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O Grupo in the 1990s


      Festa dos Deuses (Festival of the Gods), was released in 1992 in Brazil but without the promised international distribution. When Hermeto and Jovino (who co–produced) inquired, Polygram told them that they had received disappointing sales from the other Brazilian artists on their roster and had come to the decision that perhaps the American market was not ready for Hermeto’s music. To add insult to injury, soon after the CD’s initial release, Polygram let it fall out of print. The recording remained practically unavailable for most of the decade, until it was re–released briefly in Japan. This has been a common theme with Hermeto’s commercial recordings, and as of this writing, few remain in print. Even used copies are rare. Hermeto himself told me he does not even own copies of several of his earlier recordings.

      At the end of 1992, the band underwent a series of profound changes. Both Jovino Neto and Carlos Malta left in 1993 the group to pursue solo careers. Jovino moved to Seattle, maintaining an active playing and teaching career (he is currently an associate professor at the Cornish College of Arts). He is also busy editing Hermeto’s music and preparing it for publication.[35] Carlos lives in Rio de Janeiro and is active in both the studio and concert scene and has released several fine CDs of his own compositions and arrangements. As he did in the late 70s, Hermeto went through several formations before he was able to re-establish a stable group. Márcio, Itiberê, Pernambuco, and Fábio continued to play with the group, keeping the core of the rhythm section intact. Following Jovino and Carlos’s departure, Eduardo Neves, a Rio de Janeiro–based saxophonist, and pianists Rafael Vernet and Bruno Cardoso passed through the group. Hermeto then called Teco Cardoso, a São Paulo based saxophonist who had appeared on Só Não Toca Quem Não Quer. Teco was busy touring with singer Edu Lobo at the time and declined Hermeto’s offer. Instead, he suggested another São Paulo musician, Vinicius Dorim, who joined the band near the end of 1993, followed soon by André Marquez, a young eighteen year old Paulista pianist.

      Teco Cardoso told me that when he first met Vinicius in São Paulo, he was strictly a jazz player “under the spell of Phil Woods and Charlie Parker,” someone who Teco saw as a great talent but somewhat narrow in his focus. After joining Hermeto, Dorim’s style changed completely. Hermeto was very strict with Vinicius, steering him away from jazz clichés with admonishments such as “I’ve already heard you play that lick, that one’s been recorded, written, and transcribed many times” (Teco Cardoso, personal communication, June 2000). Dorim told me that he took to these criticisms eagerly:


When Hermeto invited me to join his group, it was ‘93, around then. I was already a little disheartened as a musician, it was difficult for you to put together a group to rehearse and play. So, I went to Rio for a week to rehearse and when I met the guys there it was like, “damn, I’ve found my team.” They were people who thought like I did; just play music, rehearse, study, and make music as art. Of course you have to survive, to make money, you know? Hermeto is a marvelous figure, all of them are. Itiberê and Márcio helped me a lot in the rehearsals. We went through the music—which was very difficult for me to play—but they told me to “stay calm, you’re going to get it.” The arrangements had parts with very complex polyrhythms; Itiberê and Márcio spent a lot of time playing through the music with me until I learned it. You can’t learn these types of things anywhere else, I mean, it was marvelous, and Hermeto takes great pride in showing you, you sit with him and spend hours in conversation and he shows you everything on the piano. (Dorim interview 2000).


      Furthermore, Dorim, who was one of São Paulo’s most in–demand saxophonists at the time, found that Hermeto had a number of tricks to teach him on his instrument:


There were things on the soprano sax, for example, that I didn’t how to do, to play past high F, F sharp, A, B [in the altissimo register], double tonguing, this type of thing that he knew how to do and showed me, things that I had never done.
Everyone in his group has this same spirit. . . to make beautiful music and to take what you learn and pass on to others. This is what he teaches principally, to pass these things on and it is his pleasure to see you playing happily. (ibid.)


      The addition of Dorim and Marquez brought profound changes both to the band and to Hermeto’s daily life. Both Dorim and Marquez (despite his young age) were experienced professionals and were already highly accomplished instrumentalists and improvisers by the time they joined Hermeto’s group. Moreover, both players were well established in São Paulo and did not want to leave, making it impossible to continue the group’s regimen of daily rehearsals. In a sense, the band no longer needed the rehearsals. Both Dorim and Marquez’s entered the band already possessing a higher level musicianship than what the remaining members had had when they began playing with Hermeto. Thus, they did not need to undergo the same kind of training that Carlos, Itiberê, Márcio, and Jovino had gone through. Furthermore, the remaining members already understood Hermeto’s methods and shared a common conceptual vocabulary. The departure of Jovino and Malta had also served as a signal to Hermeto that the group needed a more relaxed schedule.

      The band toured Europe in 1994, a trip that was highlighted by a tour of England with a big band made up of some of London’s finest jazz musicians. Hermeto produced a number of new compositions that combined O Grupo with the British band. Their London concerts were broadcast live on BBC radio. Sometime after this tour, Pernambuco left the band. For financial reasons, Hermeto had been increasingly doing tours with only his son Fábio on percussion. This frustrated Pernambuco, who had been a member of the band for seventeen years and he eventually to quit.

      But for the rest of the group, while they missed the daily contact, there was also a sense of relief. Everyone suddenly had the freedom to pursue outside projects. Márcio Bahia and Itiberê Zwarg both told me that this period since 1993 has been an opportunity to develop their own musical identities separate from Hermeto, though both took advantage of their new freedom in different ways. Márcio has become a busy freelance musician, playing and recording with musicians such as Luis Carlos Vinhas (pianist for the group Bossa Três), the Vittor Santos Orchestra, and singer Maria Bethania. Márcio told me he took the gig with Bethania as a challenge to show people that he could do it, that he wasn’t simply Hermeto’s drummer, that when called upon to play pop music, he was versatile enough to answer the call. Itiberê took a little longer to find his path, but eventually formed his own group, the Itiberê Orquestra Família, which will be discussed in the next chapter. Fábio acts as his father’s manager and assistant, still living only a few blocks away.

            Hermeto responded to these changes by increasing his compositional activities. His output was already astounding, numbering over 2,000 compositions, and I estimate that in the last decade he may have written as many as 500 more. On his sixtieth birthday in 1996, Hermeto decided to challenge himself to write a tune a day for one year, beginning on June 23, 1996 (the day after his birthday). He composed music both at home and on tour, and on June 22, 1997, completed his task. The finished set of compositions was published in 2000 under the title, Calendario de Som (Calendar of Sound). When I met him again in March of 2000, he was in the midst of another series daily compositions that he had begun in September of 1999. This time he did it by style, first writing forty choros, followed by forty waltzes, forty maracatus, twenty frevos, and so on. He only stopped in April 2000 because of a mild heart attack brought on by the stress of his wife’s illness (he underwent an angioplasty and within a few weeks was back to his usual activities). Ilza had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 1999 and became in need of constant care. Each time I visited him in 2000, Hermeto’s house was filled with various family members who had come to attend to Ilza, who was in almost constant pain. Finally, in November 2000, while Hermeto and his group were on tour in Europe, Ilza lost her battle with cancer. During the period of her illness Hermeto began regularly performing a beautiful waltz called “Menina Ilza” (Ilza Girl) as a kind of prayer for her. He often ended his concerts with this song, asking the audience to sing along (Figure 11).

Menina Ilza first section

Figure 11: “Menina Ilza,” first section.

      When I first visited Hermeto in 1992, his house was a buzz of activity. Most of his children either still lived with him or nearby, and his band rehearsed upstairs on a daily basis. After his wife’s death 2000, he lived alone for several years, spending his days composing constantly. He released a solo CD in 1999, Eu e Eles (Them and I), which he recorded for the government supported Rádio MEC (Ministério da Educação e Cultura). He eventually began a relationship with a singer from Curitiba (a city in the southern state of Parana) named Aline Morena, who he met at a workshop. They recorded a duo CD and DVD (Chimarrão com Rapadura) and Hermeto moved to Curitiba to be with her. Aline also joined O Grupo, remaining in the band until the two split up in 2016. The band also went through personnel changes — saxophonist Vinicius Dorim tragically died after a long illness in January 2016 and Marcio Bahia left the group to pursue his own musical career. They were replaced by saxophonist João Paulo “JP” Ramos Barbosa and Itiberê Zwarg’s son Arujinã on drums. At 81 years of age, Hermeto has returned to Rio de Janeiro, where he stays busy composing and performing. In 2017 he released a double CD with o Grupo, No Mundo dos Sons, which I consider to be on par with his best recordings from the 1980s.


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[35] In 2001 Universal released a volume of Hermeto’s music, Tudo é Som (Everything is sound), edited by Jovino. Neto is also preparing two more volumes featuring music arranged for flute and piano and a set of complete arrangements from O Grupo’s catalog.