Life in Pernambuco, 1950–1958
In 1950, Hermeto’s family moved to Recife, the capital city of the neighboring state of Pernambuco. Hermeto, though only 14 years of age, was already an experienced musician blessed with a sharp mind and absolute pitch. Older musicians were impressed by his precocious talent, and he soon got a job playing in the regional (the house band) of Rádio Tamandaré (Tamandaré radio) in Recife. These regionais provided live music for radio shows and were expected to produce spontaneous arrangements for a wide variety of repertoire and performance conditions. Hermeto remembers the challenges of playing with singers: “You accompanied [a particular song] in the key of F but [one day] the singer might say: ‘Today I’m a little sick, so play a half–step lower’ . . . and I couldn’t refuse because the program was live. . . . It was a little confusing when [we had to transpose] but I wanted to learn how to give the guy his key, just so I could develop” (L. Neto 1999:39). Around this time, he met Sivuca (Severino Dias de Oliveira, b. 1930), another albino accordionist who was already famous in the northeast and was a regular on the radio station owned by the Jornal do Comércio, Recife’s largest newspaper. Joined by Hermeto’s brother José Neto (who was also albino), the three accordionists would sometimes get together and jam, eventually forming a group at the behest of the director of the Jornal do Comércio radio, who, noting the three albino musicians’ reddish hair and complexions, dubbed the trio O Mundo Pegando Fogo (The World on Fire).
Remaining with Radio Tamandaré regional for two years, Hermeto was exposed to a wide range of music, from jazz to symphonic music to various Brazilian popular genres. The sound of the radio orchestras, led by such leading conductors and arrangers as Guerra-Peixe and Clóvis Pereira, impressed Hermeto greatly and remained imprinted in his mind, which he refers to as “an infinite recorder” (L. Neto 1999:38). The money he earned from the radio and various gigs allowed Hermeto to purchase a new 80 button chromatic accordion. At the same time he began playing piano in bars with guitarist Heraldo do Monte, who was playing in the regional of Rádio Jornal do Comércio, and the two forged a life-long friendship. Monte showed Hermeto how to play chord voicings with his left hand, since previously he had always triggered chords with the buttons on his little oito baixos accordion. Playing in clubs with Monte, Hermeto learned jazz, choro, and serestas. He also gained valuable experience playing with visiting singing stars such as Nélson Gonçalves and Orlando Silva.In 1952, at 16 years of age, Hermeto moved farther inland to the city of Caruaru, Pernambuco. Deciding that he needed to study music formally, he asked Maestro Laranjeiras, a conductor at the local radio station, Rádio Difusora, for lessons. But Laranjeiras, citing Hermeto’s visual deficiencies, turned him down on the grounds that in a class of fifty students he could not give Hermeto the special attention he would require. Undeterred, Hermeto purchased an accordion theory and method book and began to study on his own (L. Neto 1999:39). Just as he had in Recife, Hermeto became a favorite of older musicians in Caruaru who were impressed with his intelligence, absolute pitch, and boundless musical enthusiasm. He maintained a busy schedule, playing in the house band for Rádio Difusora and performing nightly in local bars. All the while he was studying his method book, eventually putting what he had learned into practical use at his various musical jobs.
 During his time in Recife, Hermeto was often referred to as “Sivuquinha,” or “Little Sivuca” (J. Neto 1999).