Your host, Maximilian, looks into the microphone dreamily, and starts to croon. The show’s theme song drifts across the airwaves. It’s “Este Tarde Vi Llover,” an old Latin standard redone by Mexican jazz duo Nery & Lopez. Maximilian leans into the mike. “Good evening,” he says, “and welcome to “A Romantic Evening with Maximilian.’ Things are going to be a little bit on the softer side tonight. . . .”
It’s Sunday night from 9 to 11 on WOPA 1200-AM, and Daniel Maximilian, a Chicago wine importer and leader of the Chicago-based world music band Samba Samba 2000, is once again spinning romance. His bilingual show, which features romantic music from the Caribbean, South America, Italy, and other places, has been airing for nearly three months. There are other world music shows on the air in Chicago, but “A Romantic Evening” is the only one that’s hosted by a practicing samba musician.
Tonight the show includes songs from Brazilian singer Maria Bethania, and tangos by Gato Barbieri, the Argentinian who wrote the music to Last Tango in Paris. Later, Maximilian will spin tunes by Tito Rodriguez, Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil, Chicago’s Fareed Haque (who’s in Maximilian’s band), the great gypsy flamenco singer Camaron, and Nil Lara, who Maximilian calls “a Latino Tracy Chapman.”
When Maximilian had the idea for “A Romantic Evening,” he peddled it to all the Spanish-language stations in town. None were interested except for WOPA, which had recently switched to a romantic ballad format. “Spanish radio is controlled by the Mexican record companies,” he says, “and they’re going to play Mexican music. The music I’m playing on my show, you won’t hear on Spanish radio. If you listen to Spanish radio, they are playing that banda shit. It’s hokey shit, it’s selling like wildfire, and hey, god bless ’em man, but it ain’t happenin’. It’s overtaken Spanish radio because it’s such a big sellout.”
The radio show, Maxmilian hopes, will fuse together the various musical interests he’s accumulated over the years. He says all the music he plays is unified by clave, a four-beat syncopated pulse that rests under all rhythms. “It’s the node where all these rhythms are one,” he says. “The fact that in Cuba they call it mambo and in Brazil they call it samba doesn’t mean anything. You put a samba drummer and a mambo drummer together in the same room, they’re going to find the same beat. They are going to click, because they all are one.”
Maximilian was brought up during an earlier world-music craze. His father was Daniel Garzes of Rio de Janeiro, who left Brazil when he was 18 to play with Xavier Cugat’s orchestra; his mother was an Argentine singer. Garzes settled in Cuba, formed his own orchestra, and opened a casino in Havana in the 50s. Maximilian’s early childhood was full of music. “In my house, we listened to everything,” he says. “My parents were working musicians. My dad did a lot of arranging. He was a gun for hire. Vicki Carr would call him up, Eydie Gorme or any of that scene, and say, arrange something for me.”
Maximilian was born on tour in Mexico City. Most of the time, he traveled with Garzes’ 27-piece band, which included six saxes, five trumpets, five background singers, four trombones, and dancers, the whole nine yards. Says Maximilian, “When they traveled, they traveled.”
When Maximilian was eight, his parents split up. His dad was living in Miami, but he moved with his mother to live with his aunts, also professional musicians, in Gulfport, Texas. His mother stopped performing, but Maximilian kept discovering music, mostly through listening to KAPE-AM, a black-owned radio station from San Antonio. “I just lived with my transistor radio,” he says. “I didn’t speak any English yet, but I would sing all the songs. When I first went to school, I spoke like a little black kid.” He learned the music of Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding, Sam & Dave, and James Brown.
He also started playing in local bands as early as second grade. “In that part of the world, there’s a tremendous mix of music,” he says. Everything was happening. On one night, I might be playing in a country-and-western band. The next night, I might be in rhythm-and-blues soul revue doing Tina-Turner-type stuff. The next night I might be playing in a Mexican polka band. I missed the Afro-Caribbean stuff. The closest I could find was American black music, and I was real happy to discover that.”
When he was 14, his parents sent him to Taft, the tony all-boys prep school in Connecticut. Maximilian was late for his first day of school, and hurried to get to the campus. “I’m rushing to the mess hall, I open these doors, I walk through, and the whole room stops like an E.F. Hutton commercial,” he says. “Some kid ran up an shot a picture of me. I was dressed in a white linen suit, like Shaft or something like that, like a pimp. I had a white hat, white suede shoes, thick white nylon socks, a white shirt, with a white silk tie, and all kinds of jewelry. Man, I was white on white. That picture was in my graduation yearbook.”
He went to Yale. After college, he scrapped his plans for medical school and went into advertising. He later became a television network executive, quit, and moved to Vienna, where he wrote and acted in an adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Then he got involved in the wine importing business, and five years ago, moved to Chicago.
Maximilian’s travels have exposed him to all kinds of music and culture, and he tries to fill his listeners in on his knowledge. “If you don’t know Caetano Veloso,” he says on the air, “he’s been called kinda like the Bob Dylan of Brazil. He’s that big and that famous.” Then he says, in Spanish, “some of you are wondering who King Sunny Ade is. Is he some king from Africa who’s coming to Chicago? No! He’s an African guitarist. If you like the music on the show, you’ll like him.”
During a song, someone calls in to talk tango. “Oh the tango,” Maximilian says. “That’s smokin’. Isn’t that smokin’? A lot of people think of tango and they think it’s corny, but when you hear it played well, by a good orchestra, you say, “Wow! That’s heavy, man.”‘
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Lloyd DeGrane.