Alfredo Muro

Featured Musician – March 2005

Instrument: Classical Spanish guitar, charingo (small guitar for Indian music), Puerto Rican cuatro, as well as composer/arranger.

Early Years/Education: I was born and raised in Lima, Peru in a very musical family; at least 30 of my family members were singers and/or musicians! The popular and national instrument in South America is the Spanish guitar, so obviously, I gravitated towards it.

I started to play at age 9, basically teaching myself at first. As a consequence, I taught myself how to play very well using only my right thumb. At age 11, I was playing, as is customary in our culture, Overbena, a type of festival in an outdoor setting, and Maestro Pepe Torres, a very well known guitarist in Peru, offered me a scholarship after hearing my performance. This was apparently the beginning of my formal training in music.

Later I started intense academic guitar studies with Maestro Carlos Hayre, with whom I learned to master harmonies. At 13, my sister, Connie Bieberach, and I won a televised musical contest that took one year to complete. This notoriety allowed me to get my first gig at an Argentinian restaurant. The following year, I started a quartet at my school and we won another televised musical contest from among 100 schools in Lima. At the same time, I worked at a dinner theater as a musician.

I’ve had the privilege to work with the most talented and famous Peruvian artists like Chabaca Granda, Tania Libertad, Cecilia Barraza, Connie Bieberach and Peru Negro, as well as the most important guitarists like Oscar Aviles, Filex Casaverde, Alvaro Lagos, Carlos Montganez, etc.

I fulfilled all my musical dreams while studying law full time and working. After getting my law degree, I practiced for eight years. At that time, I had to make a choice between the lawyer’s briefcase and the guitar case–the latter one won.

In Oregon, I continue my guitar studies with John Doan, Manuel Lopez Ramos, Francisco Costa, Carlos Barbosa Lima and Renato Bellucci.

Portland: I left Peru because of the political unrest and to pursue music as a career. I moved to Portland because my sister was living here. Some say I was the first to play traditional Brazilian music in Oregon. Brazilian is so close to jazz. Some people think bossa nova was influenced by jazz–I think of it as a mutual sharing. Before jazz originated in America, Brazil had Ochoro (which sounds like bossa nova) as early as 1850. The format of those early bands had a lot of similarity to jazz–they had flutes, clarinet, percussion, cabaquinyo (small guitar), etc. This music was called by different names because it wasn’t accepted by the upper classes. Later, around 1920, Alfredo Bixinguinha introduced the saxophone to Ochoro and it really started to sound like modern day bossa nova. If you asked me what we know about Brazilian music, I’d say we know less than one percent!

I used to play more with my trio and Latin ensemble, but now I’m concentrating on playing solo. You have more freedom of expression, I can display not only Brazilian or Latin jazz, but I can play Bach, Handel, Albeniz or Villa-Lobos. My current Latin Ensemble includes Bernardo Gomez or Brian Healey on bass, Dave Fisher on congas and sometimes we add a vocalist, Nancy Curtin.

Musical Influences: I was greatly influenced by Oscar Aviles and Carlos Hayre from Peru. Afterwards, two great artists played a big role in my formative years: Jose Feliciano and Baden Powell, who has been my permanent influence and inspiration. Other artists who inspire me include: Luis Bonfa, Jose Gilberto, and in the classical area, Augustin Barrios Mangore, the greatest guitarist/composer of any time. Then there is Heitor Villa-Lobos, Antonio Lauro, Leo Brower and Astor Piazzola. And, of course, J.S. Bach, Albeniz and Manuel de Falla.

Most Satisfying Experience: In 1984, I came in contact with an Italian who was interested in bringing an exhibit of Peruvian culture to Italy. As a result, I got to play for the Pope at the Vatican in a special audience of 2,000 people. Having Jose Feliciano praise and endorse my CD, “Journey Through the Strings.”

Also participating in several festivals like the Vancouver, B.C. Latin Festival, Old Church Jazz Festival, Portland Jazz Festival, and Jazz at the Zoo playing with Tom Grant, Nancy Curtin, Ron Steen and others. Having been invited to participate in two concerts at the “La Pena Cultural Center” in Berkeley, California.

Having been invited to teach a master class at the San Augustine University in Arequipa, Peru. Opening for Tito Puente, Susana Bacca and Natalie Cole.

And it is very satisfying to have the opportunity to take my music to many countries around the world.

Favorite Recordings: “John Williams Plays Barrios,” everything by Baden Powell, “The Brazilian Guitar of Luis Bon Fa,” “Bach Recital” by Andres Segovia, “Virtuoso #1, 2, 3” from Joe Pass, and anything written by Bach.

Discography: My CD is “Journey Through the Strings,” produced by Randy Porter at Heavy Wood Music. It’s a collection of solos as well as arrangements with violins, cello, bass, flute, and percussion. “Alfredo Muro at the Multnomah County Library,” “Live at St. Gertrude Monastery,” Cottonwood, Idaho; “Homage to Kiri Escobar,” Lima, Peru; with the Mexican group, “Imagen Latina,” with Connie Bieberach, “Voz y Alma;” with Irene Farrera (from Eugene, OR) “Alma Latina;” with Rufino, “A mi Manera;” with Nancy Curtin, “Songs of Brazil;” with Dorothy Sermol, “Romances from My Heart;” and two CD’s of children’s songs with Cecilia Larson.

Where Playing Currently: I’ll be representing my country at the 25th International Guitar Festival in Lima. I’ll be performing the opening concert on March 14 and the concluding concert on the 19th. I’ll also be at the Old Church on March 27 with my group, the Alfredo Muro Latin Ensemble.

Gigs Coming Up: I’ll be back in Berkeley, California on May 6 and 7 at the La Pena Cultural Center. Check the website, for more.

Future Plans: The CD release of a collection of three volumes: “Tons e Semitons Brasileiros,” and anthology of Brazilian guitar music from 1860 to the present; to open my own recording studio and label company, “Abacaxi Recordings.”

Other Comments: What’s interesting about the African influence on Latin America is that it took a different role in each country. When you compare the Cuban culture with the Brazilian, they share the same divinities or African gods but Afro-Cuban music is completely different from Brazilian–or if you listen to the top singers in Peru, they’re doing their interpretation of Afro-Cuban but it comes out completely different.

Quotes: From pianist Randy Porter, “Alfredo is not only a gifted Spanish guitarist, he can improvise as well. He’s brought some wonderful musicians to my studio. I like his friends!”

And this from vocalist Nancy Curtin, “Alfredo is wonderful to work with and he knows Brazilian music inside and out.”