- Associated Press - Saturday, August 2, 2014

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - When keyboardist Charlie Dennard left New Orleans in 2002 to tour with Cirque du Soleil, he had no idea how completely “running away with the circus” would change his life.

He worked all over the world, and met his future wife when Cirque du Soleil show “Alegria” visited Brazil.

“I owe the Cirque for everything, really,” he said recently. “I never would have been able to tour the world. I wouldn’t have met my wife. I wouldn’t have been able to buy my car. The list goes on and on. It’s been a great gig.”

Dennard is now musical director of the Cirque du Soleil show “Totem.” But he also wants to re-establish himself in New Orleans, where he has finally moved into a condo he bought a couple years ago.

He celebrated his recent CD, “From Brazil to New Orleans,” a fusion of traditional Brazilian folk music and contemporary American jazz, with two shows at Snug Harbor. Joining him were several musicians featured on the album, including drummer Doug Belote, bassist Tommy Sciple, guitarist Brian Seeger, trumpeter Eric Lucero, trombonist Rick Trolsen, and saxophonists Brent Rose and Ray Moore.

NOLA.com/The Times-Picayune reports (https://bit.ly/1nRCSBL ) Dennard, who had a bachelor’s degree in music from the University of Miami, moved to New Orleans in 1996 to earn a master’s of music from the University of New Orleans, studying jazz piano with Ellis Marsalis.

For the next six years, he was a fixture in the city’s nightclubs.

Then in 2002, he was hired as the keyboardist for “Alegria.” Over five years, he performed 1,700 shows in 12 countries.

His “Alegria” stint ended in Brazil, where he met and married a Brazilian woman named Mariana Alterio. He moved to Sao Paulo and lived in Brazil for more than a year.

“I ended up falling in love with the people and the music of Brazil,” he said. “What’s really crazy are the similarities between New Orleans and Brazil. They eat red beans and rice. They have Carnival. The music is hot, corrupt and dangerous.”

Given the “Latin tinge” inherent in early New Orleans jazz, and how American jazz and Brazilian bossa nova informed each other, Dennard was naturally inclined to identify with Brazilian music.

“When I started learning more about their music down there, I could hear all these similarities. I could hear where the second-line rhythm related to the street music down there. One thing led to another, and now I have this deep appreciation and love.”

That’s evident on “From Brazil to New Orleans.” Many songs were written by Dennard’s in-laws, respected songwriters and musicians in Brazil.

“I did my own thing with it. I didn’t play it in a traditional Brazilian style, or even a traditional New Orleans style. It’s a hybrid of the two that seemed to work really well.”

As music director for “Totem,” he worked closely with the show’s artistic director and the music’s composers to shape arrangements. “Things change and evolve. The focus is to pay attention to what’s happening onstage, and make the music fit with what they’re doing. We massage it and adapt it to what the actors and acrobats are doing.

“Totem” will tour Australia and New Zealand later this year. Dennard then plans a yearlong sabbatical to work on his own music and reacquaint himself with New Orleans.


Information from: The Times-Picayune, https://www.nola.com

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