In Memoriam: Naná Vasconcelos

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Naná Vasconcelos (1944–2016)

(Photo: Courtesy of nanavasconcelos.com.br)

Naná Vasconcelos, the acclaimed percussionist and master of the single-string berimbau, died March 9 from lung cancer in Recife, Brazil, the city where he was born. He was 71.

Among his accolades were numerous wins in the two DownBeat polls. Vasconcelos won the Percussionist category in the DownBeat Critics Poll every year from 1983 to 1991. Additionally, he won the Percussionist category in the DownBeat Readers Poll in 1983, 1984 and 1987.

During his long career, Vasconcelos collaborated with dozens of musicians, including guitarist Pat Metheny, vocalist Milton Nascimento, saxophonists Jan Garbarek and Gato Barbieri and trumpeter Don Cherry.

Vasconcelos helped popularize interest in world music with albums such as 1988’s Asian Journal, on which he collaborated with Badal Roy (tabla), Steve Gorn (bamboo flute, soprano saxophone) and Mike Richmond (bass) to create intriguing musical textures that combined elements of jazz, traditional Indian classical music and Middle Eastern influences.

As a leader, Vasconcelos’ discography included Saudades (ECM), Storytelling (EMI), Fragments: Modern Tradition (Tzadik) and Sinfonia & Batuques (Azul), which won a 2011 Latin Grammy in the category Best Native Brazilian Roots Album. DB



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