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The Group Rehearsal Process


      One of Hermeto’s greatest gifts is his ability to combine musicians with many different levels of experience and create music that allows everyone to participate equally. When Jovino joined the group, he told me that he was a far less experienced and technically proficient pianist than Nenê, who was the band’s drummer. This did not faze Hermeto, who constructed his arrangements in a way that maximized everyone’s strengths, so that listeners were never aware of the differences.[22]


I basically started playing piano and a little bit of percussion because [Hermeto] was playing piano too. Actually, in the beginning he played a lot more than I did because I was not very good, I was just learning. He would let me play and every once in a while he would come over and say, “OK, hold on, watch me.” So I would just play percussion and watch what he was doing.

[Hermeto] always had this ability to look at people and, without having ever heard them play, he’s able to realize what you can do. I mean he did it with everyone in the band. If somebody were to come up to me today and they said that they would like to play with me, and they played like I played when I came up to Hermeto—I wouldn’t say I wouldn’t want to play with them, but . . . I would just laugh and say, my god, you’ve got to go to music school and learn something before we can do something. Man, he just said, sure, come up here. (J. Neto interview 1997)


      Hermeto taught by example. Sitting at the piano, Hermeto set up a groove, after which the rhythm section of Itiberê and Nenê would join in. When the music reached a certain energy level, Hermeto would turn to Jovino, who had been watching over his shoulder, and ask, “Can you play this?” Jovino would tell him “I think I can,” to which Hermeto would reply, “Don’t think—can you play this part?” Jovino said he would watch Hermeto until he felt he had internalized the piano part, at which point the two of them would switch places. Jovino would then try to hang onto the groove as long as he could, but often, because of the difficulty of the part Hermeto had created, his energy would begin to falter. Hermeto would push him aside, bring the energy back up again, and then yield the piano back to Jovino. The process was repeated back and forth until Jovino had a solid grasp of the part.

      Using this procedure, Hermeto would compose in “loops,” that is to say, he would create a short two, four, or eight bar phrase, teaching each player his part in the way Jovino described in the previous paragraph. As Hermeto worked, each musician would continue playing (“looping”) as Hermeto improvised new parts, composing and layering them on top of the looped phrase. When he had built all the parts in a particular section, he would move on to another “loop,” eventually stringing them all together into a complete piece. The band became, as saxophonist Carlos Malta remarked, Hermeto’s “living sequencer” (L. Neto 1999:65). While he sometimes arrived at rehearsal with a set of parts already written, it was more common for Hermeto to compose music during the rehearsal itself.

      Described by his musicians as a highly gifted teacher and motivator, Hermeto seemed to intuitively grasp each musicians’ strengths and weaknesses. In addition, he was able to communicate what he wanted in a variety of personalized ways. For example, Márcio Bahia told me that when he joined, Hermeto began writing drum parts for him.


When I joined the group, I was very inexperienced on drums. . . . I wasn’t prepared, physically or mentally to play with the group but he saw [what] I could do in the future. [Hermeto] gave me total confidence.

I came from a symphonic background and I could read really well. So whenever I didn’t know how to play something, he wrote parts for me. Many, many parts. . . . Everything went into my head, creating a vocabulary, like a dictionary. He did this until I didn’t need it anymore. This was a great period during which he developed as an arranger for drums. He wrote out everything: high hat, open, closed, crash, ride, cup, rim shot. He wrote it all. I think he wrote his most incredible arrangements during this a time. He had people who could read well, play, understand, and had the disposition to play his material. These days he writes very few [drum parts]. He writes now only when he wants something [specific]—“I’m going to write because I want you to play this.” But he used to write for me because I didn’t know how to play.
Was the music difficult? Yes, but he knew I would be able to play it. I would take it home and practice, practice, practice. The following day there would be something a bit more difficult [to play]. He would use this methodology to push you, and with each degree that you attained, he would [push] a little more. Each barrier that I traversed, he would put up another the next day. . . . Our school was his music, applying theory and practice together, you know? group practice, theory practice, arranging practice, we practiced everything. (Bahia interview 1999)


      In addition to the looping technique described previously, Hermeto experimented with different approaches to composing, sometimes starting with a harmony, other times generating a tune from a melody or particular rhythmic pattern. Generally he worked from the piano, as Márcio describes:


He would sit at the piano, have an idea and then play it, saying, “Jovino, get a pencil and paper and write this down.” And Jovino would do it and he then would go onto another thing. Or he would start with the piano and call [saxophonist] Carlos Malta to transcribe the horn part. Other times, he would start with the horn part and then add the piano, but generally he would start with the piano, play a chord and then the melody would come. Jovino would write out the harmony and rhythm and Malta would write the melody. . . afterwards he would put the bass in and I would sit waiting, at times, all afternoon, even days, without playing a note. I learned an enormous amount just by ear, without playing. I watched the way he composed, how he chose the best note for a chord, or chose the best bass note or melody note. When he had a unison, he took it out because he didn’t like unisons, he’d change it, you know? When he didn’t like this chord inversion, he’d change it. He’d go through each chord note by note, throwing out this, replacing that, that sort of thing. And I learned, sitting at the drums, not playing for days. It was a fantastic exercise for me. By that time he wrote the drum part I already knew what the piano was playing, what the saxophone was playing, I knew the bass part. The arrangement was already in my head. So when he wrote the part, I’d take it home to study the technical stuff. I could study the drum part alone with what is called “mental practice.” I played my part thinking of the piano, thinking of the bass and the horn. The way Hermeto composed gave me a great mental training. Sometimes, when we were about to play an arrangement, someone would doubt a particular note and I’d know which note it was. When the piano would play a wrong note, I knew which note it was. I’d know when the bass played a wrong note. I’d say, “Itiberê, that’s the wrong note,” and I’d sing the right one for him.  
[Sometimes Hermeto] would start with the drums. He would sit at the drums playing and I would transcribe. Got it?—Got it. Let’s go on—boom, bom, boom [he sings a drum part]—and I would transcribe it. This was great for me because he would either leave the drums for last or begin with them. You know that song, “Magimani Sagei”? from the first record? [Hermeto Pascoal & Grupo, 1982]. That was born with the drums. “Mestre Radamés” [from Lagoa da Canoa Municipio de Arapiraca, 1984] also began with the drums. (ibid.)

Márcio’s knack for learning and accurately remembering arrangements often came in handy, as the following incident shows. Sometime during the mid 1990s, the band was rehearsing a new piece for which Hermeto had composed a complicated two–part contrapuntal melody:


A beer fell on the music. . . . Everything was wiped out, and no one remembered the second voice.. I said, “Vinicius [Dorim, the group’s current saxophonist], come here, sit down.” I said, “André [Marquez, pianist], play for him.” As André played, I sang the saxophone voice note for note and we were able to recuperate everything. Everyone was very happy because [the melodic line] was thought to be lost. Hermeto was going to make another, but the first one was so beautiful, and I still had it my head. As I said before, Vinicius sat beside me and I sung [the part] and he transcribed it. How could I do this? Because I remained sitting, listening, paying attention.
We had to think fast, write fast, because in the same way that he wrote, he forgot. On minute later he had forgotten. So it was very important for us to pay attention, you understand? I learned to assimilate Hermeto’s music through the different ways that he composed. By sitting, watching, listening, and then playing, I learned a conception of how to play, a criteria for rehearsing. For me, it was gold. The discipline of rehearsal was also very important for the group. I learned how to rehearse, to take an arrangement and play it slowly at first, always slowly, without pressing forward.

He wanted to develop within us the discipline of rehearsing. When an error occurred, “where is it? Let’s find it. Piano and drums play, bass and horn, bass and drums, piano and horn, piano and bass, horn and drums. Oh, it looks like that was wrong.” It would go like this, two by two, then three by three. (Bahia interview 1999)[23]


      Hermeto’s creative output during the 1980s was tremendous, a never–ending process. For the musicians, the rehearsal process was a constantly stimulating environment. Hermeto’s personal charisma, consistent creativity, his ability to teach, to communicate his music to others, and to inspire others all contributed to his capacity, without much financial support, to lead and maintain the group of young, talented musicians, who essentially placed their lives and careers in his hands. In interviews with me, several of the musicians spoke enthusiastically of their experience with Hermeto. Itiberê told me that:


I am certain that 90 percent of what I know [today], I learned from Hermeto. I have lived at his side, observing. . . . Hermeto loves to see these kinds of people. When he sees a musician who really wants to learn, he dedicates himself to giving as much information as he possibly can to that person, it’s always been that way. . . . Hermeto is the great master of these things . . . . he has no limits in what he can teach.
This is my work, to play with Hermeto today is my work, I am a part of this. I inspire Hermeto and he inspires me, why not? It is like something he always says, “look, I am inspired by you guys too. I learn from you.”  Whoever teaches without learning doesn’t really teach anything, because we all learn while we are teaching.

Today, it’s clear that I have made a name [for myself] in the bass world thanks to my work with Hermeto. . . . I am very proud, it is a great honor to participate in this work. (Zwarg interview 1999)


      Márcio Bahia tells people that he received his musical education at the “Jabour School of Music,” continuing that “Everything that I know today, the little that I know now—we really know very little and are always wanting to know more, we’ve never stopped learning—I owe to a guy named Hermeto Pascoal. . . everyone who has passed through that group, we owe a debt of gratitude to Hermeto Pascoal.” In Márcio’s words, the group became a “display window” for each musician, a place from which they were able to launch their own careers. To have played with Hermeto is to be guaranteed instant respect among your peers. But, Márcio continued, “Not everyone has the disposition to do what I did, what my colleagues did, because this process needs a lot of devotion, patience, and persistence. . . . To do this, you have to have a lot of abnegation, to take your ego and put it in your pocket, open your heart to the desire to learn and you will be given so much” (Bahia interview 1999).

      For Itiberê, Márcio, Jovino, and Carlos, Hermeto’s band was more than an apprenticeship or a school, it became a way of life. Hermeto was teacher, guru, father, bandleader, friend, patron, and taskmaster. Hermeto demanded complete devotion but this was coupled with an almost boundless energy and creative activity that made it a fascinating and stimulating process for all involved:


He was always writing music and got very inspired by what we could do with what he was writing so he kept writing more. . . . A lot of it was written there with us present so we could see how he did it. That created the togetherness and cohesiveness that characterized the band. . . . There was never any question other than that we were there to play the music he was writing. (J. Neto interview 1997)


      By the time O Grupo came together, Hermeto had ended his contract with Warner Brothers. He signed with a small São Paulo label, Som da Gente (The Sound of the People), run by two old friends from his days as a jingle writer, Walter Souza and Teresa Santos. The couple had started out as songwriters in the 1960s, but eventually turned to writing advertising jingles, working out of Eldorado studios where they hired composers such as Hermeto. At the beginning of the 1980s they founded Som da Gente with idea of establishing a label that would allow artists the freedom to create as they wanted and, in a rare gesture of generosity in an industry that typically gives artists a two to three percent royalty rate, they devised a system in which 80 percent of the profits were divided among the artists themselves. Starting in May 1981, they produced recordings by São Paulo–based artists such as Grupo Medusa, Hector Costita, Guitarist Alemão, guitarist Frederah, singer Dick Farney (the bossa nova pioneer who actually lived in Rio), composer/pianist Nelson Ayres, Grupo D'Alma and saxophonist Roberto Sion. Recording at their renamed studio, Nosso Estúdio (Our Studio), their first printings usually numbered around 3,000 copies, not big by industry standards, but enough to make a small profit. Their distribution system used students working on a 10 percent commission, adding to the grass roots style of the label (n.a. Visão 1982).

      With Som da Gente, Hermeto, who had never enjoyed comfortable relations with record companies—most of whom, he felt, were more interested in the bottom line than in producing quality music—now had a record company he trusted. He embarked on the most productive creative period of his career. During the 1980s, Hermeto recorded six records with Som da Gente: Hermeto Pascoal e Grupo (1982), Lagoa da Canoa Município de Arapiraca (1984), Brasil Universo (1986), Só Não Toca Quem Não Quer (1987), Solo–Por Diferentes Caminhos (1988), and Mundo Verde Esperança (unreleased 1989). Moreover, Hermeto Pascoal e Grupo toured Europe extensively (often several times a year) and made several trips to the U.S. The group developed a sound and a facility with his music that none of his previous bands had ever achieved, and Hermeto responded with a continuous flow of new music.[24] Hermeto received several orchestral commissions, including one for the RIAS Symphony Orchestra for the Horizon Festival in Berlin, Germany. In typical fashion, Hermeto arrived in Berlin without a score, preferring to wander around Berlin to soak up the city’s ambiance, after which he wrote the piece, Berlin e Sua Gente (Berlin and its People), in under two days and had it performed at the festival (J. Neto 1999).


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[22] Personal communication, 2000.

[23] In interviews with me, both Itiberê Zwarg and Jovino Santos Neto concurred with Márcio’s description of the rehearsal process.

[24] When Jovino left in 1992, he made copies of all of Hermeto’s compositions from his time with the group, a number he estimates at over 2,000 compositions.