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São Paulo, 1971–1976


      Nenê, who had played drums in the final edition of Quarteto Novo, became one of the founding members of Hermeto’s group. He remembered that it took Hermeto a while to settle on the right instrumental combination:


He called me and I started [playing] with him again. . . . We started to rehearse, rehearse—he had various formations. The first was two guitars, acoustic bass, drums, percussion, and he played piano. After that it changed to horns, we had three horns plus a rhythm section. We recorded the first record [A Música Livre de Hermeto Paschoal] and also participated in the Festival of Song in Rio. And we did a ton of things in São Paulo. At that time, the media access for instrumental music was very interesting. We played on all the TV programs of the time like Hebe, which was this popular program on TV Tupi, and Fantastico, on TV Globo [both these stations were based in Rio], and TV Bandeirantes and TV Cultura [in São Paulo]. We played all these programs with Hermeto’s group.  
The group rehearsed every day. . . . I was interested because I already knew Hermeto and knew that, for me, he was a school, you know? In reality, Hermeto was a school of music. . . the best school that we have today. You are not going to learn anything that Hermeto teaches in any school, they don’t have the knowledge. The level is much lower. . . . He lived in Moca [a suburb of São Paulo]. . . Every day I would go there, early in the morning, typically around 8 AM. The rehearsal for the rhythm section would last from eight until noon. The older musicians, studio guys, they couldn’t rehearse, they were always recording, so there wasn’t a pianist. So at the time, he said, “Look, the thing is, you are going to have to play piano. You need to find another drummer to double with you, so you can go to the piano. It was crazy. When I was at the piano, [percussionist Anunciação] played drums, when I played drums, he went to percussion, we kept doing this stuff. This went on until we recorded the first record, and then it still went on. I played piano and drums on that record. (Nenê interview 2000)


      Besides establishing this pattern of long daily rehearsals, to the public Hermeto was also becoming a legendary, eccentric character. With his albino complexion, long flowing hair and beard, and his penchant for colorful shirts, he cut quite a figure. The press began calling him “O Bruxo” (the Wizard) and dubbed his music “hermetica,” a title he hated. In his quest to avoid labels, he took to calling his work “universal music.” His concerts became events, or “true tribal–sound happenings,” as one journalist described a June 1972 show in São Paulo (Varela 1972:730).

He got more and more adventurous with the conceptual expansion of his music. His concerts were much awaited, because of the wild improvisations that took place, and carefully crafted arrangements were paired with totally loose improvised passages. According to Hermeto, these developments came as a realization of his life experiences, of living in the rural countryside as a child, and merging those sounds with those of the big city where he was now living. He often talks of “bringing the farm animals to a busy city corner, and also bringing the sounds of a factory to a quiet forest.” (J. Neto 1999:3)

       Surprisingly, the group developed an initial audience among children, playing in primary schools, high schools and then universities. Of this time he would say, “the most childish people are adults who think that music for kids must be foolish. The children could understand this modern music very easily. The music was exploring a lot, with very heavy harmony and free–style ideas. Sometimes we performed with farm animals on–stage, making sounds—chickens, pigs, cows” (Pareles 1989:C24)

      To help pay the bills, Hermeto began composing advertising jingles, working for an ad agency headed by the husband and wife team of Walter Souza and Teresa Santos. They owned their own studio, Estúdio Eldorado, and gave Hermeto free rein to explore new sounds and arranging techniques. He created memorable themes for companies such as Probel, Bamerindus and Itaú América.[18] Nenê, who was a constant observer at these sessions, told me that:

I learned a lot of things about orchestration from [Hermeto], because when he wrote arrangements—he was doing lots of jingles for Radio [studio] Eldorado—he would start to write arrangements in the morning and I was always there in his house practicing piano, so when he would start an arrangement, I would stay close by, watching him write. He liked to do it—he was living music twenty–four hours a day, you know? If you arrived at his house and asked him, “Why are you doing this here?” he would start to explain everything and show you—without being a teacher—it was a really cool thing. And you would end up understanding it.   I learned [arranging] from him, and later I would carry out his business. I was his office boy, taking his files of arrangements . . . We would take a taxi to the [studio] where the orchestra would be set up. We’d arrive and I’d pass out the parts to the musicians. . . and then stay there listening. It was a type of lesson. One day I’d have a lesson in his house, on another I’d hear it live [in the studio]. . . It was fabulous. (Nenê interview 2000).

      Hermeto recorded A Música Livre de Hermeto Paschoal (The Free Music of Hermeto Paschoal) in 1973.[19] Produced by Rubinho Barsotti, drummer for the famous Zimbo Trio, the record juxtaposed three of Hermeto compositions: “Bebê,” “Plin,” and “Sereiarei,” with Luiz Gonzaga’s “Asa Branca,” Pixinguinha’s classic standard “Carinhoso,” and a fourteen minute version of his parent’s composition “O Galho da Roseira.” The LP featured his working band of the time: Hermeto on flute, saxophone, and piano; Nenê on drums and piano; Manzinho, Hamleto, and Bola on woodwinds; Alberto on bass; and Annunciação on percussion and drums. The record was very eclectic, employing animal sounds, spoken word, free improvisation, and lots of humor. In his liner notes, Hermeto wrote that “to avoid influencing anyone, I don’t want to speak of the ‘sound’ of this record. Stay free, seek to understand it, and come to your own conclusions. How would it be if everyone thought as I do?” (Pascoal 1973). Despite the fact that A Música Livre sold 50,000 copies and was critically lauded (the record received the São Paulo Critics Association prizes for best soloist and arranger), Hermeto didn’t like his treatment by the recording company and vowed never to record in Brazil again. He began advising his audiences that if they wanted to listen to his music at home they should bring a tape recorder to his shows (Cabral 2000:12).

      In 1975 Hermeto returned to U.S., recording and performing with Flora and Airto and producing his third record, Slaves Mass (Warner Brothers 1976). While preparing for this record, Hermeto accompanied Airto to Fantasy Studios in Berkeley, California, where the percussionist was producing saxophonist Cannonball Adderley’s record, Lovers (Fantasy 1976). Inspired by what he heard, Hermeto, who told me that he already had a tune brewing in his head, wrote it out that night and arrived in the studio next day with the finished composition, “Nascente” (Rising), which Cannonball promptly recorded. Sadly, within a week of this session, Cannonball died, inspiring Hermeto to create a tribute to the late saxophonist on his own record, Slaves Mass. The track, “Cannon,” was recorded in a darkened studio where Hermeto first put down a seven minute flute solo, after which Flora Purim and Airto joined him in the studio to overdub an ethereal conversation about Cannonball in both English and Portuguese.

      Slaves Mass also featured two pigs performing on the record’s title track. The two animals, whose participation involved a “cash payment to their owner,” were “played” by Airto and “sang” in bass and soprano voices (Souza 1977:110). Another track, “Chorinho pra Ele,” was written for Hermeto’s deceased brother, Enésio, who had played cavaquinho and bass. The tune has since become a standard in the choro repertoire. Later, during a concert in Los Angeles, Hermeto did little to discourage his wild reputation:

While playing piano solo, [Hermeto] discovered that the sustain pedal was broken. Therefore, he began to beat on the lid of the piano and used his feet to hit the keys. The public applauded. On the next day, there were two pianos on stage. He wanted to know why and was told that one was to play and the other was to break. (Cabral 2000:13).[20]


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[18] Both Bamerindus and Itaú are banks. Probel sold mattresses. Hermeto must have written some memorable corporate themes because both Itiberê Zwarg and Jovino Santos Neto were able to remember and sing some of his jingle melodies for me.

[19] I had long wondered about this spelling of Hermeto’s last name. Jovino Santos Neto explained that “this is a common mistake. There are two accepted spellings of the name: Paschoal and Pascoal. There was a famous cultural advocate in Brazil called Paschoal Carlos Magno, and somehow many people spell Hermeto's name like that also. His name is really Pascoal” (personal communication 5/29/01).

[20] Saxophonist Carlos Malta told me that Hermeto had a similarly disdainful attitude toward electronic instruments. On one occasion Hermeto heaved a “misbehaving” synthesizer to the floor and proceeded to dowse it in beer (personal communication, August 1992).