Wednesday, October 1, 2014


Hermeto Pascoal, Toronto, 1990

MUSIC WAS THE FIRST SUBJECT I WROTE ABOUT with anything like authority, so it's no surprise that the bulk of my photos, till at least the mid-'90s, are of musicians. I had, I suppose, an ambition to become William Claxton - that is, when I didn't want to become Irving Penn (more on him later) - so I tried to bring my camera along to rehearsals, recording sessions, sound checks and backstage to try and get something good.

I wouldn't have known anything about Hermeto Pascoal if it wasn't for my friend Nebojsa, who I met working at my last ever "job" job - selling CDs in the classical music department of A&A's on Yonge Street. While pricing and filing discs into their alphabetized slots, we'd try to share musical discoveries; Sha, being older and quite a bit less provincial than myself, had more to share, and so one day he told me that Hermeto Pascoal was coming to Berlin, a slightly skeezy Latin dance club and concert venue (now long gone) uptown on Yonge, doing a show with fellow Brazilian Egberto Gismonti.

"You have to go, man. Pascoal is amazing."

Hermeto Pascoal and Jane Bunnett, Toronto, 1990

My friend (and neighbour) Jane Bunnett (more on her later) also mentioned that she'd be at the show, and the photo above is of Jane with Pascoal, receiving a song he'd written for her - one that she'd end up recording as "For You" on an album she made five years later.

The dressing rooms backstage were crowded with people - not just Jane and Sha and myself but what seemed like half of the Brazilian and Latin music communities of Toronto. I'd say that Pascoal was energized by it all, but I think "energized" was his default; hyper and more than a little gnome-like, he talked in cigarette-strained, rapid-fire Brazilian Portuguese with his band and frequently moved to the piano in the room to make a musical point to someone or just to capture something as it passed through his mind.

Hermeto Pascoal, Toronto, 1990

He didn't speak a word of English so we didn't really talk, but he was happy to let me wander the room with my camera as he lit one 100 after another and a group of drummers began banging and tapping on a half dozen long tubes. I shot a roll of unfiltered slides that turned out profoundly ochre under the handful of incandescent lights in the room, and at least a roll of black and white.

Drummers, Toronto, 1990

Pascoal is a musical polymath who can apparently turn anything - including a tea cup and a river - into a musical instrument. To say that there's a lot going on in his records would be an understatement; I fear that, for the average young listener raised on the auto-tuned and melodically thin sounds of current pop music, the average Pascoal track would sound like the presto movements of four Mozart string quartets being played at once.

I'd bought a Pascoal record with my employee discount in the basement jazz section of the store to prepare for the show, and confess that even I found it a bit overwhelming. I still need to be in a particular mood to listen to Pascoal; his records sound like someone telling you a complicated story at a loud dinner party.

I'm very fond of a record he made in the late '60s with Quarteto Novo, a group that included percussionist Airto Moreira; it's relatively restrained (but hardly sedate) and gives some idea of all the other great Brazilian music that was bubbling up under the bossa nova that made it up here. Pascoal is still alive and performing.


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