Jazz great Nana Vasconcelos dies

Murray Broom with his cruciform, developed for a biochemistry role from technology he created in...
Murray Broom with his cruciform, developed for a biochemistry role from technology he created in developing a collapsible kayak. Photo by Gregor Richardson.

Nana Vasconcelos, the eight-time Grammy Award-winning Brazilian percussionist known for his wide instrumental range and major role in the free-spirited jazz and world music of the 1970s and 1980s, has died. He was 71.

A master of the berimbau, a single-string, multi-toned Afro-Brazilian instrument, he is best known for collaborations with Brazilians Milton Nascimento and Egberto Gismonti, Argentine Gato Barbieri and Americans Don Cherry and Pat Metheny.

Vasconcelos died iin Recife, Brazil, on Wednesday. 

His inventiveness with bongos, bells, gourds, maracas and other Afro-Latin musical instruments added the same rich, mysterious complexity to the period's percussion as his collaborators added to melody, harmony and song structure.

"He made what looked like rudimentary music sophisticated," said Geraldo Magalhaes, a friend and music producer. "He was a free spirit, loved all over the world."

The influential American jazz magazine DownBeat named Vasconcelos percussionist of the year each year from 1983 to 1991 in its critics poll.

"When I started to play berimbau differently ... the idea came into my mind that instruments have no limitations," he told Modern Drummer magazine in a 2000 interview.

"This idea came from Jimi Hendrix: instruments have no limitations, and I started to treat music in that way." 

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