For more than 60 years, Severino Araújo has been the conductor, arranger, clarinetist, and leader of the Orquestra Tabajara, the most important dance orchestra in Brazil. It is a native version of the…
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Severinho Araujo Biography

by Alvaro Neder

For more than 60 years, Severino Araújo has been the conductor, arranger, clarinetist, and leader of the Orquestra Tabajara, the most important dance orchestra in Brazil. It is a native version of the Glenn Miller big band (and also doubles clarinet and sax) that plays music from all over the world with a Brazilian swing. Recording more than 100 78 rpm's (always for Continental), the orchestra's international career has taken them to play in several countries, especially Argentina, France, and Portugal. With almost 13,000 performances worldwide, they figure in the Guinness Book of World Records as the world's oldest orchestra still in evidence. The author of "Espinha de Bacalhau" (along with many other all-time hits), one of the eight most performed choros in the entire world, shared the stage with the Tabajara, with the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra in a special performance that became registered in the orchestral history of Brazil.

Araujo's father, José Severino de Araújo (Sazuzinha), was an instrumentalist, arranger, and band conductor. Several of his sons became musicians: Severino, Manuel (trombone), Plínio (drums), the famous Zé Bodega (tenor sax), and Jaime (saxes). At four, Araujo was already taking musical lessons with his father. He accounts that at that time, he was almost going to sleep when his father, upon finishing a new arrangement, told him that if he waited a while, he would teach him ten new musical lessons. He took the lessons and the next day, he performed all of them; then his father went out and bought him a French method, which oriented Araujo's self-teaching process. Two years later, at six, he became his father's assistant in teaching his pupils.

In 1928, Araujo began to take the instruments, beginning with horn and saxophone, soon taking the clarinet. At that time, there wasn't a Brazilian method for that instrument, so he wrote his own exercises that he gathered, writing the choro "Desconcertante," a real technical challenge. With his home serving as the band's headquarters, he learned all of the instruments, with the exception of piano and violin (which didn't exist in that band). At 12, he performed in public for the first time, playing clarinet with his father's band. It was when he wrote a dobrado, complete with the arrangement, that he even came to play with the band, but it got lost. Living in nearby cities during that period, in 1930 he returned to Limoeiro, working in the local commerce. In 1933, he moved to Ingá PB, where he worked as a bureaucrat and participated in the local band. In 1936, he moved to João Pessoa PB, and was hired as clarinetist for the state police band, when he was challenged to solo the "Fantasia Traviata" (Verdi), which had not been played for the last 12 years. Having 15 days to study the piece, he performed it in three days, receiving a standing ovation from his bandmates. In that year, he wrote "Espinha de Bacalhau," and in the next, was hired by Rádio Tabajara as clarinetist and saxophonist. He also served the Army as a first-class musician. At that point, the Orquestra Tabajara had been created four years before by Olegário de Nuna Freire and Jost vön Shosten, under the name Jazz Tabajara. When they were hired by the state government for the state Rádio Tabajara, Araujo was invited by Olegário to be the first clarinetist. Leaving the police band, he assumed his position with the orchestra until December 30, 1938, when Olegário died. Araujo wanted to play, not conduct, but the radio's direction, together with the outing's cast of singers and musicians, wanted him to be the conductor, so he accepted. Soon, he moved to Rio with two of the orchestra's musicians: Geraldo Medeiros and Porfírio Costa. In Rio, he was hired by Rádio PRG-3 as the radio's arranger and saxophonist for the radio's Orquestra Marajoara. In 1945, he called to Rio the rest of the Tabajara's members as the Tabajara had been hired by Rádio Tamoio. Along with an intense performance schedule on all radios of Rio (eight in total at the time), the Tabajara also played balls in upcountry Brazil. That same year, they recorded the first album of the Tabajara, a 78 rpm with his "Um Chorinho em Aldeia." The next year, he recorded one of the Tabajara's biggest hits, the choro "Pára-Quedista," composed and soloed by the band's trombonist José Leocádio. His samba arrangement of George Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue" made national success, but put him under fire by more exalted nationalists. At that time, he was admitted as conductor to Rádios Tupi and Nacional in Rio. On January 20, 1951, the Orquestra Tabajara opened the TV broadcasts in Brazil, in Rio. The same year, TV Tupi was largely reconstructed after a fire and for its re-opening, the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra was hired, performing together with the Tabajara on December 1, 1951, in a memorable encounter that projected the Tabajara internationally. The next year, the Tabajara toured Europe, having as their crooner Jamelão, who would later become a successful solo singer. In 1955, Araujo was hired as conductor by Rádio Mayrink Veiga, Rio, when he toured Uruguay with the Tabajara, touring Argentina in 1962. In that year, he was hired by TV-Rio, where worked until his retirement in 1968. In 1999, he commemorated 80 years still conducting the Tabajara in their performances throughout Brazil and abroad. "The day the Orquestra Tabajara loses its international status, I will kill it," he said.

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