Moacir Santos


Moacir Santos is without a doubt, one of the most important Brazilian music
personalities' this century. His life, his music, his career, everything that his being
and soul are made of, portrait the path full of danger and thorns that Afro
Brazilian people have to follow in order to get their message across.

Mr. Santos is if not the first, one of few Afro Brazilian that received the medal
of Rio Branco's order, given by Brazilian President.

Moacir, where were you born?
I was born in the far-off back country of Brazil. In the back country of Pernambuco, I'm not sure if it was Serra Talhada, or Bom Nome, some land in which my parents inherited, in the wilderness.

How many years of music?
I think I was 2 when I started with music, leading this little band of boys, babies, all naked, in the back country, a city with five streets called 'Flores', where I was raised until the age of fourteen.

But what would you play, all naked in 'Flores', small like that?
We would imitate the city hall's band, with any kind of cans as instruments.

You said you ran away when you were fourteen years old, from what did you run away?
I ran away from home.

Of your parents' house?
Of my parents' house. When my mother died, i was two years old, and I was adopted by a family with five brothers, we lived in a garage, which was given by one of those rich people who were called major, captain... But I ran away, because I thought in Flores, a city with five streets, it wouldn't be possible for me to expand my music, and besides that, I lived a very subjugated life, I was beaten up a lot, I was whipped, and didn't deserve it. A lady, who never got married, was who took care of me, and she use to beat me a lot, easily... in such way that ... for example, she would ask me to go to the store, which was very far... "Go, right away", she would say, and already beating me.

Before you even went? It's a unique education...
A very emotional one, but incorrect.

So, you ran away, and where did you go?
From Flores,I went to a place called Lagoa de Monteiro

But how did you go, by foot, by train?
I went in some guys' truck, who would frequently travel. A loading truck, which carried corn, beans... so, this one time I asked, and before I even asked, they said "Aren't you the boy who played clarinet in Lagoa de Monteiro?"

You already played the clarinet? How old were you, when you got a clarinet in your hands, seriously?
I think I was about eleven...

So you were going from city to city?
No, I went to Lagoa de Baixo, like my dad, the head of the family...

But wait, why didn't you stay with your father after your mother had died?
Because my father ran away, he abandoned our family, and he said he was forced to do so, to be a militant for one of those farm owners, against "Lampião", in the "Lampião" phase, so he went... but it doesn't justifies it...

And how did you end up going to Recife?
When I went to Rio Branco, I met Paixão, the man who taught me music for some time, and I went to live with his family, and they got me a job as the city hall's errand boy. I would clean, and take messages... and after, he moved to Recife, and I went with him. Recife was a city... I looked at the sea and felt something...

You had never seen the ocean?
Right, never, it's that colossal thing... Recife looked as if it wasn't real... with infinite streets... it looked like a painting... but some time after, Paixão, who liked to drink passion fruit juice with 'cachaça', this one day when he was drunk, punched me in the forehead, so I went away from his house.

When you left Paixão's house, did you stay in Recife?
I wanted to leave there as well, because there wasn't anything, so I went to Vila Bela, I'm returning to the back country...

And how was in 'Vila Bela'?
There was a circus there, and they needed a musician, to accompany Miss Jani, who danced and singed.

By then you were close to eighteen years old, right?
No, I was only sixteen, in two years all of that had happened, so we went to Pernambuco, and then Bahia, I liked the musicians, the band maestros who were called the band masters, and I found the best saxophones, for example in Petrolina... oh what a nice saxophone... each city a different saxophone. So, we went to Bahia, from one city to another... Bonfim... and another city after Bonfim which I don't remember... and I ended up in Salvador. I met people from the United States, people who went to Paris. It was at the time of the "Tabaris Casino".. war time, between 42, 43, and during war time at the "Tabaris Casino", there was a lot of foreign musicians, who played there, I never worked there, but learned from lots of their musician, the saxophone players... there was one who played with his saxophone horizontally, but he had a sound, they were monsters for me at that time. It was like a silver shower or a golden...silver. I was so enchanted with such demonstration and after I played there with the band as a demonstration, since I was a kid, I didn't have the age, that's why it took so long, bureaucracy... The tenent Paixão, who wasn't at all related to the other Paixão, he was the Salvador Brigade Director, but couldn't do anything, because the kid wasn't old enough, so weeks went by in Salvador, and I was already thinking in going back to my land, Pernambuco, after I heard that they were looking for me to play at one of those circus.

How would you support yourself, with the little money that you got?
Listen, I think it's very similar to the mouse, or cat... I only know that I'm alive until now. When I returned, I stopped by Ceara, because I wanted to walk anywhere, any place... Ceara? I would go and went, I just didn't want to die. So, I stopped by Crato, I passed by.

How would you get to all these places, by what?
Trucks, hitchhiking. For example Crato, I don't even know how I ended up being in Crato, every place I arrived, I would ask where the band was. Fortunately the people were curious, because I was a kid, so then I would play, and they said "very good", and showed me the way to the master's house, and he said that I could make myself comfortable there, and that he would see about getting me to be part of the band. I don't know if he said to the master, little Negro, or little fellow, but he said,"Look, he wants to play the saxophone", and besides that I had learned, in Bahia, how to sight read.

You learned to read music in Bahia?
To sight read, which is another thing, I knew music, slowly but I did. But when I went to read a rehearsal with Joca Trumpet, he said "have patience with this guy, because he is very promising, so, I learned on the spot, I involved myself with the whole thing of such form, and learned out of shame, ashamed from the musicians. Then I did this Carnival Ball, in Juazeiro, Bahia, about half an hour, 45 minutes, in a convertible car, and those guys would pass by, singing "Nega do Cabelo Duro" and other things, and they played a lot, that's what was so great about the Carnival in Crato, I earned some money, bought shoes and clothes, and then I went to Vila Bela. Because i was missing Pernambuco.

By then you already were eighteen, right?
No, I was seventeen.

So all of this took three years?

How old were you when you went to Recife, and permanently established yourself?
It was around 1943.

And there you were the radio orchestra director, right?
No, I wasn't part of the art world until after I walked around, in the states, small cities of Pernambuco, I went to Recife again, I was established there, but I went as an artist. They grabbed me, bought a alto saxophone, and I appeared on a show called 'Vitrine', a channel 8 show, but not even then I was established. Then I did some free lancers and things, I played in this one place, I think it was called, "Agua Fria", and then I heard that the Paraiba police department were looking for musicians, recruiting them, and that's how I ended up going to Paraiba and stayed there for about six months on the police dept.. Then I left, because the Severino Araujo Orchestra had left the Tabajara Radio in order to go to Rio de Janeiro. So I went to play at the Tabajara radio station, and with no time I was the leader of their jazz band, and that's when i got married. So, it took a long time before I went to RIo de Janeiro.

What about the phase in Rio de Janeiro?
Well as I left Recife, I worked in Rio de Janeiro, I was a musician of the National Radio Orchestra, and after, through connections from the old Paulo Tapajos, I was promoted to Maestro and arranger. There was a show called "When the maestros meet ', and that was my debut. On the National Radio, there were live shows with orchestras from eight a.m. until midnight, so there' was a lot of work for musicians and arrangers. ILike I, Radames Gnatalli, Alexandre Gnatalli, Lyrio Panicalli, Guarana, Lazolli, Eduardo Pathané, Zimbris, and many others worked there as well. I worked there for 19 years. I still found free time to give music lessons, I taught Nara Leão, Sergio Mendes, Roterto Menescal, Carlos Lyra, Peruze, Nelson Gonçalves, Quartera and many others. Through Baden Powell, I met Vinicius de Morais, who I have many compositions with, like "Se Voce Disser que Sim", "Menino Travesso" recorded by Elizete Cardozo. I wrote 'Nana', with Mario Telles, I recorded my first album "Coisas", then I spent some time in São Paulo as TV Record' s maestro. Then I went back to Rio, where I wrote the score to movies, and one of those scores that I wrote, for an american production called "Amor no Pacífico"I came here, to attend the premiere of the movie and decided to stay here to live.

Does the American have an ability to assimilate all this Brazilian springiness?
No, on the contrary, they have difficulty. I think that they learn very early everything too mathematically, leaving very little space to the spirit. For the American, it's easier to learn how to go to the moon, rather than understanding the samba, it seems.

And how was the start here in Los Angeles?
I use to live around Hollywood, looking for concerts on the newspapers, through the Musicians Union, I was picking the things in Hollywood. I ended up here by Sergio Mende's advice, I lived of my saxophone.

And as an arranger? Who did you work here as an arranger?
Here I never worked as an arranger.

Only on your own records?
Yes. I worked here with the movie thing. There is a thing called the ghost composer here in the United states. The ghost composer, is the one who does the things, but his name doesn't appear on the pilot, there is no credits, so there...

Wait a minute, It's more an orchestrater work than a composer?
Sometimes even composing as well. So I already had an idea of what a ghost composer was, it doesn't show, only earn some money. Sometimes I am the ghost of the ghost.
Supposing the ghost had a lot of work, so he gets yet another ghost...
Right, I was a ghost like that. I only got credit for a movie in which I participated, that I orchestrated, and wrote the music.

What movie was that?
It was 'Final Justice'.

Did you do lots of those ghost-works?
No, some things, but not a lot.

And did you get any jobs by looking at the pamphlets at the Union?
I worked at a church, as a piano player...

And you played every Sunday?
Yes, every Sunday, Gospel Music. An then I teached music.

What subject?
Well I... piano, but I was a substitute teacher, so I teached all kinds of subjects, even slide trombone. I entered a door, and had no idea what I was going to teach.

Did you stay very long at that school?
Around eight years, a good stay. Then I was already established as an organ teacher, I had to learn all the pedals, the registers, then this one day I went to this music store, and was talking to some teachers there, and mentioned something about who I was, and they said "Moacir Santos"? Are you Moacir Santos?", and they said they had my albums and ... it was Gary Foster. He was one of the teachers, and he asked me if I wanted to teach music there in Pasadena, and that changed my life... I soon after that came to live here, I moved and all that.

And how long did you stay teaching at Gary Foster's school?
Approximately eight years, it was when I my life changed.

How many records did you do for the Blue Note label?

And do you have further recording plans?
I have plans now... I like to record, I would like... to be there. I would like to be part of the scene. But I see my life in ascension, I've done that, I've been a musician, composer, teacher... I also did the "Maestro" album, which was my first album here, which was nominated for the Grammy Awards... so... But I have a thing to do classical music, the popular music pulls me, to the side, it was a fantasy, an offer which is sneaky...

Is this classical music, that you want to record and have been working on, is it based on the Brazilian culture, I mean the afro-brazi lian, and your African roots, Recife, Flores. Are all of those things going to appear in your music? What do you intend to say with that classical music of yours?
I am going to develop this answer... see, I would do... I want to summarize that... before I learned that... this of making nationalistic music, it's almost a pretext, there is a reason... what happens is that I can see it clearly, it's obvious, that the musician should be nationalistic, because this barrier... a musician is classified under three categories. For example, there is the regional composer, there's the nationalistic composer, and then the essencial, or universal composer, there are various sources to attain... and it's very helpful to start with something. very advisable, it's very important to start as a folkloric, because that's what belongs to him, and then after nationalistic... but then again, for example Aram Khacthaturian, a wonderful russian-armenian composer, he is a universal folklorist, because he touches everyone's hearts.

Give other examples of other universal composers.
All Russian composers, the majority who are in the books, they are. ... they reached the universality. for example, Tchaikovski, he... Luis Gonzaga is a national folklorist, he sets fire, he sings and that's it. The people love it and burns up.

Is Jobim an universalist?
Jobim, I think he is an universalist because wherever his music is played it's accepted and adored. In the Philippines, Russia... But there is one thing, he makes popular music.

Exactly, but sometimes he has classical touches on his compositions
It doesn't... Tom Jobim's essence is popular. Even though we know... I think and bet on it, in my opinion, that lots of composers didn't, couldn't make popular music like Tom Jobim, because they did not know how to, do you know what I mean... to develop, because it's a thing, the classical thing, it develops, your soul develops on this field... which are transformed in popular and classical music. Now, the classical, as much advanced in the folklore they are, they light up. Because they, the classical, they transform in marvelous things with techniques and sophistication as well. Because these musicians weren't exposed or determined, they were predetermined... they had to exist, they ought to be here, the classical music too, this music which is called classical, this developed music... a panoramic... popular music is like a rose, everything ought to be perfect, you view everything as a drawing it;s beautiful, it's something else, who knows how to appreciate a rose, it's a beauty, like the popular music. The classical music is compared with a garden, in the sense that there is the festivity, there's the charm, there is everything, but you look it from far away, and when you get close you are going to be filled with things, but is precise, things that the composer ought to record... when I was studying with Guerra Peixe, he sometimes ... I would do music like... he would say like "Now the thing is to fill it up, fill it up with anything... there are certain things like that, that you have the essential and then you... but you have to do this, because it's a way, and if it's not done in that specific way, it can't be considered a sonata...

So, are you trying to revolutionize this formula? I mean, are you trying to present a work more free of this formula?
Frankly, I think as a mission from inside, I don't want to revolutionize anything, because the same way you learn the abc in prep school, these are rules, I only have to study these formulas and follow them, and after I graduate... on my abc, then I take flight, maybe none can take flights... but then I will be a condor.

What about in the heart?
In the heart, it's already stored.

There are many, in the world, various people who admire you and your work. And those are wanting to hear Moacir , they are wanting the music of Moacir, wanting to see what's going on in Moacir's head and heart...
I think, that, let's say, ten years from now...I will have...even if it's not very large, could be powerful, even if all I have it's half a dozen of classical pieces...
What if there's a offer from a label, someone interested in releasing an album of yours...
This is very hypothetical, very sneaky, I have the impression that I shouldn't give in to this fantasy, illusion... what I do now is unity and variety, unity, because I am, they are my thoughts, and the variety, because I do music for any kind of setting, for example, I start with the northeastern part of Brazil making music for a brass quintet, there's a part already, the boys from 'Sao Caetano' want music, a band from the military headquarters asked me for music... and I make... I believe, and someone has to believe in this unity and variety, so that's the way it will be, everything will be varied, a brass quintet on one track, the boys from 'Sao Caetano' on the other, the headquarters band on the other, and I am writing for them, anything goes.

So, that's what in your heart now?
Right, it's an unity of varieties of Moacir Santos, and I'll number it.

But this variety, can be hundreds of them, because how much life do you have inside, how many things, experiences,ideas...
Right... it all varies... numeral varieties 1,2,3... it's an interesting thing, surprising... your going to hear this in the unity... variety... the music is blocked in one category, there ought to have unity and variety... and proportion, those are the three essences of the musical base, unity, variety, and proportion, because half a horse can't run...

Why do you think, that even the Americans liking the Brazilian music as much as they do, take lessons, and even , we see all the big artists going and appreciating Brazilian shows, why does the phonographic market is still completely shut to the Brazilian artists?
I think it's three things together. For example, the American industry doesn't try to internationalize... for example, they prefer that an American musician, who took classes, who learned from Brazilian people, musicians... because he has, still this thing, this industrial thinking which will sell even more, like the American movies, it's the American movies who are still selling...

And why do you think that even the Brazilian artists/musicians that try to do exactly this don't work? For example, to make American music with these Brazilian hooks, why doesn't that work in the same way that it works with the Americans?
This is a difficult question, for example, it's hard to understand, the American thinks as Americans, the whole thing, including with the industry, the industrial, he goes, comes back and votes on the American, because he has more faith, they comprehend... it's the psychology, they see... the money alive, and the Brazilian or any other...

Moacir, you will be honored by the Brazilian Government next June 12 at the Brazilian Consulate in Los Angeles. What honor is that, and witch are your feelings about that?
I t is the medal of the Rio Branco's order, given by the President, Mr. Fernando Henrique Cardoso, through Mr. Jório Gama, general Brazilian consul in Los Angeles. I think I do not deserve such great honor, but I would like to soften this way of thinking, saying that I accept this great honor, as a advance of what I have to do for the rest of my life.

What message you would like to send to youngsters that are interested in pursuit the musical career?
First; work intensively towards your objective.
Second; have humility in your heart, because that is the only way that the fairy godmothers whom reign in the musical universe will get close to you, and try to be in tune with nature, observe nature's things, like the flowers and the animals, try to listen to its sounds, when they are emitted, some do not have sounds, but the 5 senses can perceive, like the flower, with its beauty, and its aroma, and so on. Pay lots of attention to all sounds (especially the sound of men and animals) that you hear to transform them into music.

Thanks, Mr. Santos, and we wish you all the best.
Thank you.

Mario Luiz Thompson
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