
Contra a ventania
Brincando, dormindo
Num colo de serra
Num campo vazio
Num leito de rio
Nos braços do mar

Vai, alegria
Que a vida, Maria
Não passa de um dia
Não vou te prender
Corre, Maria
Que a vida não espera
É uma primavera
Não podes perder

Anda, Maria
Pois eu só teria
A minha agonia
Pra te oferecer

When those words and those film images came together at the same time, I wept like the afflicted. Clearly this is not an ordinary romantic farewell song. The grim one who carries the sickle is hovering near as he will for us all one day. See the movie and hear the song and I hope my version does it justice.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Yuja Wang in concert

I just saw Yuja Wang in Albany last night. Her fingers, her music, were mesmerizing. And the program couldn't have been more up my alley. First half was a selection of Scriabin works which i loved and a Prokofiev sonata (#6) that I didn't know but was happy to hear for the first time. Stirring, even disturbing, stuff. However the second half was the huge Liszt B-Minor Sonata which is a real favorite and Yuja didn't disappoint. Fireworks. Jaws were being picked up all over the concert hall when she finished. She played 2 encores and looked emotionally and physically exhausted when they were through. I wouldn't doubt it.

She was going to be signing copies of her cd's after the show but as it was late and I had a 3 hour drive back to Boston ahead of me I hit the road, which now of course I'm thoroughly regretting because it would have been so cool to meet her after.

She was incredibly gorgeous as always, of course. In the first half she looked stunning in a black floor-length gown with bare arms and shoulders and something like four-inch heels. After intermission, when she came out to play the Liszt she had on a similar dress but in bright red. There was a collective gasp of admiration from the crowd. "Oh, my God, would you just look at that" someone near me was heard to say. Oh, yes, we were looking.

(As an aside, I think traditionalists that let the idea of personal beauty get in the way of the pure appreciation for the music are just being silly. If you're beautiful, why would you not want to be beautiful-er on stage? On the one hand, if you play like Alfred Brendel and also *look* like Alfred Brendel, chances are people are still going to want to see and hear you play your instrument. On the other, if you look like the most gorgeous supermodel and are dressed to kill and someone plunks you down in front of a Steinway and all you can do is haltingly plink out the notes of Chopsticks, no one is going to care to listen or watch or know about it. This is of course all a massive truism. I guess the question is: Do young people with the gift of physical charms have the unfair advantage over their less comely but equally talented peers? Well, I dunno about that. I just think it makes people like me only want to practice the harder. I know I'm fired up to get back to the guitar today. Maybe I should stop typing now.)

One other thing I wanted to mention is that according to her website (, she's apparently playing nearly everywhere every night. She must be a bundle of energy to do as many shows as she has lined up. For some reason she's not playing in the Boston area (I don't blame her for this but instead I think there's something wrong with the state of classical music programming in the Boston area...or I'm just not paying attention enough. The latter is probably the case.). My point is, if she's playing near you GO!

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Liner notes for "tuesday afternoon"

“Tony r clef – Tuesday afternoon” was recorded in August 2010 on three very wet rainy days at a small studio in Sanford, Maine where I met Parma producer Bob Lord and engineer Shaun Michaud and who displayed all the grace and patience necessary to work with a first-time recording artist.

At the end of day one, I felt as if a small truck had run me over. My dinner that evening consisted of a Dairy Queen Blizzzard or whatever they call that giant calorie-rich monstrosity that served its purpose so well. But over the next two days I started feeling a lot better about myself. I took as consolation a remark I remember hearing Alison Krauss make in an interview about how the recording studio can be a very humbling experience. Yup, it sure is that.

Here’s a few notes about each song on the record that may be of interest.

Me, O Ye Gods (Henry Purcell)
“Me, O Ye Gods” is a lament originally scored for countertenor/tenor duet and included in English composer Henry Purcell’s ca. 1686 cantata called “If Ever I More Riches Did Desire”. I learned it from a lovely old Nonesuch LP called “Airs and Duets of Henry Purcell” recorded by Jeffrey Dooley and Howard Crook which I first heard when I had a part-time radio engineer internship at WVPR. I’ve been obsessed with this melody ever since. As with a number of Purcell’s compositions, I find the harmonies here strikingly modern – stark dissonances and unexpected resolutions abound.
The words are:
Me, O ye Gods, on earth or else so near,
That I no fall to earth may fear,
And, O ye Gods, at a good distance seat,
From the long ruins of the great.
Here wrapt in the arms of quiet let me lie
Quiet companion of Obscurity.
This version is transposed to D minor from the original C minor. My inspiration for placing this first on the disk comes from the typical practice in recitals where the earliest music is sometimes played first. Later on on the disk there is no adhering to this idea, but I thought it a good starting point. Also since the meaning of the song is so bleak, the experience can only get lighter as the cd progresses, right?

Pure Imagination (Anthony Newley, Leslie Bricusse)

A wistful little song from “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory”. This version is revised and expanded from the version I posted on YouTube several years back. I’ve tried to correct some harmonies, flesh out some chords and I added a bit of the introductory and bridging material as well.

Out of My Dreams (Richard Rodgers, Oscar Hammerstein II)
When I finally saw the film version of “Oklahoma!” for the first time recently, I went back and watched the scene that featured this song about 40 times through. Something about these chords kept pulling me back to make sure I’d really heard what I thought I’d heard. Bewitching music.

Melodia Sentimental (Heitor Villa-Lobos)
I made this version of Villa-Lobos’ beautiful song, originally included in his secular oratorio “Floresta da Amazonas”, from listening to a recording called “Teca Calazans sings Villa-Lobos”. If I had to choose 10 “desert-island disks”, that would be a strong contender for inclusion. Not only for the sheer richness of the material and her haunting voice, but also for the perfect balance she finds between the popular music approach and the essentially classical music material she’s working with.
In my arrangement, there are also nods to the lovely versions of João Bosco and Zizi Possi.

When I'm 64 (Lennon/McCartney)
“Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” certainly needs no introduction. However, something I didn’t know about this song until quite recently is that it was largely already written by a teenage Paul McCartney well before meeting John and founding the, um, what was the name of that group they were in?

A Felicidade (Antonio Carlos Jobim, Vinicius de Moraes)
A song included in the soundtrack to Marcel Camus’ 1959 film “Orfeu Negro” (Black Orpheus) and one of the first written by the team of song writers who would go on to pen so many of the classic, best-known bossa novas. “A Felicidade” (which translates to “Happiness”) is actually
a song that’s more about the despair of every day life in the slums of Rio being alleviated just once a year by the illusion of Carnaval. Maybe it’s wise to consider we all have such illusions, no? The refrain of the song says “Tristeza não tem fim, Felicidade sim” (Sadness has no end, but happiness does).

Clube da Esquina #2 (Lô Borges, Márcio Borges, Milton Nascimento)

This is a favorite song of mine from the generation of writers who came along immediately after the generation of writers represented by the previous song. Young people who came of age in Brazil right at the most brutal period of the dictatorship that inaugurated the notorious laws known as the AI5 which abolished habeas corpus and extended police power, secret courts, censorship, disappearances, exiles, torture, et cetera which lasted from 1968 until the AI5 was officially terminated in 1978. Brothers Lô and Márcio Borges and childhood friend Milton Nascimento grew up in Belo Horizonte, Brazil and had only just begun writing songs in these years and one of their first was a song called “Clube da Esquina”.
This song (#2) is its follow-up. Not overtly political, the lyrics do however speak of a group of friends who stick together, ‘even in the midst of tear gas they remain calm.’ (Em meio a tantos gases lacrimogêneos ficam calmos, calmos, calmos). Perhaps the beauty and sort of spacey, psychedelic, hippy peacefulness of the melody and arrangement helped it pass the ears of any state watchdogs. Beautiful, lush and ultra-groovy song that has been covered by Milton Nascimento, Nana Caymmi and many others but my favorite version will always be that of Lô Borges on his marvelous album “A Via Lactea”.

Moontime (Dudley Moore)
This is from the soundtrack to the great Stanley Donen film "Bedazzled" written by Peter Cook and starring Cook and Dudley Moore.
Dudley wrote all the music. An album of the entire soundtrack was a bit of a holy grail for a while for me. Then it came out on cd though it appears to be somewhat hard to find again. Then finally the film was released on dvd as well. An absolute favorite of mine. This piece would be easy to miss in the film if your weren't listening for it. It plays in the background when Stanley (Dud's character) is being put to bed by George aka Lucifer himself (played by Pete). In the morning, Stanley is awoken by Lilian Lust, the babe with the bust (played by Raquel Welch) but that's another story.

Valse “Chemins de L'amour” (Francis Poulenc)
One of Poulenc's most famous pieces covered in its vocal version by numerous artists. I learned it in this key on a disk on Naxos (Poulenc's Complete Chamber Music volume 5) where it is played by Alexandre Tharaud et al and sung by the beautiful French actress Danielle Darrieux. Poulenc wrote this around 1940 for the beautiful singer/actress Yvonne Printemps to sing in a stage production of Jean Anouilh's play "Léocadia".

Sunny Afternoon (Ray Davies)
One of the Kink's inimitable hits given a sort of old-timey rag-like treatment. One of the tricky bits in this kind of song is scoring the vocal in the same register as where a number of accompanying notes are or would be. Calls for tricks and changes, adaptations and
moves. But I think this almost works.

Tuesday Afternoon (Justin Hayward)
A very different kind of afternoon song rounds out the set. Where Davies' song is recited by a realist looking at his less-than-wonderful life, Hayward's song is the song of the perpetual dreamer who hears the mystic voices of the trees calling to him. I guess I'm a little of both.

Friday, October 7, 2011

The Huss and Dalton I'm selling

Here is a link to the guitar I'm selling on consignment at The Music Emporium.

now with an embedded video of eu lo tocando

Thursday, October 6, 2011

FAQ: Current Recording Setup

These days I use an Audio Technica AT-3035 microphone. It's plugged into an Audio Kontrol 1 audio interface which plugs into the macintosh. For audio recording software I use Garageband with no added plugins or anything. I hit 'record' on garageband and I record the video on a little Sony Handycam. Once I've got a take i like, I import the video clip from the camera into Imovie. I remove the audio that was captured by the built-in camera mic and overlay the newly mixed mp3 stereo version i recorded with the mic in garageband and synch it up with the video. It took a while to learn how to do it all and i pulled out several hairs in the process, but it's actually pretty easy all said and done.
On some older clips i combined the AT mic with a Shure SM-57.
Then the oldest clips were recorded using a couple of different cheap video conferencing mics/cameras directly to the PC that i was using at the time.

The Death of Bert Jansch

Bert Jansch died yesterday.
Back in 1976 I used to listen to the radio station of Dartmouth College (WFRD) which at the time was an extremely good college radio station with many experimental programs and progressive young students programming extraordinary music of every conceivable era and style. I've often referred to that station and its programs as my true education in music.
There was a folk program called "Byways" that, as I recall, was on from Monday through Friday from about 1 to 3pm. Most of the year I was not able to catch it being still in high school, but in summer when I could practice my guitar while listening to every song I could get my ears on, that show introduced me to Tom Rush, Nick Drake, Joni Mitchell, Phil Ochs and many others.
But there was this one song that had this guitar lick that made me think that it was the master stroke of all guitar playing. There was this funny little pause in it that made it funky as all hell. Didn't sound like "folk". Maybe sounded like "jazz". Maybe sounded like "rock". It really only sounded like itself. I thought no one could ever reproduce something so genuine and so of-the-essence of music-making.
The singer croaked a story in a not-so-great voice about a sort of rogue kind of character that may have been him or herself and that hardly made any sense. When I tried to listen to the lyrics, most of the words were unintelligible but they appeared to be telling the story of a young woman being deceived by this character with a name I couldn't make out.
However, it was the guitar fills and accompaniment that always made me stop attempting to play along and just listen. Again, it seemed to me that this was like music-making *itself*. (I don't know how to put it any better than that).
Oddly it seemed I could never find out who it was playing or what the name of the song was. And when I did at last hear the name of both the artist and the song, much like the words, they didn't make sense. They weren't words that I thought existed. They seemed like just strange sounds that maybe the DJ was mispronouncing anyway.
The artist was "Bert Jansch" and the song was "Reynardine"
Bert died yesterday in London. He was only 67.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Tuesday Afternoon

Here's a short video I made about my new album. I think you'll agree the art work was very beautifully done. The back cover photo is of my great aunt Emily and my grandmother Kitty as a girl of 3 or 4. That was taken some time ago.