By Tatiana Reyes Masterson | English edition: Diana Booker
When we think about the current Jazz scene, we have to consider how Brazilian couple, Airto Moreira and Flora Purim influenced the direction of this musical style. Flora, born in Rio de Janeiro, and Airto, born in Itaiopolis (Santa Catarina state), came to the United States in 1967 where they decided to continue investing in their musical careers. Flora arrived first and Airto arrived right after her. The truth is that Airto decided to come just to take her back to Brazil, but he ended up staying as well.
It has been almost four decades of extraordinary recordings, live concerts, workshops and musical research. Flora Purim is considered synonymous with Brazilian Jazz. Along with a rare six-octave range she possesses a seductive voice, full of emotion which discloses all the love and devotion for her work. She has had two Grammy nominations for best female Jazz performance and was chosen best Jazz singer by Down Beat magazine four times.
Aside from his partnership with Flora, Airto who has been a musician since thirteen years of age, develops works in world music and is also a producer and educator in several countries. He is recognized by producers and teachers everywhere as the most popular percussionist in the world. The impact of his work has been so great, that Down Beat magazine created a Percussion category in its annual poll among critics and readers.
Airto has won as best percussionist more than twenty times since 1973. He is known for mixing the unique sounds of his “toys” and his voice. His pandeiro solo is known and admired everywhere he goes. The song “Celebration Suite” also known as “Samba de Janeiro” is his trademark. With this song he garnered a gold record and since 1997 it has been used as the theme of the Soccer World Cup, as well as in many TV commercials, and has been extensively rerecorded by artists around world.
Flora and Airto won the Grammy two times for their participation on the “Planet Drum” album with Mickey Hart,
Grateful Dead drummer (best World Music album) and on the album “Live at the Royal Festival Hall” with Dizzy Gillespie and the United Nations Orchestra (best Jazz album). The story of this couple’s influence in Jazz began on in the second day of Flora’s arrival in New York. Flora attempted to enter the Club Baron in Harlem, but the doorman was giving her a hard time. Behind him was Thelonious Monk, who witnessed what was happening. Politely, he told the doorman that Flora was his friend and invited her to enter the club.
Flora had never seen Thelonious Monk before. He sat Flora at the table with “Baroness Nika”. Flora also didn’t know who the Baroness was and only realized what had happened after Thelonious sat down at the piano and started to play. At the club on the same night, Flora also saw Wayne Shorter, Art Blakey, Carmen McRae and Miles Davis. Flora’s idols were all there. Richard Davis and Chick Corea were also present, but Flora didn’t know Chick at the time.
Duke Pearson was one of the first American musicians who invited Flora to perform with him onstage and on his album. After that, she toured with Gil Evans where she recognized the changes in her life and career. Her reputation as an extraordinary singer led her to work with Chick Corea and Stan Getz.
After his arrival in New York, Airto began to play with important musicians such as as Reggie Workman, JJ Johnson, Cedar Walton and bass player Walter Booker. It was because of Booker that Airto started performing with Cannonball Adderley, Lee Morgan, Paul Desmond and Joe Zawignul. In 1970, Zawignul recommended Airto to Miles Davis for a recording session for the “Bitches Brew”album.
After that, Davis invited Airto, along with Hermeto Pascoal, to join his group which at the time included Wayne Shorter, Dave Holland, Jack De Johnette, Chick Corea, and later on, John McLaughlin and Keith Jarrett. Airto was part of Miles Davis’ group for two years and appears in “Live/Evil”, “Live at the Fillmore”, “On the Corner”, “The Isle of Wight”, “Bitches Brew” and later at the “Fillmore Sessions”. “The Isle of Wight” was video taped live and today is part of a brilliant documentary made by director Murray Lerner.
A Funny Fact: way before Airto played with Miles Davis, he went to a club to watch Miles’ performance. Without knowing how to speak English very well, Airto tried to tell Miles he was a fan of his. Irritated, Miles ordered security to remove Airto from the club. Airto laughs when he tells this story and to this day still is not sure if Miles ever realized he was the same person.
Airto was invited to be part of the original formation of the group “Weather Report” with Wayne Shorter, Joe Zavignul, Miroslav Vitous and Alphonse Mouzon and with this group, recorded the album “The Weather Report”. Right after, he joined Chick Corea’s original “Return to Forever” with Flora Purim, Joe Farell and Stanley Clarke. Together they recorded the albums “Return to Forever” and “Light as a Feather”.
His work with Quincy Jones, Herbie Hancock, George Duke, Paul Simon, Carlos Santana, Gil Evans, Gato Barbieri, Michael Brecker, The Crusaders, Chicago and many others, including his participation on movie soundtracks such as “The Exorcist”, “Last Tango in Paris”, “King of the Gypsies” and “Apocalypse Now”, represents a small part of Airto’s contribution to the music scene over the last three decades. Flora also collaborated on the soundtrack of the following movies: “Apocalypse Now”, “Sharky’s Machine” e “Who is Afraid of Virginia Wolf”. In 2002, Brazil’s President Fernando Henrique Cardoso named Airto Moreira and Flora Purim to the Order of Rio Branco, one of Brazil’s highest honors.
Thanks to the sensitivity of the artists that Flora and Airto encountered throughout their careers, they have been able to leave their genuinely Brazilian contribution. These Jazz artists, with broad ideas, created this fusion that went beyond traditional Jazz. They created a more “colorful” music, with additional nuances and rhythms.
It was discovered that Brazilian rhythm could be incorporated with Jazz by adapting the rhythm to the melody, and even playing Brazilian music in Jazz format, something that Flora Purim and Airto Moreira became masters at. In spite of all the definitions, it is difficult to classify the type of music that Flora and Airto play. We can just call it “music from heart”. *For more information about the artist please visit their official websites: www.florapurim.com and www.airto.com
* Tatiana Reyes Masterson is a Brazilian publicist and artist booking manager living in Los Angeles. This article is based on stories, biographies and interviews with the artists.