All eyes are currently on Brazil and the World Cup taking place there, but the South American country is not only a bastion of soccer wizardry, it also produces enchanting musical sounds.
The forthcoming slot of this year’s Hot Jazz series will be fronted by 59-year-old Brazilian-born, US-resident pianist Jovino Santos- Neto, along with compatriots vocalist Joana Duah and drummer Daniel Lima, Israeli bassist Assaf Hakimi and popular Brazilian-born Israeli percussionist-vocalist Joca Perpignan. The quintet will perform six shows between July 5 and 12 in Ganei Tikva, Herzliya, Modi’in, Tel Aviv and Haifa.
The program for the shows will be based on the sizable oeuvre of 73-year-old Brazilian composer and pianist Sérgio Mendes. While Santos- Neto is happy to offer his readings of Mendes’s works he says the venture is something of a departure for him.
“I usually don’t do tribute shows, because it’s very hard to recreate something from someone so special.”
But it is not as if Santos-Neto had to be coerced into to coming here to salute one of his mentors.
“In this case there are two special factors,” he explains. “The first one is that I grew up listening to the music of Sérgio Mendes. When I was 14-15 that’s all I really listened to back in Rio. He was very popular. All the kids used to get his records and get together at weekends, and we’d dance at all kinds of social gatherings. His music was always very well done.”
Mendes has been one the brightest stars in the Brazilian musical firmament for half a century.
He has put out close to 60 records to date based on a heady mix of bossa nova seasoned with jazz and funk. In 2012 he was nominated for an Oscar as cowriter of the song “Real In Rio” from the animated film Rio. He has collaborated with leading artists from all sorts of market sectors over the years, including American hip hop band The Black Eyed Peas, with whom he recorded a new version of his 1966 breakthrough hit “Mas que Nada,” in 2006.
The teenage fan eventually grew up to take his place alongside his musical idol.
“Now I am a professional musician and a friend of Sérgio Mendes, and as a recording artist I play on the record for which Sérgio won a Grammy in 1992 [Brasileiro],” says Santos-Neto proudly. “I have known him for many years now. Actually, I told him about this project I am bringing to Israel, and he was very happy and honored.”
There is clearly a distinct advantage in performing a tribute while the source of inspiration is still with us.
“He actually helped me choose some of the songs,” continues Santos-Neto. “He helped me put together a program that would bemost representative of his career, and I think I chose a great band for the gigs in Israel, and we’re going to have a lot of fun.”
In truth, there was more to Santos- Neto’s early music upbringing than just Mendes’s work.
“In Brazil, when I was growing up, you were exposed to everything,” he recalls. “There was such a diversity of music on the radio and on TV, and there were local clubs where people played music, so between the ages of 13 and, say, 18 I was exposed to a huge variety of music, including Indian music, classical music, rock & roll, soul and of course the music of Brazil.”
That expansive soundscape spawned an all-embracing approach to the art form.
“When you grow up on an eclectic diet of music it makes you look at music in a very natural way. Most people go with the styles they like, and they don’t know anything about the styles they don’t like. But, for me, music is like food. I don’t want to eat bread all day, do I?” he laughs. “I like different flavors and tastes, and music gives me that option. You know I can work with five or six different types of music in one day. I love that.”
While that may sound a mite confusing to the average Joe or Eduardo, Santos-Neto says he has no such problems.
“You just have to stay focused. You know music is a very good tool for focusing, otherwise I would go crazy moving from thing to another, but you have to practice and stick to the music, and work things through.”
The Brazilian has been working on his craft for over 40 years, and he has largely been doing his own thing.
“I started on piano when I was 12,” he says. “I took some lessons but I got bored with it and I started recording songs from the radio, and I tried to follow the music on the piano. That was always very hard, but if you do it over and over again you slowly get close to the sound, and you get a different sense about the music by playing by ear.”
That early self-discipline eventually stood Santos-Neto in good stead when he hooked up with acclaimed Brazilian multi-instrumentalist Hermeto Pascoal.
“When I worked with Hermeto I was able to combine the reading of the music, the writing of the music and the hearing of the music. That was good training.”
The Pascoal gig was a big break for Santos-Neto, and changed the course of his life.
“I met him in 1977 and I never expected him to ask me to play with him. I wasn’t looking for a job in music back then. I was actually a biologist, studying for a degree in the Amazon.”
Serendipity took over.
“He moved into a neighborhood close to where my parents lived. I admired his music so I just went over to knock on his door and say hello,” Santos-Neto recalls. “But he asked me to play a gig with him just six days after that. That was a shock and it was the beginning of a 15-year apprenticeship with Hermeto.”
Two more decades down the line Santos-Neto will display to us the fruits of that berth with Pascoal, and his ensuing work as a leader in Brazilian music and across a wide swathe of jazz fusion and other styles. One thing is for sure, there will be plenty of good vibes around when Santos-Neto and his band hit the stage here.
Santos-Neto will perform in at Mercaz Habama in Ganei Tikva on July 5 (9 p.m.), Zappa Herzliya on July 8 (doors open 8:15 p.m., show starts 10 p.m.), Einan Hall in Modi’in on July 9 (9 p.m.), Tel Aviv Museum on July 10 and 11 (9 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. respectively) and Abba Hushi House in Haifa on July 12 (9 p.m.).For tickets and more information: http://eng.hotjazz.co.il/.