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New York and Los Angeles, 1970

 

      In 1970 Hermeto received an invitation from Airto Moreira and his wife Flora Purim to come to New York. There he recorded two LPs with Flora and Airto, Natural Feelings (1970) and Seeds in the Ground (1971), both for Buddah records. The records featured a number of Hermeto’s compositions: “Andei” (I walked), “Uri” (the Wind), “Papo Furado” (Jive Talking), “Juntos” (Together), “Bebé” (Baby) and “O Galho da Roseira” (The Branch of the Rose Bush), the last a piece written by Hermeto’s parents while they were working in the fields sometime around 1941.[13] The LP also featured Ron Carter on bass and Sivuca, who was also living in the U.S. at this time, on accordion. Hermeto played flute and piano and is listed as the “arranger and supervisor.”[14] The sound of these recordings is free and open, and the arrangements are minimal, leaving plenty of room for improvisation.

      Airto, who struggled at first in New York, had landed what was then the highest profile gig in jazz, playing in trumpeter Miles Davis’ band. Since his debut playing with Charlie Parker in the 1940s, Miles had consistently been one of the most forward–thinking and highest paid jazz musicians. His alumni included a veritable who’s–who of jazz artists: John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Ron Carter, Chick Corea, and Keith Jarrett. Playing with Miles meant almost instant caché, a full bank account of cultural capital in the world of jazz. Airto brought Hermeto to meet Miles and the two immediately hit it off, leading to an invitation from Miles to record. Hermeto remembers that:

 

The music I recorded with [Miles], I showed him on the guitar, singing and playing guitar. . . . And man, I played a lot of music for him, nine or ten pieces, while he and Airto sat [listening], it was really tense. . . . I never looked at him, and I wasn’t thinking about getting work, because I had already gone there [the U.S.] to work. . . . And [Miles] said, “ah, if I could only record all this music, it’s too bad I can’t record them all on one record.” . . . When Airto translated it for me, I said, now let’s see how he is. [Airto] told him that I had also come (to the U.S.) to make my own record and that if he thought that I would just give him all this music—what’s up with that? He saw I was playing with him, because I was teasing him. He understood this. . . . After that day, we had a beautiful regard for each other.” (L. Neto 1999:52–53)

 

      Miles ended up recording three songs on Live Evil (CBS 1972), “Little Church” (Ingrejinha), “Nem um Talvez,” “Selim” (‘Miles’ spelled backwards), the last being an alternate take of “Nem um Talvez.” Recorded in two sessions, June 3–4, 1970, the compositions are free tone poems, slow rubato melodies that float over a murky stew of electric pianos, organ, saxophone, bass, and percussion. “Little Church” is a beautiful yearning melody played by Miles on muted trumpet doubled by Hermeto’s whistling and voice. Dave Holland’s electric bass is prominent in the mix as a melodic counterpoint. Everything else—two electric pianos, organ, electric guitar, sitar, and soprano sax—blends together in a reverb–drenched, shimmering background. “Nem um Talvez” and “Selim” explore a similar texture but with a darker, more melancholy feeling. Strangely, when Live Evil was released, all three compositions were credited to Davis, something that was only partially resolved through a lawsuit Hermeto brought against CBS. On the 1997 CD reissue of Live Evil, Hermeto was given composition credit only for “Little Church.” Miles was still listed as the composer of both “Nem Um Talvez” and “Selim.”[15] Following the recording sessions, Miles asked Hermeto to substitute for pianist Chick Corea on a tour of Japan, but because of delays within the Brazilian bureaucracy, Hermeto’s official papers did not arrive in time for him to make the trip. But simply by recording with Miles, Hermeto received a kind of cultural “seal of approval” that opened many doors for him in the U.S.

      During his stay in the United States, Hermeto decided to let his hair and beard grow, a decision that was crucial in the development of his public image and persona. Jovino Santos Neto told me that Hermeto was very proud of his new look. Before this, Hermeto’s photo was rarely included on record covers because he was considered “too ugly.”[16] But after his change of appearance, Hermeto’s flowing white hair and beard became iconic symbols of his individualistic creative path.

 

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[13] The 1994 CD re–release of Seeds on the Ground (One Way Records) combined both LPs.

[14] While in the U.S., Hermeto also recorded with other Brazilian artists including: Edu Lobo, Cantiga de Longe (Elenco 1970) and Sergio Mendes presents Lobo (A&M 1970); and Antonio Carlos Jobim, Tide (A&M 1970). After spending six months in New York, he moved to Los Angeles, living at Edu Lobo’s home for another six months during the recording of Lobo’s two LPs. Other records on which he appeared as a sideman at the time include: Donald Byrd, Electric Byrd (Blue Note 1970) and Duke Pearson, It Could Only Happen with You (Blue Note 1970).

[15] This would not be the first time that Miles had taken credit for other people’s compositions. Both saxophonist Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson and pianist Bill Evans claimed that Miles had stolen their compositions. According to Airto, he and Hermeto were forced to sue Columbia to regain the rights to these compositions, ultimately succeeding only in the case of “Little Church.” In recent conversations Hermeto told me that despite this incident, he and Miles remained friends up until the trumpeter’s death in 1991.

[16] Jovino Santos Neto commented on this in an email, writing that during a tour organized by Rhodia (who sponsored the band Brazilian Octopus), “The organizers (this was a fashion show) did not want to hire Hermeto for the gig because of his looks, so all the other musicians said "he stays, or we leave", and [Rhodia] had to take him. Also, on the original cover of Som 4, only Hermeto's hand is visible, even though the other guys had their faces on the cover. In my opinion, Hermeto's change of public persona had to do with the freedom he was experiencing in the vibrant jazz scene in NY in the early 70s, a lot of people had long hair then, and maybe he just asked "Why not?". The funny thing is that when he came home after 9 months, his children ran away screaming, afraid of the long haired guy with a beard that showed up at the gate” (personal communication 2002).