Legendary percussionist Airto Moreira was born in 1941 in Brasil, and began performing at a very young age. He became a professional musician by the time he was 13 years old, playing percussion and singing in nightclubs and on television. In 1967 Airto moved to Los Angeles, and as fate would have it ended up getting kicked out of a jazz club by the one and only Miles Davis on his very first night in America.
By 1968 Airto and his wife Flora were living in New York City. It was there, in the urban jazz scene of the late sixties, that Airto began to play with some of the best jazz musicians of all time. Having made a name for himself, Airto was invited to record for Miles Davis on Davis’ “Bitches Brew” album. Apparently Davis didn’t recall when first they met. For the next two years Airto stayed with Davis and his band, which included Dave Holland, Jack DeJohnette, and Chick Corea, among others.
Later, Airto would help to form the original Weather Report, and Chick Corea’s Return to Forever group. His talents would be tapped by such greats as Quincy Jones, Herbie Hancock, Paul Simon, and Carlos Santana. Since the addition in 1973 of a percussion category to Downbeat magazine’s readers and critics poll, Airto has been voted percussionist of the year twenty times. He has also been ranked #1 by Jazz Times, Modern Drummer, and DRUM! magazines.
In 1991 Airto won a Grammy for World Music as a member of Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart’s Planet Drum, which included such masters as Giovanni Hidalgo, Zakir Hussain, and Babatunde Olatunji, as well as Hart himself. That same year Airto went to Japan to work with the famed Kodo Taiko drummers. One of his compositions, entitled “Maracatu,” was chosen as the theme song for the opening ceremonies for the 2002 World Cup in Japan.
The “Order of Rio Branco,” one of Brasil’s highest honors recognizing those who significantly contribute to that country’s international relations, was bestowed upon Airto in 2002. Shortly thereafter, Airto was invited to play at the grand re-opening of the Alexandria Library in Egypt. It seems as though Airto is just plain timeless, staying relevant in a changing world decade after decade. I found Airto to be a genuine human being of high degree, graced by an unshakable belief in the power of music as an expression of positive energy. Hey, whatever works. To learn more about Airto’s career and to get a sense of him as a person, visit his website, www.airto.com.