An Interview with artist/singer Bruni Sablan, a spiritual being, taking her energy and inspiration from Africa

“They all have their roots in Africa.  Just cultural that’s all. Music is Music.” 

BRUNI Sablan: Mama Africa

Bruni Sablan was born in Sao Paulo, Brazil circa the mid-20th century. Artistry has been her heritage. Her father Joseph Parello, of Sicilian decent, a civil engineer and architect, also painted. Her mother, Clo Parello, of Lebanese decent, was an accomplished classical pianist and beloved piano instructor for many years in the Northern California bay area. Bruni’s father introduced her to American jazz at a very early time in her life, she was five years old. At the same time, her Sicilian grandfather, Caetano Parello, was teaching her how to "see" art… He was a sculptor/painter himself.

BRUNI and Miles Davis’ Eyes portait in her gallery at 1171 Lincoln Ave, San Jose, CA. "I got to meet him (Miles) and get a real close look.  It really got me going..."

Bruni grew up with art and music in her blood, and lived for a while in Los Angeles during a hazy, passionate time when the great Brazilian music masters had become prominent in the U.S.A. She sang and traveled with the likes of Joao Donato and Walter Wanderley. But, painting is what kept her "sane" during those turbulent years.

Today, as restless as ever, she continues her pursuit of painting "every great jazz musician who ever lived." Some of her tributes, such as Miles Davis, encompass more than two hundred and eighty canvasses. Bruni is a highly spiritual being, and feels she connects with the souls of her subjects, which results in a tremendously fast, energetic, and sometimes aggressive venture. This can leave her in a state of complete exhaustion. But, her energy and inspiration seem to get replenished endlessly.

Interview by Michael Limnios

When was your first desire to become involved in the painting and music and what does offer you?

I have been painting since I was a child, however, the desire to concentrate on musicians started around the mid eighties, when inspired by Jazz and Jazz Musicians.

What characterize the philosophy of your art, how do you describe Bruni’s songs, and music?

Color and emotion are what I am inspired by.

What first attracted you to the Blues & jazz music and how has changed your life?

Jazz has been a part of my life since a child, and blues came to me a little later, through the inspiration of Bessie Smith, Etta James, Ray Charles, BB King, and so many more!

Some music styles can be fads but the blues & jazz are always with us. Why do think that is?

To me, being from Brazil originally, it would be like trying to explain why the SAMBA is eternal. Furthermore, Jazz and Blues are America’s Classical Music.

What are some of the most memorable drawing and paintings you've had?

Paintings of Miles Davis stand out more because I’ve been inspired by him, and have painted Miles over 350 times. However, my “masterpiece” is a portrait of Bessie Smith.

From whom have you have learned the most secrets about the art and the music?

From myself.

How does the music come out of your art? What kind of music you hear when you are on progress?

All kinds of music, from everywhere, and I am told that music does come out of my work!

Which was the best moment of your career and which was the worst?

Hey!  It’s not over yet!  The best is yet to come!!! Worst? Economic crisis. 

Who from THE PEOPLE you have drew and paint, had the easiest pure original attributes for your painting?

MILES DAVIS.  He was made to be painted!

Would you mind telling me your most vivid memory from your inspiration to make a portrait?

Miles Davis’ Eyes.  I got to meet him and get a real close look.  It really got me going…..

"Africa is...the root of all that is great - absolute beauty, strenght and resilience. Blues is... Africa. Jazz is...like medicine for the soul."

Which memory during of your progress makes you smile?

Oh come on!!!! I’ve been painting for over 35 years, there are many moments and memories that make me smile!

Which of the musicians were the most “difficult” and which was the most “gifted” on brush, canvas and colors?

They are all “difficult” and they are all “gifted” as far as I’m concerned.  If a subject doesn’t inspire me, I just don’t paint them!

What are some of the most memorable gigs and jams you've had?

It would be a very long list...so I'll just say Miles, Dizzy, Betty Carter, Carmen MacRae, Etta James, Ahmad Jamal, Shirly Horn, Michel Pettruciani...so many, they were all memorable.  When they carried Michel out of the piano, as they always did, i ran up and kissed his hand.  Dorothy Donagan loved her portrait so much (hanging at Yoshi's) at the end of her gig i ran up and gave her the painting ....I’ll never forget the look in her face when she said "you mean someone is actually giving me something"??? 

Are there any memories from Walter Wanderley which you’d like to share with us?

He was a very strict band leader, especially with the singers. He was very demanding, and expected complete professional dedication from us. Even forgetting lyrics was a big deal. Music was his life. Nothing else mattered much. I didn't really understand that until I became a virtuoso myself, and the obsession and dedication to painting took over my life from the early 80's to now. I was a kid then. He was also a very close friend and mentor and both he, and Joao Donato taught me that I should focus on painting, that I was a born Painter.

BRUNI’s first show was as an under aged artist at Campbell Lounge  Jazz club in California. "Color and emotion are what I am inspired by."

Tell me a few things about your meet with Joao Donato and what's been their experience with him?

I met Joao Donato in the very late '60's probably '69 after I had worked with Walter Wanderley, through a mutual friend, by the name of FaFa Lemos. FaFa took me to meet Joao because they needed a lead singer for a new group they were hoping to start in L.A., it was a group that was supposed to be opening for Sergio Mendes. It didn't happen. The group that eventually did that was called "Bossa Rio", but I was no longer involved.

His music was very new to me at that time, and I was totally enchanted with it. It affected me in a way that was so intense, that I started to write lyrics to his melodies as a joke. One day he caught me at it, and told me he liked it because it wasn't "put on", so he gave me a bunch of music (on tape), and told me to go home and put lyrics to them. I felt very honored, so honored that I never asked if he intended to pay me for them...... which he never did. But I had fun with it, and I have no idea what he did with the lyrics. As I mentioned before, after that period, I never saw him again.

What is it that draws (inspiration) you to paint an artist?

Music itself.

Who are the people that you’d like to meet face to face if those were alive, and talk to over lunch?

Lunch ???  Hahahahah!  More like a midnight snack....1.  Che Guevara.  2. Mother Teresa  3. Bill Evans, Albert Einstein, George Carlin, John Coltrane, BIRD, MINGUS and so many more!!!

How you would spend a day with Etta James and Bessie Smith?

Exchanging TRUTHS.

AFRICA IS…, TO ME, THE ROOT OF ALL THAT IS GREAT - ABSOLUTE BEAUTY, STRENGHT AND RESILIENCE.

BLUES IS... AFRICA.  

JAZZ IS … LIKE MEDICINE FOR THE SOUL. 

HAPPINESS IS... KNOWING YOURSELF.

What would you say to Aretha and Janis? What would you like to ask Che and Bukowski?

To Aretha and Janis, YOU MAKE ME FEEL!!!!  To Che? Vamos!!! Get started! To Bukowski? Love you Buk!!! Have read all your books twice!!!  Keep on writing wherever you are!

When we talk about blues and jazz, we usually refer to memories and moments of the past. Do you believe in the existence of real blues jazz nowadays?

Yes I do.  It cannot ever stop!

Do you believe that there is “misuse”, that there is a trend to misappropriate the name of blues and jazz?

Yes from the beginning since it originated it has been denigrated due to the fact that the root of both genres is African!

What are the reasons to become Dizzy, Mingus, Parker, etc. a legendary generation that left it mark through the years until now?

Genius.

From the musical point of you what are the difference and similarity between Brazilian popular, Tropicalia & Bossa music with the Blues & Jazz music?

They all have their roots in Africa.  Differences?  Just cultural that’s all.  Music is Music. 

Which incident of your life you‘d like to be captured and illustrated in a painting?

MY ENTIRE LIFE!

BRUNI Jazz Art - Official website

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