Fabio Oliveira Brings the Sound of Brazil to Jazz Festival Anniversary

Fabio Oliveira Brings the Sound of Brazil to Jazz Festival Anniversary


When Brazilian-born musician Fabio Oliveira was interviewing to be Head of Percussion in Rowan’s Department of Music last February, jazz professor Denis DiBlasio remembers thinking "if this happens, if he gets the gig, he would be a great guest for the Jazz Festival."

A year later, Dr. Oliveira is on faculty and DiBlasio is about to lead the 50th Annual Rowan Jazz Festival, which will celebrate the samba through the guidance and inspiration of his guest artist for the closing night concert on February 14.

A performer and educator with a diverse range of experiences as percussionist and conductor, Oliveira comfortably navigates between the traditional sounds of his homeland, Western popular music, and the European classical canon.

"I’ve had all the formal training and I’ve played with orchestras," Oliveira says, "but on top of that I have a real passion for samba in all its forms."

Born in the capital city of Brasilia, Oliveira moved to the United States with his family when he was two years old. He eventually studied at universities in both countries; he even studied with John Boudler, a colleague of his percussion predecessor at Rowan, the late Dean Witten. A job teaching at Universidade Federal de Goiás took him back to Brazil, where he lived for the last 10 years before coming to Rowan in August.

During that time, he built the percussion and drum-set program at the university while establishing a community of percussionists living and creating work in the heart of Brazil, in addition to co-founding NEP³, the award-winning Nucleus for Excellence in Education, Research and Performance in Percussion.

"I was happy to go back,' he notes. The move made a lot of sense to him as it offered an opportunity with a lot of growth and a lot of projects.

It also offered a chance to serve as a percussion judge and consultant to the Samba Carnival Parades in São Paulo starting in 2017.

"Samba’s about community," Oliveira says. "It’s about people getting together."

He relates that samba has its origins in the music of former slaves who came to work in the ports of Rio de Janeiro. Work songs became the heart of gatherings at people’s homes. There’s this grassroots side to samba, Oliveira explains, but the music is multi-faceted.

"It can encompass the intimacy of music at home or the grandiose music of carnivals and parades," he explains.

That sense of the music bringing people together will be reflected in the meeting of samba and jazz at the concert celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Rowan Jazz Festival.

"It’s going to be fun and joyous," Oliveira says, adding that samba and jazz came into being at around the same time in history. "It’s music that is jubilant and moving." 

A Perfect Way to Mark A Milestone

"You name the groove, jazz artists have done stuff with that music," DiBlasio says of blending jazz with samba.

Throughout the last 50 years, the festival concert has welcomed some big names: Maynard Ferguson, Gerry Mulligan, Clark Terry, Marian McPartland, Chuck Mangione, Randy Brecker, and more. But there are perhaps more important guests each year in DiBlasio’s mind.

From the beginning, the Rowan Jazz Festival has celebrated the genre for its impact on people, particularly students and aspiring young musicians.

DiBlasio, who first arrived at then-Glassboro State College as an adjunct in 1988, took the reins from John Thysen (after things kicked off under Frank Astor), who had insisted on a non-competitive festival. It was a philosophy DiBlasio already embraced, having just come from working with the legendary Ferguson, who he says was not a fan of competition.

Starting out in Pennsauken, DiBlasio began with clarinet lessons at about age seven, before moving on to alto sax. While not from a family of musicians, he saw that music made everything good for his working-class family; it made life better.

"To me, music was fun because I saw that music was fun for my parents," he recalls.

It has been quite a journey going from kid to touring with a legend to educating new generations of musicians. After earning his bachelor’s degree at Glassboro State College and his master’s from the University of Miami, DiBlasio hit the road. Along the way, he joined Ferguson’s band and served as his musical director for five years.

"I see music as a tonic," DiBlasio says. "The competition thing never set right with me."

That belief has been the hallmark of the Rowan festival for DiBlasio, which is why he believes it’s still going strong. He attributes the festival’s success to the sense that all band directors and students feel equally safe and welcomed.

The three-day festival hosts middle school and high school bands from Gloucester, Camden, Atlantic, and Burlington counties, as well as northern New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Each day more than a dozen bands get to experience adjudication sessions, clinics, and performances aimed at improving their skills, while also showcasing their talent. They interact with Music faculty as well as other professionals and guests in a direct way, as some sit in with the bands. It’s a more hands-on learning experience rather than just a drive for awards.

Why is the educational element so important to DiBlasio?

"Because that’s the future of the music," he states bluntly.

Celebrating the Samba, the Rowan Jazz Festival 50th Anniversary Concert, is Friday, February 14 starting with a brief pre-concert talk by DiBlasio at 7:15 p.m. in Pfleeger Concert Hall on the Glassboro campus. A pre-concert talk by DiBlasio at 7:15 p.m. precedes the 7:30 concert. Joining DiBlasio and Fabio Oliveira for this evening of traditional Brazilian rhythms is the Rowan Jazz Band and the Voces vocal ensemble under the direction of Christopher Thomas. A reception follows the concert in the Concert Hall lobby.

Tickets are $15 (general admission) and $10 (Rowan faculty & staff, alumni, seniors, non-Rowan students, children under 18, military, Glassboro residents, and ADA Accessible seating). Tickets for Rowan students are free with ID.

Visit the Rowan Jazz Festival website for tickets and more information.