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Bassist Sérgio Brandão Dies at 65

"The Brazilian Jaco" made a virtue of cultural cross-pollination

Sergio Brandão
Sergio Brandão

Sérgio Brandão, a bassist and unofficial ambassador of Brazilian music who played on hundreds of recordings over the past four decades, died on April 2 at Hospital Municipal Nossa Senhora de Nazareth in Saquarema, Brazil, from cardiac arrest due to gastrointestinal complications. He was just two and a half weeks past celebrating his 65th birthday.

In both Rio de Janeiro in the 1970s and New York City in the 1980s, Brandão established himself as an electric bassist par excellence, affectionately known as “the Brazilian Jaco.” Although he may be best remembered for his touring and recording work with singer Flora Purim and percussionist Airto Moreira or for his tenure in clarinetist/saxophonist Paquito D’Rivera’s band, several of his most notable achievements took place behind the scenes.

For example, Quincy Jones hired him in 1984 to co-produce singer/songwriter/pianist Ivan Lins’ Juntos album, a fusion of Brazilian pop and American jazz featuring appearances by George Benson, Patti Austin, and Marcus Miller, among others. And in 2006 he received a Latin Grammy for his playing on Sérgio Mendes’ album Timeless, a co-production with Black Eyed Peas’ will.i.am that boasted guest spots by John Legend, India.Arie, and other neo-soul stars.

Much like those aforementioned projects, Brandão’s entire career could be seen as a testament to the power and value of cross-continental and cross-cultural collaboration.

Sérgio Luiz Brandão was born on March 16, 1956, in Rio de Janeiro. At age 11, he began playing the acoustic guitar; by 17 he had switched to acoustic bass, and he took up the electric bass guitar shortly thereafter. He attended the Villa-Lobos Institute in Rio, where he studied music theory, and he remained in the city through his early twenties, refining his technique while working with such artists as João Bosco, Ivan Lins, and Johnny Alf.

Brandão moved to New York in 1978 and soon became a popular player on the city’s Brazilian and Latin music scenes; his first long-lasting gig was with singer/guitarist Jon Lucien. In 1982, he became a member of Flora and Airto’s band, with which he remained for three years. He appears on their 1985 album Humble People. Subsequently he joined forces with D’Rivera, with whom he recorded three albums between 1986 and 1988. He also played a key role in the band Bush Dance (later the Bushdancers) with Naná Vasconcelos and Trilok Gurtu.

In 1994 Brandão and his longtime collaborator Jose Gallegos moved deeper into the world of music production, establishing Gallco Enterprises, Inc., a company specializing in film soundtracks as well as television and radio jingles. Gallco won several Clio Awards later in the decade for the music it created to be part of Coca-Cola’s global advertising campaigns.

By this time, Brandão had distinguished himself as one of the first Brazilian musicians to tour Russia after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. There he formed a partnership with pianist Andrei Kondakov, which continued intermittently until Brandão’s passing.

Other artists with whom Brandão worked include Harry Belafonte, Marcos Valle, Herbie Mann, Chico Freeman, Gilberto Gil, Tania Maria, Gato Barbieri, Cyro Baptista, Toots Thielemans, Randy Brecker, Mark Murphy, Carlos Franzetti, Toninho Horta, Paul Winter, Bebel Gilberto, Vinicius Cantuária, Barbara Mendes, Romero Lubambo, Gil Goldstein, Sadao Watanabe, Hendrik Meurkens, and the international collective Bossa Negra.

Brandão is survived by his wife, Zorina Rodionova.

Mac Randall

Mac Randall

Mac Randall has been the editor of JazzTimes since May 2018. Prior to that, he wrote regularly for the magazine. He has written about numerous genres of music for a wide variety of publications over the past 30 years, including Rolling Stone, The New York Times, Vanity Fair, The New York Observer, Mojo, and Guitar Aficionado, and he has worked on the editorial staffs of Musician, LAUNCH (now Yahoo! Music), Guitar One, Teaching Music, Music Alive!, and In Tune Monthly. He is the author of two books, Exit Music: The Radiohead Story and 101 Great Playlists. He lives in New York City.