Moacir Santos, one of the greatest arrangers in the history of Brazilian music, died Sunday, August 6, in Los Angeles, where he had lived since 1967. He was 80.
Working behind the scenes during the international heyday of Brazilian music–from the mid-50s to the mid-60s–Santos never achieved popular recognition. But the handful of recordings he released under his own name were excellent instrumental affairs; his 1965 masterpiece, Coisas, is a dazzling display of extended harmony, cool jazz-influenced arrangements, spare improvisation, and sophisticated Brazilian rhythms. Among the many artists he worked with in Brazil were Vinicius de Moraes, Sylvia Telles, and Sergio Mendes. He later moved to LA to teach and work on film sound tracks, although he continued to record sporadically, making four albums for Blue Note. (One of them, 1974’s Saudade, was recently reissued in Japan.)
Santos earned some acclaim late in his career thanks to the American label Adventure Music, which put out a pair of new recordings. In 2004 it released Ouro Negro, a 2-CD package originally released in Brazil, is a wonderful career overview, with vintage tracks and new recordings with the likes of Milton Nascimento, Ed Motta, Joyce, and Joao Donato; last year’s Choros & Alegria featured all new material and a few guest cameos by Wynton Marsalis.