Grooving to a Brazilian beat

2:40:03 PM CDT - Thursday, September 08, 2005

By Shannon Littlejohn

Brazil's choro music is often compared to American bluegrass, but don't expect a bluegrass sound if you get out to enjoy Mike Marshall and Choro Famoso, the first performers of this year's College of Fine Arts Connoisseur Series. 

The comparisons between choro and bluegrass lie more in the fact that both styles are indigenous to their nations, both involve stringed instruments, and both fill feet with dancing fever with their infectious rhythms and happy melodies. 

MIke Marshall and Choro Famoso
Mike Marshall and Choro Famoso
Marshall, a veteran virtuoso on the mandolin and a masterful guitar and violin player, too, became fascinated with choro during a trip to Brazil. He came back to the States, studied the music form, produced a CD simply titled "Brasil (Duets)" with a few of his musician friends (such as steel drummer Andy Narell and banjo phenomenon Bela Fleck). 

Still impassioned, he began dreaming of a choro band, which in Brazil consists of both wind and stringed instruments, including mandolin, cavaquinho, and six- and seven-string guitars. 

So, from his San Francisco Bay area home, he assembled a local group of jazz and Brazilian instrumentalists to form Choro Famoso, which features Marshall on mandolin, Carlos Oliveira and Jamie Bell on six- and seven-string guitars, Andy Connell and Harvey Wainapel on clarinets and soprano saxophones, and a lively percussion section.

Marshall began building his acoustic credentials when he was hired in 1979 as a 19-year-old mandolin player for a progressive bluegrass and jazz band that already had solid connections in acoustic music. That was the David Grisman Quintet, whose leader played for years with Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead. 

In an interesting Kansas connection, Marshall performed with the David Grisman Quintet in 1981 in Winfield at the Walnut Valley Festival, which runs this year from Sept. 14 through 18.

Marshall, who swings gracefully between jazz, classical, bluegrass and Latin styles, has also performed and recorded with violinist/fiddler Mark O'Connor, another world-renowned player with local ties to the Winfield festival and to Wichita State.

O'Connor is a multiple winner of Walnut Valley championships and plays in a band in Nashville with Matt Combs, whose father is WSU percussion professor J.C. Combs, who in turn has deep ties to Andy Narell.

Marshall also can be heard on the "Car Talk" soundtrack recording every week on NPR, locally offered by KMUW FM89.   Mike Marshall and Choro Famoso will give a concert at 7:30 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 25, at the Orpheum Theatre in downtown Wichita. Tickets are $16 with discounts available. For information, call the Fine Arts Box Office at 978-3233. 

Connoisseur Series tickets are on sale now.  Other performers in the series are:

  • Janice Garrett & Dancers, Oct. 8, Miller Concert Hall
  • Cellist Amit Peled, Nov. 4, Wiedemann Recital Hall
  • Texas Boys Choir, Feb. 21, Wiedemann Recital Hall
  • Bergen Woodwind Quartet, March 17, Wiedemann Recital Hall Tickets are $60 with discounts available.  Call 978-3233 for reservations.

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