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Rio de Janeiro, 1976–1980


      Returning to Brazil, Hermeto put together a new group featuring the “São Paulo Rhythm Section” of Lelo Nazario on piano, his brother Zé Eduardo Nazario on drums, and bassist Zeca Assumpção. The group played together for almost two years and began featuring several Rio de Janeiro-based horn players: Mauro Senise, Raul Mascarenhas, and Nivaldo Ornelas. In addition to playing a number of concerts, the group recorded three of Hermeto’s compositions and his arrangement of "Casinha Pequenina" over two days in Rogerio Duprat’s studio, Vice-Versa. The recordings were mixed on the third day. The tapes were never released and the master is now presumed lost but fortunately, keyboardist Lelo Nazario made a copy and kept it in his archive. The recordings have been released by Far Out Recordings as Viajando Com O Som (2017).

      Hermeto relocated to Rio de Janeiro in 1976, settling in Jabour, a tiny suburb near Bangu on outskirts of Rio’s western zone. Hermeto’s parents were already living in the neighborhood and he also had two brothers who lived in Rio. Jabour and Bangu are situated between two mountain ranges where the heat during the summer reaches suffocating temperatures, baking the land. The area routinely records the highest temperatures in Rio de Janeiro. For Hermeto, the heat and the slow pace of life in Jabour reminded him of where he grew up in Alagoas. Having earned a good sum of money in the United States from his recording, he was able to buy a house large enough to hold his family of six children. The two–story home, where he lived into the early 2000s, also had a large upstairs room where he soon began rehearsing a new band. As with his São Paulo band, the personnel of the Rio band remained in flux for several years. Nenê moved with Hermeto to Jabour along with his wife of the time, Rosemarie “Zabele” Tidner, who sang and played percussion, guitar, and cavaquinho in the group. In 1977, bassist Itiberê Zwarg, another São Paulo musician who Hermeto had known from the studio scene in São Paulo, moved to Rio to join the band, followed soon after by percussionist Pernambuco (Antonio Luis de Santana) and the Carioca keyboardist Jovino Santos Neto. A number of fine Rio de Janeiro–based musicians passed through the band in the latter years of the 1970s including trumpeter Márcio Montarroyos, saxophonist/flutists Mauro Senise, Cacau (Claudio Araujo de Queiroz), Nivaldo Ornelas, and guitarists Ricardo Silveira and Antonio Celso.

      In 1976, soon after he arrived in Rio, Hermeto appeared over five nights at the Sala Corpo/Som (Body/Sound Hall) at the Museum of Modern Art, playing before an estimated 4,723 spectators, the largest crowd the museum had ever hosted. An article in the weekly magazine Veja described  the event:  "After being cursed with bad luck by record labels and exalted by critics as 'a genius,' Hermeto reached, in the past week, the category of a superstar, who fills theaters and is idolized by the public. It has been a long road for the 40 year old Alagoano [someone from the state of Alagoas] Hermeto since the time of bossa nova" (Chrysóstomo 1976:98). The article goes on to note that because Hermeto could neither afford a car nor drive because of his eyesight, he often spent as much as three hours traveling by bus to his home in Jabour after a show. Some of these shows featured Hermeto’s 70–year old father, Pascoal, playing accordion. The older Pascoal would often juxtapose his son’s music against traditional northeastern folksongs, demonstrating, Hermeto asserted, that “there is no such thing as modern music or traditional music. All that exists is music” (personal communication, March 2000).

      In 1978, Hermeto made a triumphant appearance at the First São Paulo International Jazz Festival, appearing with his new band consisting of Cacau on tenor, baritone sax, and flute; Nenê on drums; bassist Itiberê Zwarg; Pernambuco on percussion; Antonio Celso on electric guitar and mandolin; and pianist Jovino Santos Neto. The band’s performance proved to be a breakthrough for both Hermeto’s career and for Brazilian instrumental music in general. In the eyes of the public and the press, Hermeto proved himself to be the equal of any foreign jazz musician, several of whom sat in during his performance:


Everything conspired for the grand aesthetic explosion of the festival. When Hermeto Pascoal entered the stage early Monday morning, few could anticipate how much art the ‘magician’ would have the capacity to create. And until 4:30 in the morning, Hermeto created non–stop, never taking a break to breathe. Astonished musicians, technicians and the public embarked on a continuous improvisation. He began playing an old washbasin and—after playing flute, keyboards, percussion, and telling jokes of fine humor—ended by throwing an electric organ to the floor. Without being coaxed, pianist Chick Corea (“Chico Coéia,” according to Hermeto), guitarist John McLaughlin, and saxophonist Stan Getz descended from their pedestals and participated in the sound–party of baiãos and frevos. Hermeto, the man of the house, facilitate everything for his guests, changing the subject from two to three chords whenever one of the visiting musicians ceased to have anything to say. (Moraes 1978:88)[21]


      At the end of his set, the organizers refused to let Hermeto return for an encore, causing a near riot. As the lights in the auditorium were raised, the audience began booing, smashing chairs, and attacking the flowers that decorated the sides of the stage until the festival producers implored Hermeto to return before the spectators destroyed the hall.

      Following his grand success, Hermeto declared, somewhat tongue in cheek: “I am the greatest musician in the world!” He was the subject of major articles in three of Brazil’s leading magazines: Visão, Movimento, and Veja, all of whom allowed him ample space to sound off on a number of subjects. He berated the festival for omitting Brazilian artists such as Edu Lobo and pianist Luiz Eça, and criticized Brazilian instrumental musicians in general for being disorganized and too concerned with making money instead of improving their art. “We could make enough money to eat and dress ourselves and still have time to dedicate to music. So, I think this festival gave us a lesson for our music. . . . My people, prepare yourselves, study, and when your opportunity arrives, you will be ready to perform” (Galvão 1978:20). He expressed his irritation over the obsession with foreign musical stars, reacting angrily to one musician’s admiring comment, “Hermeto, you are going to have the opportunity to play with Chick Corea.” Why, Hermeto asked, did no one think to say that Corea was going to have the opportunity to play with him? (Galvão 1978).

      Most of the musicians appearing at the festival were housed in the same hotel, leading to a lot of cross-cultural music making. Saxophonist Stan Getz (or “O Estanguete,” as Hermeto pronounced it) even rehearsed with the group prior to his participation. Back at the band’s hotel room, Hermeto added a part for Getz on two compositions, “Forro em Santo André” and “Forro Brasil.” Hermeto later claimed the experience transformed Getz’s musical interpretation:

He [usually] plays in only one style, one color. . . . When he played with our group, it was another Stan Getz. He became unrecognizable. He began to feel a freedom he hadn't known before; he never imagined that Brazil had something different [musically]. He got really emotional in rehearsal and asked to play with us. We explained that our music was completely different than his, but he was a good musician and could play anything. So then, Stan Getz played forró. He was completely changed. (Galvão 1978:21)


      The performance is preserved on YouTube, and Getz does play in an inspired manner, taking long solo that climaxed in a flurry of discordant notes that took him in a decidely free direction, a far cry from the bossa nova recordings he’d made in the early 1960s.

      Neither English guitarist John McLaughlin or pianist Chick Corea rehearsed ahead of the performance, but they were so excited by the performance that Hermeto had to restrain them and make them wait for their turn to play.


In the middle of the concert, [Chick Corea] sent me a note saying that he couldn't sit still, he had to play with us. He came on stage querendo morder [“champing at the bit”], like a lion at the piano. He wanted everyone to stop and just leave the two of us playing piano in order to show that Chick had won two prizes as the best keyboardist and composer and to see that Hermeto Pascoal, the Brazilian, was a pianist, arranger, and composer, who didn't owe anything to Chick Corea. After [we played our duet], I . . . asked that he let our pianist [Jovino] play, because we were presenting our work and everyone else was playing. And Chick is a very intelligent guy. . . he understood that it was his time to leave. But he remained, waiting to play again. I never called him back only because the atmosphere didn't need anything more, and he knew this. He waited [backstage] in order to tell us that jamming with the group and me had been a very emotional experience for him. This is important, because he also recognized the group, not only Hermeto. Hermeto is just one member of the group. (ibid.:21)


      Hermeto Pascoal’s statement above can be seen as a critique European cultural hegemony as symbolized by musicians such as Stan Getz, John McLaughlin, and Chick Corea. In Hermeto’s view, their playing became transformed, their style no longer reflecting a jazz conceptualization but instead being absorbed into Hermeto’s Brazilian worldview. By demonstrating his mastery of both foreign and national musical genres, Hermeto forcefully relocates and combines diverse styles within his own highly personal aesthetic domain. The beauty of Hermeto’s art is that he does this not with violence or a desire to dominate, but in a way that opens up a space for everyone, musicians and listeners alike, to discover new avenues of self–expression.

      In 1978, Hermeto released his fourth LP, Zabumbê–bum–á (Warner), and followed that with a triumphant performance at the 1979 Montreux jazz festival in Switzerland, a recording of which was released as Ao Vivo em Montreux (Warner 1979). The group also toured the south of Brazil and Argentina with Dizzy Gillespie, and performed at the second São Paulo International Jazz Festival, this time featuring his old Quarteto Novo bandmate Heraldo do Monte as a guest artist.


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[21] Jovino Santos Neto told me that in Brazil, festivals had traditionally been thought of as competitions, Even though the São Paulo jazz festival was not a competition, many fans and journalists treated it like one and the general consensus was that Hermeto, along with Chick Corea and John McLaughlin, had “won” the festival.