Obituaries: Laurindo Almeida

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The Independent Online
Because he was a virtuoso classical guitarist, Laurindo Almeida is viewed by most jazz listeners with suspicion. It was their loss. Guitarists, more than any other instrumentalists, owe allegiance to the instrument rather than to the musical style. Almeida loved classical, jazz and bossa nova music and played superbly in each style. He was a man of strong principles, and totally rejected humbug or artifice. He believed in the natural sound of the guitar.

"An electric guitar - to me, it's kind of an ugly thing," he said. "I really don't like the sound of an amplifier. It's an artificial sound. And it's very hard to identify who the musician is because the sound is all the same. The classical guitarist or violinist, you can tell because he's playing his notes; but an electric guitar, you press the string and here comes the sound through this box."

Almeida spent most of his life in the United States, where over the years Hollywood showered him with prizes as though they were dolly mixtures. He won five Grammy awards and various polls both as a guitarist and as a composer of film soundtrack music. He recorded a cornucopia of jazz, bossa and classical albums and, although it meant nothing to him, in 1962 his original Viva Bossa Nova album climbed to No 13 before falling back exhausted in the US charts. "That's one things about bossa nova - and I hate to say this, because I like money, too, but bossa nova's not supposed to be that popular."

Stan Getz always admitted that his success with what appeared to be the first jazz bossa nova album (which included "Desafinado") paid to put his children through school and college. In fact Almeida's 1962 album with the altoist Bud Shank was the first fusion of jazz and bossa by a few months and it was only chance which sent Getz and Charlie Byrd's later collaboration soaring in the charts.

During the Second World War Almeida became a staff guitarist on radio in Rio de Janeiro and led his own orchestra there. When he arrived in the States in 1947 he could speak no English. Impressed by Almeida's playing and wanting to hire him as a featured soloist, Stan Kenton could find no way to communicate with him until it was discovered that Almeida spoke perfect Italian. So did Kenton's chief arranger, Peter Rugolo.

"They took me on, and next thing I was in the bus with the orchestra, suffering terribly, mainly because I could hear all these kids telling jokes and I couldn't understand them. The life of a musician on the road, travelling about 100,000 miles a year - that was the hard part. The good part was the music that we played. Rugolo wrote a piece for me, 'Lament!', which we played all over the country from Carnegie Hall to the Hollywood Bowl. That winter we were trying to get through to New Jersey but the bus couldn't get through. It was my first contact with snow."

Almeida recorded with Kenton and, when he left him, settled in Los Angeles, with all the best West Coast jazz musicians including Bud Shank, Herbie Mann, the Four Freshmen and others. In 1963 he toured with the Modern Jazz Quartet and came to Europe with it in 1964.

His career as a classical soloist prospered and from the late Sixties he concentrated on a solo concert career, often sharing the stage with this wife, the soprano Deltra Eamon. He contributed music to films including Viva Zapata (1952) and The Old Man and the Sea (1958), and also worked on the film scores of The Godfather (1972) and A Star is Born (1976).

Irene Kral, one of the most underestimated jazz singers, who died young, made an album with him for Capitol which won them a Grammy and he recorded his album Suenas for the same label. Concierto de Aranjuez was commissioned in Japan, where Almeida was enormously popular, by the East Wind label, in 1978.

In 1974 Almeida formed the LA Four with Bud Shank playing alto and flute, the bassist Ray Brown and either Chuck Flores, Shelly Manne or, later, Jeff Hamilton on drums. They made nine successful albums for the Concord label and Concord also recorded Almeida's First Concerto for Guitar and Orchestra (1979) and Lobiana (1949).

Almeida published Guitar Tutor in Three Courses (1957) and Contemporary Moods for Classical Guitar (1970).

Steve Voce

Laurindo Almeida, guitarist, composer: born Sao Paulo, Brazil 2 September 1917; married Deltra Eamon; died Los Angeles 26 July 1995.