Moacir Santos says he's no longer a rap enemy

The beloved BPM maestro and arranger hypes the version of his song, Nanã, recorded by Simoninha and rappers of the group Camorra

Carlos Calado
About to witness two concerts on his behalf (on the 21st and 22nd, in São Paulo), the legendary maestro, arranger and saxophonist Moacir Santos doesn't hide his emotion. "Above all, I am always willing to come home. In addition, I'm a bit vain, I carry a natural desire to see my work promoted", says the 76 year-old, Pernambuco (NE) native, who has been living in the USA since 1967. Unfortunately, the São Paulo audience will not see him play. Five years ago, a stroke affected the movements of his right hand, and today, the musician also faces relative difficulty to speak.

Hyped by Brazilian musicians, Moacir has been visiting the country since the tribute-concert on the first edition of the Free Jazz Festival in 1985, always for similar celebrations. This time around, a specially assembled orchestra will perform compositions from his albums The Maestro and Saudades ouvir 30s, which Moacir recorded in the 70s on the jazz label Blue Note. The repertoire shall include recent and unreleased compositions, such as Amalgamation and Excerto nº 1.

"We want the younger crowds to get to know this modern and daring musician. Music-wise, he ignores laws, but has extensive knowledge. When you slide into Moacir's music, you'll notice how he basically comes up with new harmony and counterpoint laws", praises the São Paulo native, pianist and arranger Guilherme Vergueiro, mastermind of the homage, also living in Los Angeles since 1990. Guilherme will be escorted by singer Leila Pinheiro and singer/pianist Johnny Alf, besides a back up band: Roberto Sion (saxophone and flute), Teco Cardoso (saxophones and flute), Paulo Braga (electric piano) and Heraldo do Monte (electric guitar).

A professor of countless BPM stars and a master of instrumental music, Moacir remembers guitarist Baden Powell, dead last September, with special affection. "On the bossa nova days, everybody wanted to study with me. Baden Powell was one of my most attentive pupils, as were Carlos Lyra, Roberto Menescal and Nara Leão". Curiously, when he decided to trade Pernambuco for Rio de Janeiro, by the late 40s, the self-taught maestro was not exactly a fan of sheet music and books.

"Chiquito do Pistom encouraged me to study. He told me I could turn into a giant, because I already wrote arrangements without knowing the rules", says Moacir, recalling that he looked for maestro Guerra Peixe, after being talked into studying by his colleague. "I was a little afraid to study, because I used to find that language excessively mathematical. The flat and sharp thing used to scare me. But I faced the dragon and, in about six months, I got comfortable with musical theory". Moacir also studied with German musicologist and composer, Hans-Joachim Koellreutter (who taught Tom Jobim, Paulo Moura and Guerra Peixe), eventually becoming his assistant.

Late income
The prestige that Santos enjoyed within the music realms did not, however, guarantee a stable career to the maestro. In 1967, he won a ticket to fly to Los Angeles and decided to stay there. "I was thinking of becoming a cab driver, because, professionally speaking, I was so disappointed at the time. The salaries at TV Rio (the TV station he worked for) were always late", Moacir recalls, revealing that he faced economic distress. Once again, the maestro had no option but to face his inner fears and take a step forward.

"I would listen to all of those American aces play and would be scared to go to the USA. Upon my arrival, though, I noticed that there were all types of musicians. Thus, I understood that I could find a place for myself", tells Santos, who started out as a pianist in a Baptist church in the Southern side of town. The help provided by pianist Horace Silver was essential to allow Moacir to start recording in the U.S. "Horace had a chat with George Butler, Blue Note's artistic director, who was always in search of new acts. He heard me playing at Sergio Mendes' house and was quite impressed by one of my compositions", he remembers.

Composer of the afro-samba Nanã (written with Mario Telles), a hit with over 150 versions, Moacir claims that his favorite review of that song was recorded by obscure singer Celso Miguel, whom he has never met in person. "He used a different beat that really amazed me", says the songwriter. The most recent recording of this song was made by Simoninha, along with rappers of the group Camorra, and managed to modify Santos' opinion on the style. " I once said that rap wasn't music, when I heard it for the first times. To me, music is melody, and not the spoken word. But this Simoninha version made me change my mind, and now I am friendlier to rap", he admits.

The fact that homages to his works are becoming more frequent is not enough to stimulate Moacir to definitely return to his homeland. "I don't feel like living in Brazil. Unless I had a divine insight that it would bring me back my health. But the angel hasn't touched me, yet", jokes the maestro.