Interview with Bruni Sablan, Portrait Artist--March 9, 2000
Interviewer: B.J. Major
(This interview was obtained via email.)
Q. Bruni, I'd like to begin by asking how you came to know Walter Wanderley and how long you knew him up until his death in 1986.
A. I first was introduced to Walter by a fellow musician, Fafa Lemos, a violinist who came to the U.S. way back with the Carmen Miranda group. I knew him well, and was very close for a few years, but did not see him right up to his death. We lost touch somewhere in the '80's or late 70's. I moved to Guam and got married.
Q. I have been told that you worked with Walter as a singer. Could you tell us more about that and for how long you worked in this capacity?
A. I was part of the Walter Wanderley group as one of two singers. The other girl was Ana Maria Valle, Marcos Valle's wife at that time. We toured Mexico for three or four weeks, including a big opening at the big arena (I don't remember what they call it) in Mexico City. Present were Joao Gilberto, Stan Getz, Art Blakey, Willi Bobo, and numerous other big names both in Brazilian and American music. The Festival was called the "American/Brazilian Jazz Festival". After that we did lots of studio work, but for some reason none of it got released. Walter was already having troubles with A&M at that time so maybe that had something to do with it. We also worked local clubs in the L..A. area like Shelley Mann's etc... I can't remember the name of them all, we were all pretty crazy back then......
Q. Is it true that you and Walter were very close?
A. Yes. We were very close. We were friends and lovers, and at one time he asked me to marry him and gave me a ring which I kept up until a few years back, when I lent it to my daughter, and accidentally she misplaced it. We just figured it was time to let go of him. We both (my daughter Kristina, and myself felt very strong energy from that ring.) It was palpable. It almost vibrated. She had been going to San Francisco for singing lessons, and we both felt the ring protected her. Actually, she lost it when she stopped going to San Francisco on a steady basis.... I loved Walter. And he loved me. I was almost a kid, and he had other complications, which eventually separated us. I ended up marrying a young Guamanian singer-song writer and moved to Guam, and we had Kristina there. She never met Walter, only through his music.
Q. Do you happen to know if Walter ever travelled back to Brazil to perform and visit family members at any time after he moved to the U.S.?
A. I know that it was his biggest dream to do so, but if I remember correctly, he never did.
Q. How would you characterize what it was like to work for Walter, and how did you find him personally?
A. He was a very strict band leader. especially with the singers. He was very demanding, and expected complete professional dedication from us. Even forgetting lyrics was a big deal. Music was his life. Nothing else mattered much. I didn't really understand that until I became a virtuoso myself, and the obsession and dedication to painting took over my life from the early 80's to now. I was a kid then, and we (Ana Maria and I) really just wanted to have a lot of fun... So Walter and I got into a lot of fights over that. He was also a very very jealous man. He thought I was always flirting with everyone, but I really only had eyes for him. He was a sweet, kind, and totally insecure human being. He was also guilt ridden over his marriage (to the Brazilian singer) and I think they had a daughter in Brazil. There was lots of guilt, lots of insecurity, lots of need for constant reassurance, attention and stuff like that. Also a big drinking problem. BIG. I don't know if you would consider that a "negative" but it is a fact, and all who knew him knew that it was his biggest enemy. It controlled him completely. And I think that eventually killed him, both in the business and in his health. He was also a very sad man. He cried easily. He laughed easily. Very emotional. A being you can never forget. EVER.
Q. Could you tell us about what kinds of things Walter did while he was living in the San Francisco area outside of recording (i.e., did he play a lot of local engagements or mainly tour outside the area, etc.)?
A. Local engagements. Willy Colon (San Francisco percussionist) has lots of info. He played a bar down at the Warf on a steady basis, and also there were concerts in the area. After his death I had a dream visitation from Walter. I had no idea where he had been living or anything, but he showed me down to the Street names. I traced everything in my dream, and found everything he showed me, including the place of his burial mass (Mission Dolores). Also the street where he and Rosa lived, all of it proved right. I know because I picked up the phone and started calling... I have tons of names of people who talked with me, and didn't think I was crazy, if you need them, I'll be glad to share. It was soon after that that I painted his portrait. One more thing... in the dream he told me he would come visit me again.... So this Website blew my mind.
Q. What prompted you to paint Walter's portrait in 1989?
A. The dream visitation.
Q. Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers about your time spent with Walter?
A. Yes. They don't make them like that anymore... WALTER, BIRD, MILES, DIZ, STAN, TOM, WHAT NOW?????????????????????????????????????????????? I was one lucky kid, and those memories illuminate my darkest days... I now can tell the stories through my canvases because I was there, I lived it, I was touched by the magic, and that's what it was MAGIC.
Thank you, Bruni for the interview!
Thank you for asking. Keep up the great work!