Meaningful Notes

Portuguese guitarist Ricardo Pinheiro builds a career in ‘glocalized’ jazz.

June 7, 2022

As a youth in Portugal, guitarist Ricardo Pinheiro B.M. ’02 didn’t daydream about becoming a jazz musician. But after completing his undergraduate degree at Berklee, in 2008 he became the first person to earn a Ph.D. in musicology with an emphasis on jazz from a Portuguese university (Universidade NOVA de Lisboa). Today, he’s a busy international jazz performer, recording artist, educator, and author. At Escola Superior de Música de Lisboa, he heads the master’s degree program and teaches guitar, history of jazz, research methodology, and jazz pedagogy.

Pinheiro started  playing rock guitar in his early teens and was gigging by 16. “I wanted to study music formally, but there weren’t any rock schools then,” Pinheiro says. “You could study jazz, though. I wanted to learn more about my instrument, scales, and theory, so I got into jazz.” He took lessons at the Hot Clube de Portugal Jazz School in Lisbon—the only jazz school in the city at the time—and simultaneously studied classical music at a conservatory. His passion for jazz ignited.

"There is a local aspect that dialogues with the global aspects of jazz. It’s a bridge music that allows people to build local identities."

“I wanted higher education and had heard that Berklee trained many important musicians,” Pinheiro recalls. “I really wanted to go there and auditioned for a scholarship in Paris and got one.” In Boston, his high scores on advanced-placement exams enabled him to complete his degree in two years. Concurrently, he finished requirements for a degree in sociology in Portugal.

Pinheiro cites the impact Berklee faculty, including Professor Mick Goodrick, as well as guitar instructors Bret Willmott and Wayne Krantz, had on him. He also met his future wife in Boston. “She was studying at the Boston Architectural Center,” he says. “Berklee was important to me for many reasons.”

After graduating in 2002, the couple relocated to Portugal. He took a teaching post at the Hot Clube school and began performing and recording as a leader and sideman throughout Europe, playing with top musicians.

Though birthed in America, jazz is a musical language now spoken worldwide, incorporating dialects from many places. Pinheiro uses the term “glocalization” (a portmanteau combining globalization and localism) to explain the phenomenon. “Everyone knows  about Miles Davis, John Coltrane, and Charlie Parker,” he posits, “but there is a local aspect that dialogues with the global aspects of jazz. It’s a bridge music that allows people to build local identities. You see this a lot in Europe. There are Portuguese sounds and ways of playing and composing.” Pinheiro sees this in the admixture of Portuguese folk rhythms, the melancholy of fado songs in the phrasing of his jazz compatriots, and classical influences.

Pinheiro’s website lists 15 albums on which he is the leader or coleader, and the collection showcases his alternately introspective and incendiary guitar playing. Among the diverse projects are a trio tribute to pianist Bill Evans, the fusion quartet LAB, the atmospheric album Caruma for guitar with singers Mônica Salmaso (Brazil) and Theo Bleckman (Germany), a quintet featuring legendary American saxophonist Dave Liebman, and more.

“I like to play music that delves into different universes and realities,” he says. “I’m following the journey to become a better musician and communicate through music. Miles would play a note and it would reach people. That’s what we are striving for: to make the notes meaningful.”

This article appeared in the spring/summer 2022 issue of Berklee Today

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