• Elisa Meyer Ferreira's Once in a Lifetime Chance to Play Jacob do Bandolim's Mandolin

    Elisa Meyer Ferreira with Déo Rian
    Déo Rian, President of the Jacob do Bandolim Institute with Elisa Meyer Ferreira and with Jacob do Bandolim's Mandolin No. 2.

    Jacob do Bandolim
    Jacob do Bandolim with Bandolim No. 2.

    Many of us started the mandolin in a fit of passion, overwhelmed after hearing a live performance or recording of a famous player. Sometimes it's just a perfect fit, where the listener has an overwhelming desire to learn how to play an instrument to get that sound. This is just such a story.

    Elisa Meyer Ferreira loves the music of Jacob do Bandolim. She even uses the moniker "Elisa Bandolim" online. She's well known to regular readers of Mandolin Cafe articles as the mandolin player in the Choro band "Choro Das 3," joined by her sisters Lia and Corina in making wonderful music.

    Elisa recently had a chance to play Jacob do Bandolim's famous "Mandolin #2." We caught up and talked with her about the experience of making music on such a famous mandolin.

    Tell us a bit about Jacob do Bandolim and what his music has meant to you.

    We can say that there is mandolin in Brazil before and after Jacob. Jacob was the first mandolinist who really developed a Brazilian way of playing the instrument. Before him, people used to play it in an European way. He made important modifications on the instrument itself. He ordered a mandolin with Portuguese guitar shape, but still a mandolin, which is the "bandolim" we all know and play nowadays here in Brazil.

    Besides all that, he was a genius as a composer and as an interpreter. The more I get to know his oeuvre of compositions, arrangements, his interpretations from his album recordings and live recordings from his home recitals and concerts, the bigger my admiration by him becomes. I started to listen to his recordings since I began my studies on the mandolin, when I was 7 years old. So, I grew up listening to him. One strong memory I have is practicing "Flor Amorosa," the very first choro piece I ever learned when I was 7, at my fathers shop along Jacob's recording.

    Is there one particular recording of Jacob that you would recommend for our members to listen to, or one special favorite of yours that you keep going back to?

    I can't choose only one, but I can recommend some. The whole album Vibrações is considered one of the most perfect albums in Brazilian history. Every track is beautiful. Since the compositions until the arrangements. The album of his last concert, a live recording called Elizeth Cardoso, Jacob do Bandolim, Zimbo Trio e Época de Ouro no teatro João Caetano. I grew up listening to this album, where we can hear a different Jacob from the studio recordings.

    Here he is much more informal, playing samba, choro e bossa nova, improvising and accompanying this amazing singer, Elizeth Cardoso, so we can hear him playing chords, which is very rare on his choro recordings.

    L-R: Tony, a guitarist who for many years played alongside Dino 7 strings and César Faria, as exclusive to Época de Ouro; Elisa's sisters Lia and Corina with Elisa; Déo Rian; Siqueira do cavaquinho, chorão, composer Paulo Motta, member of Jacob do Bandolim Institute (and mandolinist too); Bruno Rian; Mr. Marlindo (information taken from Elisa's Instagram page).

    We understand that Jacob had two mandolins called "Number 1" and "Number 2." Can you tell us anything about what makes them different? Do you know of particular recordings that they were used for or where either one might be seen? Are both instruments still in playing condition?

    According to Déo Rian, who lived with Jacob and was considered by Jacob himself his successor, the master had two mandolins in his professional activity, from 1939 to 1969. Jacob nicknamed them number 1 and number 2 and both, in addition to an unparalleled sound, had a trademark, an exclusive notch, together with the tuners.

    Mandolin number 1 was played in radio shows, rodas de choro and recording of his albums, during almost his entire career. It was an instrument built based on the format of the Portuguese guitar, around 1935, by luthier Vicente, who worked at the instrument store "Ao Bandolim de Ouro" in Rio de Janeiro. He had as an assistant, the luthier Silvestre, who years later would command the production of the instrument brand "Do Souto" in this store. Mandolin nº 1 was built in the shop of luthier Vicente with the following woods: Box: Plátano; Harmonic top: Swedish or German pine; fingerboard: Ebony. The frets are thin profile, with stainless steel string fastener and with German tuners.

    Photo courtesy Jacob do Bandolim Institute. L-R: Mandolin #2 and #1.

    I also can tell the difference from his number 2 mandolin compared to mine. His mandolin has a much brighter sound, mine has a darker sound. His instrument has a narrow neck (very similar to a violin size). But the box of it is quite wider than the traditional bandolins I played before, almost the same size as mine, which is very wide.

    The mandolin number 2 was played at the epic concert at João Caetano Theatre, in 1968, with Elizeth Cardoso, Zimbo Trio and the ensemble Época de Ouro. This instrument was also built based on the Portuguese guitar, in the 50s, by the Portuguese luthier Mr. Silva. This mandolin was built with the following woods: box - Faia, harmonic top - Swedish or German pine, fretboard - ebony. This one has Portuguese tuners.

    Jacob began to play only the mandolin number 2 in the last years of his career because of a poor repair on his mandolin number 1.

    The instruments are both in very good condition, perfectly playable. The number 1 was donated to the the museum "Museu da Imagem e do Som," in Rio de Janeiro, and the number 2 remains in the care of the Instituto Jacob do Bandolim.

    How did it happen that you were invited to play on Jacob's mandolin number 2?

    I had the opportunity to go to Rio de Janeiro for the weekend, and immediately thought about going to meet in person Déo Rian, a mandolin player I've always admired and grew up listening to (specially the remarkable album called Inéditas de Jacob do Bandolim). During the pandemic, I received a message from him saying that he was loving watching our weekly livestreams on YouTube. I couldn't believe when I received this message personally from him. And he also complimented the piece "Do coração ao bandolim," by Paulo Fasanaro and me. So it was like a dream, but meeting him in person would be even more amazing.

    So I talked to Deo and asked if he would be around and if he would like to get together with me and my sister on the weekend. He immediately said yes. Then I talked to a friend in common from Rio de Janeiro, Paulo Mota, who is part of the directory of the Instituto Jacob do Bandolim, and Paulo organized all the details. He set up a roda de choro (a jam session) for us! So during the week, Paulo called me and said everything was confirmed for our meeting and jam session on Sunday morning at the neighborhood of Jacarepaguá. This neighborhood was considered the Choro players' neighborhood. Deo grew up there and Jacob's house was just on the next corner. I couldn't be happier, and then Paulo tells me: "Elisa, I'm gonna bring Jacob's mandolin for you." When I heard that my legs became weak, my head started to burn and my eyes filled with tears.

    So my sister and I came to the event on Sunday morning. Déo Rian came with his son, Bruno Rian who is also a great mandolin player. There were a few other musicians like Tony, an amazing guitar player who was part of the ensemble Época de Ouro, and Siqueira, a Cavaco player and brilliant composer, he is the one playing a beautiful piece in the background of the video where I first saw Jacobs mandolin, and it's a composition by him. It was a magical and unforgettable day.

    What can you tell us about the luthier who made Jacob's number 2 mandolin? What makes it unusual aside from it's famous owner?

    The luthier who made Jacob's mandolin number 2 was the Portuguese Sr. Silva, who was very admired by Jacob, since his childhood, for the last used to go to the "Casa Silva," the Music Store owned by Sr. Silva, to play the instruments available there. In my opinion it was ultimately significant that the luthier was Portuguese, and had the knowledge about building Portuguese guitars. When I saw Jacob's mandolin in person I could observe his instrument also has a wide body, which is not standard for bandolims here.

    So, to me, the story I've always heard from my mentors was confirmed. They always told me that before Jacob, the mandolin players used to play in a European way and with European mandolins, specially Neapolitan ones. But when Jacob showed up, he felt like he needed a mandolin that could "weep" more, since the genre of music is called "choro" (means "crying, weeping"). So Jacob ordered a mandolin with a Portuguese Guitar body, which is an instrument that resonates much longer than a Neapolitan mandolin.

    I can tell by my experience that the mandolin is super comfortable to play, the size of the neck is perfect, like a violin neck. The sound is very bright and it has a lot of volume. A real gem!

    Sometimes a special instrument can "Teach" something new to even the most experienced players. Did you find that anything was easier or harder on this special instrument? Did it respond in ways different from your own? Did it give you any new insights into Jacob's playing style?

    It was definitely a moment where I learned many things. First, I had no idea his mandolin had such a wide body (all the traditional mandolins I've played so far are very thin), it really has a Portuguese guitar shape. It was also cool to hear that his mandolin has such a bright and clear tone, just like we hear on his recordings. I also felt that his instrument is very comfortable, the adjustments (height of the bridge and frets, width of the neck, distance of the strings, etc) the resonance, etc.

    Please tell us about any musical projects, performances, or recordings you have been working on recently.

    We've been playing concerts here in Brazil, and specially doing our livestream shows on Thursdays evenings. We are still recovering from the pandemic, with the loss of our father (and pandeiro player). We are getting back to our musical life little by little. We are back with our livestreams, concerts and teaching, and now we are planning our next USA tour for 2023. We are also beginning the process of a new album.

    We understand you have been teaching mandolin students for some time now, both in person and over Zoom (especially during COVID lockdowns!). Are you still teaching and/or able to add new students?

    Yes, I'm back teaching, and although I don't dedicate myself full-time to teaching, I've became very fond of it. I've learned a lot about my own playing since I've started teaching, about the mandolin and the great masters, because my students and I meticulously study the details on the mandolin playing. It's very cool, actually. Yes, I'm open to accept further students, it's just a matter of discussing day/time and knowing that I'm a performer and that I'll be away a couple of times hehehe.

    We're also working on booking a tour in the U.S. for 2023 so anyone that would like to host a performance of Choro Das 3 is welcome to get in touch with us through the links in this article or directly by emailing us or by phone at +1 (937) 964-5858.

    About the author: Dan Beimborn is the host of the Mandolin Archive and Chief Linux mommy for the Mandolin Cafe. He plays Irish and American music on all sorts of vintage Gibson mandolins, a modern F5 and mandola, a resonator tenor guitar, and a Sobell bouzouki. Sometimes known to stay on a canal barge close to London, he also calls a village near Norwich, England home. He shares a house with his wife and dog Baloo. Weekdays see him working on highly technical Linux solutions for a multi-national hedge fund.

    Additional Information

    Elisa with Déo Rian and his son, Bruno.
    Comments 10 Comments
    1. Bill McCall's Avatar
      Bill McCall -
      Thanks so much. Wonderful insight into 2 great players
    1. Don Stiernberg's Avatar
      Don Stiernberg -
      I can relate to that bursting into tears moment. That's what happened to me when I heard Elisa play at the Mandolin Symposium years ago. She made a special presentation playing several Jacob waltzes solo. I was standing in the back of the hall next to David Grisman. Midway through the first piece we looked at each other, threw up our hands as if to say "what can you say about this?", then the tears came bigtime..listened intently to the rest of her set, but had trouble seeing anything...
      Bravo Elisa (and Mandolin Cafe)for sharing this story of your rendesvous with Jacob.
    1. HonketyHank's Avatar
      HonketyHank -
      I don't know choro, but I really enjoyed watching the video. Thanks Elisa and Mandolin Cafe!
    1. Mandolin Cafe's Avatar
      Mandolin Cafe -
      Her Mandolin Monday appearance from long ago is still a real revelation in what a brilliant player she is. And for all things Elisa on the Cafe, the feature interview we did with her in 2017.
    1. Paul Statman's Avatar
      Paul Statman -
      Wonderful to hear this moving story and history of the man and his Number 1 and Number 2.
      Thank you, Elisa, Dan and mandolincafe.
    1. Jim Garber's Avatar
      Jim Garber -
      I heard her and her sisters and her dad years ago at a small house concert at a friend’s apartment in New York City. They were all excellent musicians back then even in their teens. Sad about their dad. Lovely family and vibrant music. Love it!
    1. BradKlein's Avatar
      BradKlein -
      A wonderful interview, and a very special video. I've had such pleasure listening and seeing the joyous Choro Das 3 family on my social feeds since Dan introduced them to me, and many others, years ago. Profound thanks to all involved.
    1. Marcus CA's Avatar
      Marcus CA -
      I, too, saw her at MandoSymp and was floored by the technical proficiency and emotional depth of Choro Das 3's playing! They were true custodians and extenders of the tradition.
    1. Al Bergstein's Avatar
      Al Bergstein -
      Great interview! Elisa is one of the greats alive today...looking forward to the 2023 tour...
    1. Mandolin Cafe's Avatar
      Mandolin Cafe -
      Noting the anniversary of this feature.