Thursday, September 13, 2012

On bended knee for Brazilian legend Hermeto Pascoal

In the late 70s/early 80s, Brazilian music was very much the scene.  A lot of musicians were living in LA, so I was lucky to be able to hang in the clubs (even as a teenager) and hear Airto Moreira, Flora Purim, Raul de Souza, Moacir Santos, Sebastian Neto, Joao Donato and others.  I got to know and played with some of them. They would always speak about this cat Hermeto Pascoal, who taught a few of them.  

So, I dug around and found his records and was astonished.  I learned what an experimenter and how progressive he is.  Coincidentally, a few years later, Sergio Mendes asked me to join his band and over 8 years my Brazilian music education expanded.  I was introduced to Ivan Lins, Djavan, Edu Lobo and others.

Fast forward 30 years, I’m in Sardinia playing at the Sant Anna Arressi jazz festival and who’s on the bill, but Hermeto.  I was like a kid in a music store!  He brought his band from Brazil that has a reputation to play really tight because rumor has it that they live together commune style in the country and play every day.  They were unbelievable playing a wide variety of music with no space btw the tunes.

At one point, Hermeto brought out a melodica.  He was playing directly into the instrument (without tube or mouthpiece) and it sounded more like a harmonica.  He was walking around the stage like a horn player.  Since I played oboe all thru school and dabbled with sax and flute, I wanted to go back to my past playing a wind instrument, so he inspired me to buy a melodica.

After Sardinia, I was in Naples and found the music street and the shop that sold melodicas - the exact one Hermeto had – a Yamaha in ox-blood color.   On a tangent, there was an 80s (?) poster on the wall of the music store for Yamaha drums and guess who was on it – none other than Peter Erskine!  Erskine is omnipresence!

So, I got a new lease on my musician life with this portable instrument. I decided to be a street musician and for three nights in sultry Naples, I pulled out my melodica and joined the musicians entertaining the dancing men and women.  Another night, I walked into a restaurant and there was a guy playing a cahone and a big Italian tambourine to people eating, so I whipped out my axe and improvised on a Neopolitan folk song.  Lorna dared me to find a street corner and play for pay, but no one was impressed or took compassion on me!  I guess I need to work on my melodica skills!