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Paulo Moura- significant contributions to Brazilian popular and instrumental music

I write to make users aware of the career and output of Paulo Moura, a renowned Brazilian musician with whom I had the opportunity to collaborate from 1995 until his passing in 2010. Though recognized in Brazilian musical circles as a virtuoso instrumentalist and innovator in his constant search to develop new readings of instrumental improvised music, informed by but not limited to Brazilian genre, his body of work and discography is only now in the process of being organized, catalogued, scanned, and will be made available via digital and physical archives and resources in 2013.

The address for the current website is http://www.paulomoura.com/

There one finds biographical information, a chronological history of his career, photos, and a page on which most of his recordings are posted for streaming. This site is also due for an update, to be launched mid 2013.

Numerous performance videos of variable quality are posted on YouTube. Some suggested clips follow:

Ternura (choro-canção) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wTNsSmrcZ8A&feature=related

Pro Paulo (forro) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WU-DGUExg8Y&feature=related

Mulatas (samba) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RffhWY0CUSI

Pantanal Alerta Brasil (solo) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ogu5W5wFMpQ

These following paragraphs are taken from my article on aspects of Paulo’s work in the online journal Critical Studies in Improvisation:


His career spanned six decades, from the late 1940s through 2010, and his compositions, arrangements, and recordings can now be considered vital documents of many of the most important trends in twentieth-century Brazilian music. Paulo Moura moved with his family from his hometown in the interior of São Paulo state to Rio de Janeiro—Brazil’s center of urban music—in 1945. At twelve years of age, he was the youngest of a family of musicians, and began to play the clarinet professionally in the gafieira dance halls of Praça Tiradentes in the heart of the city, and in the outlying suburban areas. He studied classical music at the Escola Nacional de Música, and at the same time had his first contact with modern jazz in informal listening and playing sessions, both at the home of an acquaintance who lived near Moura’s neighborhood of Tijuca and as a frequent participant of the Sinatra-Farney fan club (1948-53).

            He quickly made his mark as a versatile instrumentalist, working as a studio musician and in the gafieira dance halls, where he would eventually find great inspiration and source material. He also performed as a soloist with the symphony orchestra of the Teatro Municipal (with which, from 1959-1977, he was featured in classical works for clarinet), and with big bands and popular music orchestras which accompanied visiting international artists including Lena Horne, Nat King Cole, and Ella Fitzgerald. Along with a group of musicians that included João Donato and Johnny Alf (pianist/composers), Mauricio Einhorn (harmonica/composer), and Dom um Romão and Edson Machado (drummers), he was taken by the sound and language of American jazz artists of the era, and worked to develop similar fluency as an improviser. As a participant in the emerging bossa and samba-jazz movements, he performed, arranged for, and recorded with Sergio Mendes’ Bossa Jazz ensemble. He traveled with this group to New York to participate in the famous “Bossa Nova: (New Brazilian Jazz)” concert at Carnegie Hall on November 21, 1962. And, less than a month after that performance, the group went into the studio to record with the famous American jazz artist Cannonball Adderley.[1]

            It was at this juncture in his career that Moura’s need to seek out the new, to transform and grow as an artist, became evident. Not satisfied to ride the wave of bossa nova, he refused to settle into predictable and repetitive projects. His recognition that his most profound and inspiring source material lay in Brazilian culture, led him to experiment with, champion and revitalize a wide variety of genres, including choro, gafieira, afro-samba, samba-jazz, and música erudita brasileira. His projects of the 1960s and 1970s represent the work of an inquisitive and innovative artist dedicated to both excellence and growth, and is epitomized by his recordings Quarteto (1968), Hepteto:  Mensagem (1968), Fibra (1971), and Confusão Urbana, Suburbana, e Rural (1976).[2] His collaborations with Brazilian and international artists resulted in work that combined idioms, created new fusions, and opened paths to new musical vocabularies, while at the same time maintained the defining characteristics of the Brazilian music and jeito which he embodied.[3] Moura’s repertoire included pieces by Radames Gnatalli, Pixinguinha, Jacob de Bandolim, K-Ximbinho, Milton Nascimento, Charlie Parker and George Gershwin, as well as his own arrangements and compositions that became staples of his performances. His soundscape was often broadened by a fascination with classical and contemporary music which, toward the end of his life, gravitated particularly toward the music of György Ligeti and Karlheinz Stockhausen and experimentation with graphic scores to elicit improvisation.

Moura’s contribution to the large body of work that has come to be termed música instrumental brasileira (Brazilian instrumental music) was in part formed through his interest and interface with American jazz genre of a number of eras. He came to it with the intent to familiarize himself with important components of the jazz idioms to which he was attracted; the repertoire, rhythm, timbre, and approaches to improvisation.

His subsequent artistic output represents one reflection of jazz beyond the borders of the United States, and is part of, as I have coined it in the past, a “Brazilian tinge” that I believe has arguably existed since the late 1940s, in the post-war pre-bossa nova era.


I welcome a healthy discussion of this topic; in my thirty years of immersion in the music and culture of Brazil, I have looked forward to the moment and forum in which its popular instrumental and improvised music might be critically evaluated from many different perspectives. As we mount a thorough and annotated discography, we can suggest seminal recordings and provide a familiarity of important and influential practitioners on which to base our conversations.

[1]Cannonball Adderley with the Bossa Rio Sextet: Cannonball’s Bossa Nova. New York: Riverside RM455, 1962.

[2]Quarteto, Rio de Janeiro: Equipe, 1968; Hepteto: Mensagem,Rio de Janeiro, Equipe, 1968; Fibra, Rio de Janeiro, Equipe,1971; Confusão Urbana, Suburbana, e Rural, Rio de Janeiro, RCA, 1976.

[3]Jeito is a term from Brazilian Portuguese slang, literally meaning “way” (in the sense of an ingenious, flexible way of doing things). Implicit in this term is a sense of recognizable and perhaps slightly transgressive style.

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