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The Exclusive Interview With Airto Moreira!
By Billy Donald, Rock Interviews
(more articles from this author)
2003-10-31
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It would be a severe understatement to say that there is probably not a more revered or recorded percussionist in the world than Airto Moreira. Born in Brazil in 1941, Airto was practically born to be a percussionist and drummer, picking up anything he could get his hands on as a very young child to see what kind of sound he could get. He won numerous awards for his talents by his early teens, and in 1968, after meeting his future wife and his soulmate in life and in music, Flora Purim, Airto moved to Los Angeles and began making a name for himself as a highly sought after session musician. Two years later, Airto's big break came after being recommended to Miles Davis for his next album. That album turned out to be the legendary Bitches Brew. Airto's demand skyrocketed thereafter. To this date, Airto has recorded with such luminaries as Paul Simon, Chick Corea, Santana, Weather Report, The Grateful Dead, Quincy Jones, George Duke, Herbie Hancock, and even the Smashing Pumpkins! Of course, Airto also has numerous albums in collaboration with his wife, Flora, and Airto took time out of his extremely busy schedule (including his lecturing at UCLA) to join me here for this great interview!

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[Billy Donald] Airto, thank you so much for taking the time out of your hectic schedule to be my guest here! Having you here is a real treat for me because quite frankly, it is not too often that I get to talk to such an esteemed master percussionist and drummer! You are doing a load of touring and special appearances right now, so have you found any time to do any recording lately?

Airto Moreira Yes. I am working on a new album for the Narada record label, which will be released next year.

[Billy Donald] You have been in the unique situation of being able to tour and record with your wife of over 30 years, Flora Purim. It is a great testament to the both of you to have a wonderful marriage in the middle of the whirlwind of the music industry. What has been your secret to keep everything together between marriage and music?

Airto Moreira There is no secret about it. We love each other and we have respect for each other's music. Also, we know that life is made of circles and some of them are not very good, but if we keep going, we will experience the good ones again.

[Billy Donald] On top of the recording and touring, you are also finding time to fulfill your duties as a professor of ethnomusicology at UCLA! How long have you held that position and how do you enjoy conveying your endless experience and wisdom of music to your students?

Airto Moreira I have been teaching at UCLA for two years now and in reality, my class is attended by students from different backgrounds. Some of them will be scientists, doctors, lawyers, movie directors, etc. They come to my class to share the energy of the music because what we do most of the time is "hands on" percussion. The rhythms are mostly from Brazil and very energetic, and that's what we enjoy.

[Billy Donald] Probably your biggest break came in 1970 when you were given a spot in Miles Davis' band for what would become the Bitches Brew album. How did that shape the path that the rest of your career would take?

Airto Moreira No doubts that playing with Miles Davis for over two years helped my career and also made my name very well known in this country, and many other countries in the world. If you look in my web page, you will have a better idea of the work I did with Miles and how many albums I recorded with him.

[Billy Donald] Miles is legendary for being quite the perfectionist and he expected all of his musicians to play at top level at all times. Did Miles give you the freedom to play what you were feeling or was it a very strict environment?

Airto Moreira I was a free man (musically) when I played with Miles. Maybe I did the right thing.

[Billy Donald] You won a Grammy as part of Mickey Hart's Planet Drum outfit in 1991. That album was a real breakthrough in introducing World Music to the States and other unfamiliar territory. How did you enjoy being part of such a groundbreaking project?

Airto Moreira Indeed, that album was a breakthrough in world music and probably it will never happen again. The reason is that we all contributed equally in the creation of the concept and recording of the album. To get all those great players together these days would be a almost impossible task, even for Mickey Hart, who is a great organizer.

[Billy Donald] Naturally, I wanted to ask you a bit about your percussion and drumming. You are probably largely known for your percussion contributions around the world and your multiple awards you have received for them. But how do you enjoy kit drumming? Do you still get to play on a full kit much?

Airto Moreira Actually, I have been playing lots of drum kit lately with our band. I just played with Chick Corea, Michael Brecker, Stanley Clark and Flora Purim last August 28th at the Hollywood Bowl and it felt great. By the way, Chick wants to do this project very soon on the road and maybe record an album.

[Billy Donald] What would you consider to be some of your best drumming performances on record?

Airto Moreira On Hermeto Pascoal's albums Slaves Mass and hermeto, which Flora and I produced in the early '70s.

[Billy Donald] This is probably going to be a monstrous list for you, but I was wondering what kind of gear you were currently using in the studio and on the road?

Airto Moreira My gear changes almost every time I go out. Depends what kind of music I am playing, what kind of gig, how many people will attend and so on. I always use Zildjian Cymbals, Vic Firth drumsticks and mallets and Odery drums made in Brazil, whenever I can.

[Billy Donald] If anybody truly deserves his own line of percussion products, it has to be you! Has there ever been any discussion of an Airto signature series?

Airto Moreira Yes, with various percussion companies. But my ideas are too original for their machines to make it, plus the material they use usually is not compatible with the ones that I would like to use.

[Billy Donald] Airto, I want to thank you so much for your time again and I wanted to wrap up here by asking you what else we can expect to see or hear from yourself and Flora in the upcoming months?

Airto Moreira Again, if you check my website, www.airto.com, you will see our schedule. Thank you for your attention and good luck!


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