Claudio Roditi, a Brazilian-born jazz trumpeter celebrated for his impeccable technique, warm sound and lyrical playing, died Jan. 17 at his home in South Orange, New Jersey. He was 73.
His wife and only immediate survivor, Kristen Park, said the cause was prostate cancer.
Roditi was a force on the New York jazz scene almost from the moment he arrived in 1976. He worked with top musicians like pianist McCoy Tyner, flutist Herbie Mann and trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie, one of his earliest influences. He was for many years a featured member of Gillespie’s United Nation Orchestra, a big band comprising musicians from the United States, the Caribbean and Brazil, and he continued to perform with what was billed the Dizzy Gillespie All-Star Big Band after Gillespie’s death in 1993.
He also led his own bands and recorded more than 20 albums as a leader, most recently for the Resonance label.
Roditi’s playing was a seamless fusion of Brazilian music and jazz, combining the gentle lilt of samba with the drive of the post-bop trumpet tradition.
“I am a Gemini,” he once said. “I was born in one country and live in another, but I love them both — and both kinds of music, too.”
The dual nature of his approach was reflected in album titles like “Samba Manhattan Style” (1995), “Jazz Turns Samba” (1996) and “Brazilliance x 4” (2009). The “Brazilliance” album, on which he was accompanied by an all-Brazilian rhythm section, garnered him his first and only Grammy Award nomination, in the Latin jazz category.
Roditi also had an affinity for Afro-Cuban music, as heard most notably in his work with Cuban expatriate saxophonist and clarinetist Paquito D’Rivera, with whom he performed and recorded off and on for more than three decades.
In an interview with Newark, New Jersey, jazz radio station WBGO shortly after Roditi’s death, D’Rivera called him a “very special” musician who was “original without really trying.”
Claudio Braga Roditi was born in Rio de Janeiro on May 28, 1946, the only child of Alberto and Deise (de Braga) Roditi. His father was a coffee buyer, and the family had homes in both Rio and the town of Varginha, in the southeastern state of Minas Gerais, a center of coffee production.
Interested in music from an early age, he began taking piano lessons at age six and playing trumpet in his school’s marching band shortly after that. When he was nine, his father bought him his first trumpet; frustrated at the limitations of his playing, Park said, he destroyed the instrument in anger — but his father bought him a new one the next day.
Roditi’s interest in jazz, especially the modern kind as played by Gillespie and Charlie Parker, was sparked by an uncle who, he later recalled, “must have had the best jazz record collection in the whole of Brazil.” In 1966 he reached the finals of an international jazz competition in Vienna organized by pianist Friedrich Gulda. One of the judges of that contest, trumpeter and flugelhornist Art Farmer, became a friend and mentor and encouraged him to pursue jazz as a career.
He moved to Boston in 1970 to study at the Berklee College of Music and was soon a fixture of the local scene. After relocating to New York six years later, he found work with Brazilian and Afro-Cuban bands as well as jazz ensembles.
Critics took note. Reviewing a performance by saxophonist Charlie Rouse’s band in 1977, Robert Palmer of The New York Times praised Roditi’s “swaggering work” on both trumpet and valve trombone. (He also played flugelhorn, although trumpet was always his primary instrument.)
He recorded his first album as a leader, “Red on Red,” in 1984. Among the more unusual items in his discography is “Symphonic Bossa Nova” (1994), on which conductor Ettore Stratta led the Royal Philharmonic in orchestral arrangements of compositions by Antonio Carlos Jobim and others. Roditi most recently recorded as a guest soloist with the all-female Diva Jazz Orchestra on the album “Diva & the Boys,” released last year.
“Over the years,” Park said in a statement, “many reviewers of his performances have noted Claudio’s ‘selflessness’ onstage, how he happily shared any limelight with his bandmates. He was completely inspired by the communication he felt on the bandstand. He actually felt happiest in that type of musical sharing.”