Naná Vasconcelos, the famous 71-year-old Brazilian jazz percussionist, a much sought-after collaborator with artists as varied as Gato Barbieri or the Talking Heads, died on Wednesday, March 9th in Recife, Brazil. His death was announced on the website of the guitarist Pat Metheny, with whom he worked for many years. The Associated Press cited lung cancer as the cause of death.
Vasconcelos became prominent in Brazil in the 1960s as a master of the berimbau. Gato Barbieri heard him playing with singer / songwriter Milton Nascimento and invited him to join his band on a European tour in 1970 that began with the Montreux Jazz Festival. The exposure made Vasconcelos an international star. An adventurous performer and experimentalist, he advanced throughout his carrer into new musical territory via unexpected collaborations.
He made several highly acclaimed albums with the Brazilian guitarist / composer Egberto Gismonti, most notably Saudades (1980), on which they were backed by the Stuttgart Radio Symphony. He also did memorable work as a member of the jazz trio Codona, with famous trumpeter Don Cherry and sitar/tabla player and Oregon member Collin Walcott, and also with the Pat Metheny Group. He also played percussion on the Talking Heads album Little Creatures in 1985 and participated as a vocalist and percussionist on Paul Simon's album The Rhythm of the Saints in 1990.