The world of instrumental music has never been the same since Hermeto Pascoal appeared with his unique and genial style of top-quality music that he extracts from objects such as hoes, sickles, bottles, axes, kettles, plastic toys and bowls, and he even records tweets and animal grunts. Self-taught, Hermeto was always looking to research, study and try new sounds of the most unusual elements. He has said that on one occasion he stuck adhesive tape on piano keys and was able to get the same sounds produced by a bird, and that it was common to take animals inside the recording studio to use them in musical production.
This internationally recognised poly-instrumentalist (he plays piano, alto sax, drums, melodica, flute, guitar, bass, euphonium and accordion), and even writing scores for the German Symphony Orchestra, is Brazilian, from the Northeast and of humble origins. He was born in Lagoa de Canoa, in the municipality of Arapiraca, Alagoas, on 22 June 1936. He came from a family of small farmers, which is what he would have become if he wasn’t an albino (those who have albinism, i.e. an individual or animal who is incapable of producing the pigment melanin – from the greek melan meaning black – that gives colour to skin and protection from ultraviolet radiation from the sun and other artificial devices. Albinos have difficulty seeing in bright places and can suffer burns from solar radiation very easily).
From an early age he showed an aptitude for music: by the age of eight he could play the flute and accordion. At eleven, Hermeto and his eldest brother, José Neto, his musical partner, enlivened forró dances, festivals, balls, weddings and baptisms.
In 1950, aged fourteen, his family moved to Recife and together with José Neto, he began to earn money playing accordion on the radio stations Tamandaré and Jornal do Commercio. After Recife, he went to the city of João Pessoa to work at Rádio Tabajara as a member of the Orquestra do Maestro Gomes (1958). It wasn’t long before Hermeto was taken by his brother to Rio de Janeiro. In the Marvellous City, he played at Rádio Mauá and, during this period, he learned to play piano. His national artistic rise included the city of São Paulo (1961), where he formed the Grupo Som Quatro, and later (1964), the Sambrasa Trio (in which he played piano alongside Airto Moreira on drums and Humberto Claiber on bass). At the time he perfected his flute playing and participated, as a flautist, on the album Caminhos, by Walter Santos (composer, violinist and singer from Bahia who always appreciated the participation of excellent musicians and maestros in his musical productions).
In 1965, he joined the group Trio Novo, which became Quarteto Novo with the participation of Hermeto. The group had new ideas, mixing Northeast rhythms with sophisticated jazz arrangements, and was made up of Airto Moreira, Théo de Barros on bass and Heraldo do Monte on guitar. The group, the leader in Brazilian instrumental music, recorded only one album (1967) and on it is Hermeto’s first composition (O Ovo), an instrumental music classic. The group disbanded (1969) with the departure of Airto, who would travel to the United States.
At the beginning of the 1970s, Hermeto went to the United States at the invitation of Airto Moreira, who included Gaia de Roseira on one of his albums, a piece arranged by Hermeto. According to English critics, it was the best musical piece of the year, a fact that boosted his artistic recognition abroad. In New York, he performed for a select audience that included, among others, Wayne Shorter (considered to be one of the most influential modern jazz musicians) and Miles Davis (American trumpet player, considered by music critics as the “driving force of jazz for over forty years”). Miles loved what he’d seen and heard and invited Hermeto to perform at a concert in Washington D.C. The result of this concert was the album Live Evil, which included two compositions by Hermeto, Capelinha (Little Church) and Nem Um Talvez (Not Even a Maybe).
Hermeto returned to Brasil in 1973 and released his first Brazilian album A Música Livre de Hermeto Pascoal. On it are included the songs Carinhoso (Pinxinguinha) and Asa Branca (Luiz Gonzaga). He returned to the United States (1977) and recorded the album Slave Mass, praised by critics and considered a landmark in instrumental music. On the album, Hermeto relied on the participation of two pigs that, according to him, each had their own microphone and duly received their paycheques.
Between 1977 and 1988, Hermeto Pascoal performed at national and international festivals (São Paulo, Berlin e Montreux), produced and recorded albums, and his artistic career went from strength to strength abroad, receiving standing ovations at international festivals.
In the 1990s he fell out with record labels and spent almost eight years without releasing any albums. During this period, he dedicated himself to composing and creating projects. In 1999, his return to the music industry was marked with the launch of the album Eu e Eles, by the label Rádio MEC, on which he played conventional instruments and ones he invented himself.
1969 Brazilian Octopus Fermata
1970 Hermeto Buddah
1973 A Música Livre de Hermeto Pascoal Polygram
1976 Slave Mass WEA
1979 Zabumbê-Bum-Á WEA
1979 Montreaux Jaz Festival Atlantic / WEA
1980 Cérebro Magnético Atlantic / WEA
1982 Hermeto Pascoal & Grupo Som da Gente
1984 Lagoa da Canoa Som da Gente
1986 Brasil Universo Som da Gente
1987 Só Não Toca Quem Não Quer Som Livre
1988 Hermeto Solo: Por Diferentes Caminhos Som da Gente
1992 Festa dos Deuses Polygram
1999 Eu e Eles Rádio MEC
Recently (2000), he finished his project to create a different composition for each day of the year (Calendário do Som – Calendar of Sound).
Recife, 14 September 2006.
(Updated on 14 September 2009).
Translated by Peter Leamy, February 2011.
HERMETO PASCOAL. Disponível em: <http://www.ejazz.com.br/detalhes-artistas.asp?cd=182>. Acesso em: 22 jun. 2006.
HERMETO PASCOAL. Disponível em: <http://cliquemusic.uol.com.br/artistas/hermeto-pascoal.asp>. Acesso em: 26 jun. 2006.
HERMETO PASCOAL. Disponível em: <http://www.clubedejazz.com.br/ojazz/jazzista_exibir.php?jazzista_id=253>. Acesso em: 26 jun. 2006.
HERMETO PASCOAL. Disponível em: <http://www.samba-choro.com.br/artistas/hermetopaschoal >. Acesso em: 22 jun. 2006
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Source: BARBOSA, Virgínia. Hermeto Pascoal. Pesquisa Escolar On-Line, Joaquim Nabuco Foundation, Recife. Available at: <http://basilio.fundaj.gov.br/pesquisaescolar/>. Accessed: day month year. Exemple: 6 Aug. 2009.