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An Authentic Flavour of BrazilCopyright © 1999The Scotsman, 1995
Almeida, LaurindoThe Brazilian guitarist and composer Laurindo Almeida was closely identified with four different major genres across a lengthy career which began as a staff guitarist and bandleader at a radio station in Rio de Janeiro. Brazilian music remained an essential constituent of much of his subsequent work, whether played straight or combined with his other major loves, jazz and classical music.
All three of these elements emerged in his other important musical preoccupation, the composition of film scores. He moved to Los Angeles in 1947 to work in the city's film and television studios, and went on to compose or contribute to scores for a number of very successful films, including such well-known movies as Viva Zapata, The Old Man and the Sea, A Star is Born and The Godfather. He donated his personal library of scores, compositions and arrangements to California State University.
While studio work absorbed a great deal of his time and creative energy over the years, Almeida also made a considerable reputation for himself as a jazz performer, although it is reasonable to assume that reputation would have been even greater had he not chosen to divide his attention across so many diverse musical areas.
His sophisticated harmonic imagination and buoyant rhythmic feel caught the ear of Stan Kenton on his arrival in Los Angeles, and he was a featured soloist in Kenton's orchestra from 1947-49. Almeida also led his own small groups at this time, and cut one of his best known jazz recordings, Braziliance Vol 1, with saxophonist Bud Shank in 1953, the first of several recordings they made together, including a second Braziliance album in 1958.
The music of this period prefigures the bossa nova craze of the early 1960s, and it was his easy mastery of the form which really established Almeida as a widely recognised name in American music. His Viva Bossa Nova album reached the dizzy heights of No 13 on the U.S. album charts in 1962, a rare distinction for a jazz-based recording, while Guitar from Ipanema won him one of his five Grammy awards in 1965.
He worked with the Modern Jazz Quartet in 1963, and subsequently toured Europe with the band in 1964. A decade later, he joined forces with bassist Ray Brown, saxophonist Bud Shank and a succession of drummers to form The LA Four, an important mainstream group of the period which recorded several albums, including The LA Four Scores! (1975) and Just Friends (1978).
In between these projects, Almeida had started to concentrate more on performing classical guitar recitals, often in the company of his wife, the soprano Deltra Eamon. He recorded that ultimate classical guitar "standard", Rodrigo's Concierto de Aranjuez, in 1978, and his own First Concerto for Guitar and Orchestra in 1979, as well as an album of duets for classical guitar and flute with Bud Shank in 1982.
Almeida worked in a duet with the Latin-influenced jazz guitarist Charlie Byrd at that time, recording Brazilian Soul (1980) and Latin Odyssey (1982), and later returning to the studio with Byrd for Music of the Brazilian Masters (1989). He formed a trio with jazz guitarist Larry Coryell and classical guitarist Sharon Isbin, and was later re-united with Bud Shank on Baa-Too-Kee (1993).
He will be remembered above all for the distinctive subtlety and grace of his playing, and the imaginative way in which he was able to bring together elements of his native music with jazz. He paved the way for the enormous popularity of bossa nova, but continued to develop that fusion throughout his career. He died of cancer, and was survived by his wife and two children.