(September 2, 1917 – July 26, 1995) was a Brazilian virtuoso guitarist and composer who made many recordings of enduring impact in classical, jazz and Latin genres. He is widely credited, with fellow artist Bud Shank, for creating the fusion of Latin and jazz which came to be known as the “Jazz Samba.” Almeida was the first artist to receive Grammy Awards for both classical and jazz performances. His discography encompasses more than a hundred recordings over five decades.
Laurindo Jose de Araujo Almeida Nobrega Neto was born in the village of Prainha, Brazil near Santos in the state of São Paulo.
Born into a musical family, Laurindo Almeida was a self-taught guitarist. During his teenage years, Almeida moved to São Paulo, where he worked as a radio artist, staff arranger and nightclub performer. At the age of 19, he worked his way to Europe playing guitar in a cruise ship orchestra. In Paris, he attended a performance at the Hot Club by Stephane Grappelli and famed guitarist Django Reinhardt, who became a lifelong artistic inspiration.
Returning to Brazil, Laurindo Almeida continued composing and performing. He became known for playing both classical Spanish and popular guitar. He moved to the United States in 1947; a trip financed when one of his compositions, a song known as “Johnny Peddler” became a hit recorded by the Andrews Sisters. In Los Angeles, Almeida immediately went to work in film studio orchestras.
Laurindo Almeida was first introduced to the jazz public as a featured guitarist with the Stan Kenton band in the late 1940s during the height of its success. According to author Michael Sparke, Almeida and his fellow Kenton bandmember drummer Jack Costanzo “endowed the music of Progressive Jazz with a persuasive Latin flavor, and the music is enriched by their presence.” Famed Kenton arranger Pete Rugolo composed “Lament” specifically for Almeida’s cool, quiet sound, and Almeida’s own composition “Amazonia” was also featured by the Kenton orchestra. Almeida stayed with Kenton until 1952.
Almeida’s recording career enjoyed auspicious early success with the 1953 recordings now called Brazilliance No. 1 and No. 2 with fellow Kenton alumnus Bud Shank, bassist Harry Babasin, and drummer Roy Harte on the World Pacific label (originally entitled “The Laurindo Almeida Quartet featuring Bud Shank”). Widely regarded as “landmark” recordings, Almeida and Shank’s combination of Brazilian and jazz rhythms (which Almeida labeled “samba-jazz”-) presaged the fusion of Latin and jazz, which is quite different in bossa nova, although jazz critic Leonard Feather credited Almeida and Shank as the creators of bossa nova sound.
Other observers note that the beat, harmonic stamp, and economy of expression were different than the bossa nova, giving Almeida and Shank’s recording “…a different mood and sound…certainly valuable in its own right.”
Almeida’s classical solo recording career on Capitol Records began in 1954 with The Guitar Music of Spain. Almeida made a series of highly successful classical recordings produced by Robert E. Myers. Among Almeida’s notable classical recordings is an album widely considered to be the first classical crossover album, the 1958 Grammy winner Duets with Spanish Guitar with mezzo soprano Salli Terri and flutist Martin Ruderman. In this recording, Almeida arranges standard classical and folk repertoire through the prism of several Latin musical forms, including the modenha, charo, maracatu and boi bumba.
The result, according to Hi-Fi and Music Review was “…a prize winner in my collection. Laurindo Almeida’s guitar playing captures the keen poignancy and rhythmic élan of Brazilian music with superb assurance and taste…”. The recording was nominated for two Grammy Awards and won for Best Classical Engineering for Sherwood Hall III at the first Grammy Awards ceremony.
Of Almeida’s five career Grammys, four were awarded in classical categories (listed below). His classical recording discography also includes the debut recordings of two major guitar works, Heitor Villa-Lobos’ Guitar Concerto and Radamés Gnattali’s Concerto de Copacabana.
In 1964, Laurindo Almeida again expanded his recording repertoire by joining forces with the Modern Jazz Quartet on Collaboration (Atlantic Records), which combined classical with jazz, called “chamber jazz.” Almeida also toured with the MJQ, both in the 1960s and again in the 1990s.
In addition to his recording achievements, Almeida continued his work with the film studios throughout his career, playing guitar, lute, mandolin and other instruments for more than 800 motion picture and television soundtracks (such as The High Chaparral and “The Gift,” an episode of The Twilight Zone). Almeida made a cameo appearance on a 1959 episode of Peter Gunn titled “Skin Deep”.
His performing credits included major motions pictures such as Good-bye, My Lady (1956), Funny Girl (1968), and The Godfather (1972). He composed the complete film scores for ten motion pictures and portions for hundreds of others, including Charles and Ray Eames’s 1957 film Day of the Dead. His final film work was underscoring and performing for Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven (1992). Some articles report Almeida won at least one Oscar award for film composition; however, while he was involved in films that were nominated, he did not receive an Oscar for his film work.
In the 1970s, Laurindo Almeida reunited with Bud Shank, forming the LA Four with Ray Brown and Chuck Flores (later Shelly Manne and then Jeff Hamilton). From 1974-1982, the LA Four toured internationally and recorded a series of albums for Concord Jazz, including The Four Scores!, an acclaimed live recording from the 1974 Concord Jazz Festival. In 1980, Almeida joined forces with Charlie Byrd on a series of highly regarded recordings, including Latin Odyssey, Brazilian Soul and Tango. He also recorded with Baden Powell, Stan Getz and Herbie Mann, among others. His guitar trio, Guitarjam, with Larry Coryell and Sharon Isbin played Carnegie Hall in 1988. In the 1990s, Almeida toured again with the Modern Jazz Quartet. In 1992, Concord Records issued Outra Vez, an October, 1991 live recording with bassist Bob Magnusson and drummer Jim Plank; JazzTimes wrote that Outra Vez was “…a testament to his enduring genius as a concert guitarist, composer and arranger”.
In discussing Outra Vez, John Storm Roberts noted “…there was nothing retro about its tour de force, a phenomenal duet of Laurindo Almeida performing Beethoven’s ‘Moonlight Sonata’ while bassist Bob Magnusson played Thelonius Monk’s ‘Round Midnight.'”
Almeida was teaching, recording and performing until the week before his death on July 26, 1995 at age 77 in Los Angeles, California