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SOUNDS AROUND TOWN : Music Lover : Brazilian-born guitarist Laurindo Almeida refuses to respect the delineation between the classics and jazz.

April 11, 1991|JOSEF WOODARD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Classical and jazz music, despite noble efforts at fusing the two over the decades, have remained separate and unequal entities in the music world.

Among the earliest players who refused to respect the delineation was guitarist Laurindo Almeida, who could be heard finessing his way through the music of Villa Lobos, Bach, Jobim, Thelonius Monk, Burt Bacharach, George Gershwin or the Lennon- McCartney songbook with equal affection and skill.

Is Almeida, then, a crusader who insists on enlightening listeners to multiple levels of musical culture?

"I just love music," the down-to-earth musician says from his home in Sherman Oaks. "If it's good, if I feel it in my veins, I'll enjoy it and play it. But if it doesn't move me, I just don't use it. Rock 'n' roll might be good, but to me, it just hurts my ears."

A romantic virtuoso, Almeida will tap into various musical root systems when he makes a rare Ventura County appearance at Wheeler Hot Springs at 4 p.m. Sunday. He'll play both with his trio and in duets with his wife, soprano Deltra Eamon.

"We do things together and separately," Eamon says. "Laurindo is busy on his own, and I'm busy on my own. It's nice when we can do it together. At Wheeler's, we'll do more standard things--'Send in the Clowns,' 'Granada,' 'My Bill' and maybe some Gershwin."

Creeping up on his 75th birthday, Almeida is still going strong and, in conversation, can slip into the banter of a wry guy. "How are you?" asks the reporter. "I think I'll make it," goes his standard reply. By most accounts, Almeida has made it, several times over, and in a few different areas.

Born in Sao Paulo, Brazil, in 1917, Almeida was already well known in Brazil by the time he moved to the United States in 1947. Things clicked quickly, starting with a three-year stint in Stan Kenton's band that introduced Almeida's unique finger-style technique to the stateside music scene.

Studio work, which paid his bills for years, came naturally to Almeida because of his stylistic versatility and his excellent sight-reading abilities.

"I started working by accident," he says of his studio resume. "At 20th Century-Fox, they had two guitar players who couldn't play, so they called me." The project that launched a thousand sessions? The 1951 Western "Rawhide."

"It was in 1967 when they asked me to use a wah wah pedal, and I decided that was the end of my studio career. The wah wah pedal did not go with my blood."

All along, Almeida has worked on his own projects, and composed in both the jazz and classical traditions. In 1952, he made an album with saxophonist Bud Shank that, in effect, introduced the bossa nova. "I had all these songs I had brought from Brazil," Almeida says. "We made sketches and went on to make this album for Dick Bock and his Pacific Jazz label." The album was ahead of its time: Ten years later, the bossa nova amounted to an all-out craze.

On the serious music front, Almeida was the first guitarist to record composer Heitor Villa Lobos' concerto for guitar and orchestra. A longstanding champion of the Brazilian composer's music, Almeida has frequently been invited to perform and adjudicate at the annual Villa Lobos festival in Brazil.

Continuing in the tradition, Almeida's trio can still be heard in Los Angeles at the Vine Street Bar and Grill, navigating a repertoire that at least begins to sum up his 50-year career.

The different sides of Almeida can still be found in your local neighborhood music outlet (if it's well-stocked). Recent releases on the Concord label feature Almeida's concerto for guitar and orchestra and, on the Brazilian Masters, the music of Almeida and fellow guitarists Charlie Byrd and Carlos Barbos Lima.

Does he believe that audiences are generally up to crossing over, the way he does naturally?

"I feel that they don't like to hear just the same things," Almeida says. "If you break things up and say, 'I'm going to play a little piece by Bach here,' they like that. I have a thing called 'Beethoven Monk,' where I play the 'Moonlight Sonata' and the bass player plays 'Round About Midnight.' People always like that." He pauses and in perfect deadpan says, "They know that that separates the boys from the men."

OTHER GOINGS ON:

* Oxnard Concert Capper: Leland Chen, the 26-year-old Taiwanese violinist, will perform in the final concert of the Oxnard Community Concerts season Monday. His career effectively began at age 18 when he won first prize in the Yehudi Menuhin International Violin Competition in Folkstone, England, and was given the rare opportunity to study under Menuhin.

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