2008 ART OF JAZZ LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD WINNER
Multi-instrumentalist, visionary composer, musical maverick, Art of Jazz 2008 Lifetime Achievement Award honoree Hermeto Pascoal weaves disparate strands of music with natural sounds into an aesthetic fabric that transcends all categories. He works in every imaginable musical format, from solo to symphony orchestra. At the 2008 Art of Jazz Celebration, Pascoal will be premiering new music written for big band and performed with the Art of Jazz Orchestra, conducted by his former protégé, Jovino Santos Neto.
Hermeto Pascoal was born in Olho d´Água, in a remote corner of northeast Brazil, on July 22, 1936, and raised in Lagoa da Canoa. Fascinated by the music of nature ever since he was a little boy, he would play a homemade fife with the birds and spend hours by the lake blending musical sounds with the water. He even gathered bits of scrap metal from his grandfather's blacksmith shop and hung them by pieces of rope to elicit different tones from them. By the time he was seven or eight, Pascoal decided to try his father's eight-bass accordion, and since then he has never stopped making music. He began playing alongside his elder brother, José Neto, at forró parties and wedding receptions, alternating with him on the eight-bass accordion and the tambourine.
In 1950 Pascoal moved to Recife, where he started playing at the Tamandaré Radio Station. Shortly after that was invited by the renowned accordion player, Sivuca, to join the Jornal do Commercio Radio in Pernambuco, where his brother already was working. There they created O Mundo Pegando Fogo (The World On Fire) trio. But because Hermeto and his brother were just beginning to play the large accordion - until then they had played only the smaller eight-bass accordion - he was sent away by the director of the Jornal do Commercio Radio, who told him that he was not good enough for music. But Sivuca intervened, and soon Pascoal was back at the Jornal do Commercio Radio, invited by the same person who had laid him off and earning the salary he originally wanted.
By that time, Pascoal was brought by guitarist Heraldo do Monte to play at the Delfim Verde Night Club, where he discovered the piano. In 1958 he moved to Rio, playing the accordion with the regional band, Pernambuco do Pandeiro, at the Mauá Radio Station, and piano with the bands of violinist Fafá Lemos and saxophonist-flutist Maestro Copinha. Fascinated by the music business, Pascoal moved to São Paulo in 1961, where, along with trumpeter Papudinho, drummer Edilson, and bassist Azeitona, he formed the Som Quatro band. He later joined the Sambrasa Trio, which included master percussionist Airto Moreira. And at that time Pascoal also started to study the flute.
In 1966, Pascoal, playing both piano and flute, and Airto created Quarteto Novo, which launched both their careers. Known for its refined sound and rich harmony, this innovative group represented the best of post-bossa nova Brazilian music at festivals and on network TV shows. The following year they recorded the breakthrough album, Quarteto Novo, featuring two of Pascoal's compositions, "O Ovo" (The Egg) and "Canto Geral" (The General Chant).
Invited by Airto and singer Flora Purim, Pascoal traveled to the United States in 1969, working as a composer, arranger, and player, and recording with Airto (Natural Feelings, Seeds on the Ground), Brazilian music master Antonio Carlos Jobim (Tide), trumpeter Donald Byrd (Electric Byrd), and pianist-composer Duke Pearson (It Could Only Happen with You). He also met Miles Davis, who called him "the most impressive musician in the world." With Davis, Pascoal recorded two of his own songs, "Nem Um Talvez" (Not Even a Maybe) and "Igrejinha" (Little Church) on the trumpeter's 1971 album, Live Evil. He also began recording as a leader with his 1972 American debut, Hermeto. Back in Brazil in 1973 he released the classic, A Música Livre de Hermeto Pascoal (The Free Music of Hermeto Pascoal).
In the mid 1970s Pascoal returned to the United States, working again with Airto and Flora Purim. He appeared on albums like Purim's Open Your Eyes, You Can Fly and Encounter, and Amazonas with vibraphonist Cal Tjader. And he made his second American recording, the 1977 masterpiece, Slaves Mass, performing on piano, Fender Rhodes piano, acoustic guitar, flute, soprano saxophone, recorder, clavinet, and vocals.
Now enjoying an international reputation, Pascoal began appearing at such major events as the 1978 International Jazz Festival in São Paulo, the 1979 Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland - where he recorded the double-album, Hermeto Pascoal ao Vivo (Hermeto Pascoal Live) - and Live Under the Sky in Tokyo. Over the years, Pascoal's performances have become as bold and innovative as his music. In 1995, he played a symphony at the Sesc Itaquera Play Park in São Paulo using the gigantic musical instruments of the park. That same year he was invited to Rosario, Argentina, by UNICEF, where he and his band performed for 2,000 children inside a swimming pool mounted on the stage at his request.
A prolific composer, Pascoal has created numerous works for a wide range of musical formats and settings. His Sinfonia em Quadrinhos (Cartoon Symphony) was performed with the São Paulo Youth Orchestra. In a concert broadcast all over Europe, he presented his piano suite, Pixitotinha, with the Copenhagen Symphony. From June 23, 1996, through June 22, 1997, no matter where he happened to be, Pascoal wrote a new song every day for a year, so that everyone would have a song for his or her birthday. These pieces were collected in his Calendário do Som (Calendar of Sounds), published in 1999.
Meanwhile, Pascoal continued to record, adding new instruments to his ever-expanding arsenal of sound, breaking new ground with nearly every release. On 1987's Só Não Toca Quem Não Quer (Only If You Don't Want It) he played bandola, piano, keyboards, flugelhorn, tuba, percussion instruments, harmonica, low flute, "craviola" guitar, accordion, "bombardino," and harpsichord. In 1989 he made his first solo piano album, Por Diferentes Caminhos (Through Different Paths). And in 1999 Pascoal recorded a solo album of a different kind, Eu e Eles (Myself and Them), on which he alone played all the instruments.
In October 2002, Pascoal met Aline Morena and asked her to sing with his group. He then taught her the ten-string guitar, piano, and percussion, and in March 2004 debuted his newest ensemble, Chimarrão com Rapadura, a duo with Morena. The following year they recorded a CD and DVD, Chimarrão com Rapadura. Today, as much as ever, Hermeto Pascoal keeps on exploring uncharted musical terrain, mixing folkloric and popular Brazilian genres, modern compositional techniques, natural sounds, and jazz improvisation to create an original, exciting music like no one else's.
© Bob Bernotas, 2008. All rights reserved.
Photo: Carol Steuer