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John Child talks with the critically acclaimed flautist, bandleader, composer and arranger.

Andrea Brachfeld

Talks Back About Sweet Passion

A conversation with John Child

"With Back With Sweet Passion on Latin Cool, flautist, bandleader, composer and arranger Andrea Brachfeld has lovingly renovated the venerable charanga tradition to create a product that is refreshingly modern, whilst retaining all the original features. Her liquid flute playing is a joy."

-- John Child, and

Andrea took time out to speak to John Child about Back With Sweet Passion. But before she did, John asks her about her experience of the 1970s New York charanga explosion, which included performing with Charanga 76, Típica Ideal and Charanga America, among others, as well as leading her own band, Conjunto Andrea.

John Ian Child (JIC): Your amazing academic and jazz credentials are already well documented on the worldwide web, particularly on your own website So what I'd like to do for, is focus on your participation in the Latin music industry. I understand that the late, great Mauricio Smith played a key role in getting you involved in the burgeoning New York charanga scene of the 1970s?

Andrea Brachfeld (AB): Yes, back in the early '70s I was at a club called the Tin Palace in the East Village and a friend of mine, Lloyd McNeil, another flute player, was playing there with his band. I sat in on a number and Mauricio was in the audience. He came up to me after I played and asked me if I was working. I wasn't working much at the time. So when I told him I wasn't, he gave me the number of Mike Pérez* of Orquesta Típica New York, and told me to call him.

(*In addition to making Mike Pérez y su Orq. Típica New York on Mas Records in the early '70s, violinist Mike Pérez has recorded with Johnny Pacheco, Pupi Legarreta, Orquesta Broadway, Orquesta Sublime, Charanga La Reina and José Fajardo. He is currently a member of Orquesta Sublime's successor, SonSublime, and plays on their albums Irresistible '01 and Gran Reserva '02, both on Lasemco.)

JIC: How did you prepare yourself for the charanga format?

AB: This is a very interesting question because, in fact, I didn't prepare myself at all. I went to Mike's gig and Felix Wilkins, a Panamanian flutist, was playing the gig. I just sort of started to play and tried to fit in. Felix showed me a lot of stuff and Mike was very kind to let me start the process in his band.

JIC: Which charanga did you make your debut with? Do you remember when and where?

AB: Well, I guess it was with Típica New York. Unfortunately, I don't remember where. I would have to ask Mike. I'm sure he'll know.

JIC: With whom did you make your charanga recording debut?

AB: The first band I recorded with was the Bennito Sextet. I don't think the recording was ever released. The next recording was with Charanga 76.

JIC: You also gigged with the Bennito Sextet, who are not familiar to me. Please could you fill me in about the group?

AB: Yes, as I mentioned before, the Bennito Sextet was a small group who played in the NY area. We did a lot of small clubs and dives. I think I played the worst gig of my life with him!

JIC: I remember reading about this. Would you be prepared to recount the story for readers?

AB: Well, it's like this. I walked in and a woman was dancing on top of the bar stark naked. I tried to ignore her, but when she was on break she didn't get dressed as she mingled with the crowd!

JIC: How did you hook-up with Charanga 76?

AB: I believe Mike Pérez recommended me to Philip Martínez (Felipe Martínez, leader and güiro player).

JIC: Did you have an opportunity to influence the sound and direction of Charanga 76?

AB: I believe I influenced the sound of the band by just playing the flute as I saw fit. They really let me blow a lot, so I think my style affected the swing of the band.

JIC: Charanga 76 got a deal with TR Records, and made a series of albums for the label, including Charanga 76 , Encore '77, Live At Roseland '78, La Charanga 76 En El 78 , La Charanga 76 En El 79 and No Nos Pararan '79. You performed on the first two, and featured prominently in the photographs on the sleeve of Charanga 76 , which was co-produced and co-arranged by the mighty Eddie Drennon. Please could you comment about these albums?

AB: I did record the first two albums with them and then another one in the early '80s. It was a great experience. I do remember recording pretty quickly since we had been playing the songs on the gigs for a while before we recorded. I don't think I realised at the time, the years of experience everyone had who was around me, as I had just entered into the music. Eddie Drennon was always a very courteous and professional musician.

JIC: What were the hit tunes off Charanga 76 and Encore , and what numbers did the band regularly feature in their gigs?

AB: Well, of course we played "Soy" (from Charanga 76 ) a thousand times! We also played "Kuku-Cha Ku-Cha" (from Encore ) a lot.

JIC: The same year you made Charanga 76 , you also added vocals to the track "Quedate Conmigo" on Orquesta Broadway's revered Pasaporte on Coco, produced by the legendary Barry Rogers. Please tell me about that experience?

AB: Well at the time I was hanging out with the great Ira Herscher. He is a great pianist. I was in the studio with Ira when Broadway was recording vocals and they needed a woman's voice. So I told them I could sing and they let me, and they liked it. So they kept it!

JIC: Returning to Charanga 76, though there are no personnel credits given on Live At Roseland , it is evidently flautist Karen Joseph** lurking under a white hood in the photographs on the cover and not you? Why did you part company with the band after its first two successful albums?

(**Karen Joseph recorded further with Charanga 76, including La Charanga 76 En El 78 and La Charanga 76 En El 79 . From the mid-'90s, she began performing and recording with Johnny Almendra's charanga band, Los Jóvenes del Barrio. More recently, she has been gigging with Eddie Palmieri, and played on his Concord Picante follow-up Ritmo Caliente '03.)

AB: I don't remember exactly why. I don't think it was a major parting. I was always into playing jazz and I do remember getting a full-time gig with Jazzmobile leading an Afro-Cuban band around that time.

JIC: You also worked with other notable bands during the '70s New York charanga explosion, including Charanga America and Típica Ideal. Please could you share your reminiscences of working with them? And did you record with them?

AB: Yes, I did record with Charanga America. I also went to Venezuela with them and toured with Orquesta Aragón. They had a great band at the time. I had a great time with Típica Ideal as well. The singers were wonderful and Gil Suárez was a great pianist. I don't think I recorded with them.

JIC: Gil Suárez is currently with SonSublime and plays on their album Gran Reserva. Sorry to press you about recordings, but do you happen to remember the details of the album you made with Charanga America?

AB: I don't remember anything in particular when we recorded this album.

JIC: You must have performed onstage with some incredible practitioners of the charanga form when you were working with the likes of Charanga 76, Típica Ideal, Charanga America, etc., such as Alfredo de la Fé, who's on your current release Son Charanga - Back With Sweet Passion. For instance, was the violin and saxophone maestro José "Chombo" Silva there when you played with Típica Ideal?

AB: Actually he wasn't, as far as I recall. Though I did sit in with many bands during that time, including Típica 73, Machito, Tito Puente and Pacheco, to name a few.

JIC: Were José Bello and Héctor "Tempo" Alomar singing with Charanga America during the time you worked with the band?

AB: Yes, they were. Tempo taught me how to dance a little!

JIC: In 1978 you made your solo debut with Andrea on Latina Records, produced by eminent percussionist and arranger José Madera. The line-up on the album certainly featured some luminaries, such as Barry Rogers on trombone, timbalero Johnny Almendra, conguero/arranger Louis Bauzo, bassists Bobby Rodríguez and Joe Santiago and violinists Eddie Drennon and Lewis Khan. Please could you share some memories of that project and did you lead your own live band at the time?

AB: We had a great time recording that album. I felt privileged to be around those musicians. I guess one of my goals is to have the respect of my peers, and when guys like that play with you, I guess you've earned the respect. I did lead my own band. It was called Conjunto Andrea.

JIC: Your band was called a conjunto. So what instrumentation did it have? Did you have any "name" musicians in the group and what repertoire did you play?

AB: I was the musical director and Louis Bauzo and Johnny Almendra were co-directors with me. We had flute, trombone and trumpet as lead voices, along with piano, bass, congas, timbales and vocals. People like Al Torrente, Dave Chamberlain, Steve Turre, Mike Rios, played in the band.

JIC: The rear of the album sleeve for Andrea featured an endorsement by Karen Joseph, who was another one of the few women musicians working on the New York charanga scene during that era. Others, who were also non-Latinas, included flautist Carla Poole and violinist Gayle Dixon. I'd be interested in your observations about the issues of female participation in what had hitherto been a virtually exclusive male preserve?

AB: I have always maintained a very clear philosophy about my gender in regards to my musical career. I am a musician who happens to be a female. I am not, nor have I ever been, daunted, by the fact that our world is virtually dominated by men. I practice as much as I can to play as well as I can in order to be a successful musician. I have no control over those people who choose to see me as a female first and then a musician. I try to maintain my respect in every situation and give respect to those who are around me.

JIC: I understand that you garnered an award from the prestigious Latin NY magazine during the '70s?

AB: Yes, I was very fortunate to have been named the second best flutist to José Fajardo in 1978.

JIC: Then in 1980, you took yourself off to Venezuela and stayed longer than anticipated. Please could you explain how this all came about?

AB: I had actually just finished a yearlong contract with Jazzmobile as the leader of the Afro-Latin CETA Jazz Band. We were employed by the CETA act (Comprehensive Employment Training Act) to play in a variety of community-based venues. I was on unemployment leading a jazz quartet with Mark Helias on bass, Frank Stagnitta on piano, and Tom Whaley on drums. I got a surprise phone call from Renato Capriles from the wealthy Capriles family in Venezuela. He was putting together a band and wanted it to be led by a female flutist. He got my phone number and called me up to ask me if I wanted to go to Venezuela. My first reaction was, no, of course not. I was very happy doing what I was doing, but he was very persuasive. Needless to say, I received everything I asked for, thinking there was no way he would say yes! I promised him I would stay a month, but ended up staying for two and a half years. I played with his band called La Inmensa for a year, then played in a jazz club called the Juan Sebastien Bar for eight and a half months. During that time I also began recording jingles for TV and radio.

JIC: Why was Renato Capriles' specification for a female flutist?

AB: I guess that was his concept.

JIC: Did you continue to gig with Conjunto Andrea until your departure to Venezuela?

AB: No, actually Conjunto Andrea didn't last long. I don't remember the details as to why the band broke up.

JIC: Please could you tell me about your activity in Venezuela, which included sessioning on Mi Sentir/Culebra Vol. 3 '83 on CBS by pianist/arranger Enrique "Culebra" Iriarte, an alumnus of Federico y su Combo Latino, Salsa Mayor and Oscar D'León's orchestra.

AB: I did a couple of recordings while I was there and the one you mentioned was included.

JIC: Your stay in Venezuela would have been towards the tail end of the salsa boom there. It would be interesting to hear your comments about the scene you witnessed there.

AB: I actually was not involved in salsa there much. I played with La Inmensa, then immediately got into the jazz scene.

JIC: Upon your return to the USA in 1982, I understand that you withdrew from the front-line of the music scene for 17 years. What were the circumstances behind this decision and how did you channel your musical skills during this period?

AB: I came back from Venezuela with the intention of bringing my daughter up in the best way I could. When she was first born, I did play with Charanga 76 and Steve Colón. But when I moved down to South Brunswick, it seemed too far away to travel to the city, and I was very involved with activities for my daughter. During that time, though, I continued to write music and had jazz trio and quartet gigs locally.

JIC: What prompted you to return to the fray at the end of the 1990s, which resulted in you producing your second solo project Remembered Dreams (2000 on Phoenix Rising; reissued on Latin Cool in 2003)?

AB: My comeback was synchronised with my daughter's growing independence, which allowed me more freedom to rekindle my passion for playing.

JIC: Please tell me about Remembered Dreams and the concept behind the project?

AB: At the time I recorded Remembered Dreams, I had previously tried to get myself recorded by a slew of record companies. Since none were interested, I decided to do it on my own. It was interesting that I virtually did no research as to what music was out there. I just naturally wrote a series of compositions, which were a result of all my musical experiences, and they were labelled Latin jazz. It wasn't until after I got the CD out there, that I realised the growing movement and popularity of Latin jazz.
JIC: You've also been busy sessioning on other productions, such as Willie Moreno's Moreno Soy (2003 on Bongoreno Records) and Martina by Africando (2003 on Sterns). Please tell me about these?

AB: I feel very fortunate that I am beginning to be called to do some recordings.

JIC: Earlier in 2003 you signed with Latin Cool Records, and in July you issued the enthusiastically received Back With Sweet Passion on the label. The Brachfeld name clearly has clout, because you rounded-up some seriously heavy cats for the recording, such as Alfredo de la Fé, Oscar Hernández, Jorge Maldonado, Lewis Khan, José Madera, Papo Pepin, Chembo Corniel...the list goes on.

AB: I just called my friends and also people who were recommended to me. They all did me a solid job for the recording. I'll never forget that.

JIC: After hearing the opening moments of the first track, "Descarga Son Charanga", for the first time, both my wife and I commented how we were reminded of the sound of Los Jóvenes del Barrio. So I was interested to read your liner comment that hearing Los Jóvenes del Barrio for the first time had inspired your "charanga jazz" concept. However, Son Charanga undoubtedly have their own distinctive sound. How do you react to these observations?

AB: The first band I heard upon re-entering the scene was Los Jóvenes. I was delighted to hear how modern and interesting the music was. It inspired me to do my own thing and be creative. Johnny Almendra was very supportive in my return to the scene and I sat in a lot with Los Jóvenes.

JIC: "Descarga Son Charanga", "La Flauta de Andrea" and "Rumba Chá" are the three original numbers on the album, which you arranged and had a hand in composing. Please could you give some background about these tunes?

AB: I wrote "Descarga Son Charanga" to provide a jam piece for everyone to play on. "La Flauta de Andrea" was an experiment in combining elements of classical music, some jazz harmonies and of course the traditional charanga style. "Rumba Chá" was written as a result of being inspired by a composition Orquesta Aragón wrote called "Guaracharumba". I was going to record their tune, but when I started to invent a mambo, "Rumba Chá" came out. Chico Alvarez, Alberto Gonzales and Jorge Maldonado helped a lot with the lyrics for all three tunes.

JIC: An early standout cut for me, is the delightful "Llantico." Please tell me the story behind this track?

AB: When I was in Cuba in April of 2002, I went to La Plaza de Armas where many booksellers sell their wares. I found this piece in a book called Del Canto y El Tiempo by Argeliers León. The piece was originally written for Félix Cruz and arranged for piano by Raimundo Valenzuela from the famed Orquesta Valenzuela. I added a montuno and changed some of the harmony. The swing and great tumbaos were invented in the studio by all the great players who recorded the session.

JIC: You've given the Andrea-fication treatment to a trio of your favourite charanga standards: "Almendra", "Pare Cochero" and "Tres Lindas Cubanas." You clearly like a challenge, because there are many notable recorded versions of these tunes out there. For instance, your sideman Alfredo de la Fé has recorded important interpretations of "Almendra" (on Latin Percussion Jazz Ensemble Live At The Montreux Jazz Festival 1980 on Latin Percussion Ventures and Triunfo '82 on Toboga) and "Pare Cochero" (on Rumba Caliente '76 on Inca with Típica 73 and Latin Percussion Jazz Ensemble Live At The Montreux Jazz Festival 1980 ). Can you give us some insight into how you tackled the task of revitalising these familiar numbers?

AB: I chose these numbers because they are my favourite standards, and I always liked to play on them. As far as changing them, I just wrote what I heard in my head. If it sounded good, I kept it. If not, it disappeared!

JIC: You fittingly pay tribute to the charanga giant José Fajardo, who passed away on December 11th 2001. How did you go about selecting the three tunes in your "Fajardo Medley" from his vast repertoire?

AB: I respectfully contacted his widow Miriam, and she told me the three favourite compositions that he enjoyed playing on the most.

JIC: Oscar Hernández's arrangement of the "Fajardo Medley" introduces some interesting jazz ingredients. What did Fajardo mean to you?

AB: Every time I saw Fajardo, he let me sit in and play. He was always very encouraging and complimentary of my playing.

JIC: You chose to reinterpret "Danza Negra" by Ernesto Lecuona, arguably Cuba's most successful composer. What's the story behind this cut?

AB: As I did my research for my clinic, "The Role of the Flute in Afro-Cuban Music", I came across this danza, which I absolutely fell in love with. I asked John DiMartino to write an arrangement of it for charanga instrumentation. I think he did a great job, along with the wonderful interpretation of his arrangement by the great musicians who recorded it.

JIC: Please tell me about the inclusion of the bolero "Tú No Sospechas"?

AB: I really wanted to include a bolero on my CD as I am a true romantic at heart. I was looking for lyrics that were not the kind like: "I can't live without you", you know, that sort of stuff. I was looking for a love song with a more healthy emotional touch to it. I found it in "Tú No Sospechas".

JIC: I note from your published schedule that you've taken both Son Charanga and Phoenix Rising on the road. What has the response been like?

AB: Each band has its distinct style. Phoenix Rising is certainly a more jazz-oriented ensemble. I love playing with both groups as it satisfies two sides of my musical life. People seem to like both.

JIC: You have kept a foot in the educational and tuition camp. Please tell me about your work in this area?

AB: When I relocated to Central Jersey I went back to school to get my Masters in Education. That followed with certifications in elementary school, early childhood education, bilingual, English as a Second Language, and a Supervisor's certificate. I have been considering doing my doctorate, but for the moment I would like to just play some good music with great musicians.

JIC: What else do you have in the pipeline you'd like to tell me about?

AB: I am currently involved in a project with some of my songs with lyrics, which I have been writing for a number of years. I would like to spend more time on that side of my composing, when I get a chance.

JIC: Before we close, is there anything else you'd like to add?

AB: I would like to thank you for giving me this opportunity to share my thoughts with you and your readers.

John Child Co-host of the the totallyradio show Viva Latina
Contributor to the Latin music website
MusicWeb Encyclopedia of Popular Music, and Penguin and Guinness Encyclopedias of Popular Music

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