Brazilian composer incorporates roots into Seattle culture

Jovino Santos Neto was born in Brazil but currently lives in Seattle. He’s a pianist, flutist, composer and teacher. For the past week, Neto has been teaching and composing music with local middle school students for a summer jazz camp at the Fine Arts Building. Neto’s students will showcase their progress over the past week this weekend, and Neto himself will perform as well. For 15 years, Neto toured with Brazilian composer Hermeto Pascoal, and since then he’s formed his own group, the Jovino Santos Neto Quinteto. The first track off their latest album, “Viva O Rio De Janeiro,” showcases as much energy for the Brazilian culture as the title itself.

“I played with Pascoal, and through the apprenticeship we were exposed to a wide variety of rhythms from Brazil, and deeper things like composition and arrangement and being a bandleader. We learned all of this in direct contact with a hands-on approach,” said Neto.

When asked if he keeps his sound contemporary or classic, he said, “It’s all constantly evolving. Even if you find a lot of success doing a particular type of music, you cannot assume you’ll keep doing that every day. I keep challenging myself and my listeners for new ideas.”

Neto uses his musical background to teach at Seattle’s Cornish College of the Arts and Jazz Camp West, an annual jazz performance program in California.

“I find that it’s a great opportunity – the students are involved and you are giving in your time and energy and direction to students,” said Neto. “It’s also very beneficial to yourself. I end up writing a lot of music during these workshops.”

There’s been a lot of development since his transition from being part of the Pascoal Group to going solo. When he moved to Seattle, Neto didn’t have the priority of leading a band. By the end of December 1993, Neto met with musicians who are the same as those in his band today. For a musician with years of experience, he didn’t envision himself as an instructor either.

“It’s been very rewarding to see this work grow and develop,” said Neto. “My work as an educator, I had not done anything with Hermeto. I just started that in Seattle. I didn’t know I could even do it, and it’s my seventh year teaching.”

- Advertisement -

Neto will often compose music while teaching at the workshops. Although he constantly composes, his inspiration is far from lacking. He and his Seattle bandmates recorded their last album in Brazil. During May, Neto spent three weeks in an unfamiliar region in Brazil while working on a new project. He received a grant by an oil company to travel through the northeast region.

“I came home and worked on this inspiration, and now I’ll go back to Brazil to record this new album,” said Neto. “It’s basically a huge game of pingpong, going back to my roots and areas I didn’t know in Brazil, and presenting it here and there – I have fun being this kind of messenger between the musical cultures. It’s very rewarding to me.”

For Seattle residents, it should be no surprise to see this Latin Grammy Award nominee performing at St. Clouds, a bistro in Seattle where he often plays. The crowd typically numbers twenty to thirty people, a small number compared to festivals and concerts where Neto has performed. He says it doesn’t matter to him whether it’s a large crowd or an intimate environment. Neto prefers both.

“In big events, you are far removed from the people listening to you,” said Neto. “You come in the back door and they whisk you on stage and fly you out. All you saw is the crowd. In a small bistro, a person walks up to you and has a glass of wine and chats, and I invite musicians to sit in. To me, it complements the rest.”

Neto and his group will be returning to Brazil in August to record their new album, but don’t expect anything too soon. However, fans can expect a northwestern musical influence on the album, resulting in a different sound than the group’s past records. The album will feature non-jazz instruments such as a 10-string guitar, accordion and harmonica.

“It’s going to go in a different direction, with more percussion than the jazz group I played with in the past,” said Neto. “I have a lot of interesting ideas with working with chamber music and working with orchestras. I’ve done big-band music and one of these days would do a big-band recording and solo piano record.”

Jovino Neto’s workshop students will be performing a jazz combo student recital at the Arts Building Recital Hall July 20 at 7:30 p.m. General admission is $5. Neto and other Alaska Jazz Workshop instructors will be performing a Brazilian jazz festival at the Recital Hall, July 21 at 7:30 p.m. General admission $15. Tickets can be purchased at the UAA Box Office or by calling 332-3234.