Monday, 18 April 2016


I met Nana Vasconcelos once. I was flying to Oslo in June of 1987 to cover the Dream Mile and Bislett Games for ABC Sports. As I got onto the plane in London, I could smell the guy in front of me, and hoped he didn't sit next to me. He was with a couple of others, one of whom took the seat next to mine; the other two moved a row back on the other side of the aisle. I looked around and realised I was sitting with Jan Garbarek; across the aisle were Eberhard Weber (at whom I had turned my nose down) and Nana Vasconcelos. They making a connection back to Oslo after a tour performance.

I went into fan boy mode, something I wouldn't do a few days later at the track meet. As it happened I was carrying my latest chapbook/pamphlet of poetry, Mucho Mojo, from Northern Lights, and it contained poems based on songs of Weber's (and Keith Jarrett's, but not Garbarek's!). I later sent Garbarek another pamphlet with a couple of his songs on it--'send it to Jan Garbarek, Oslo, it will get to  me' he said. I got all three to sign the pamphlet, talked with Garbarek a lot and Weber a little, and barely to Nana. In truth, he seemed so laid-back as to be flying metaphorically. I just looked at that pamphlet again: his signature has a joyful little star over it; not dotting any 'i', just his exuberance.

He was a great percussionist, who fit in beautifully to the textures of the Garbarek band. Here's a link to them performing in France a few years later, with Rainer Bruninghaus on keyboards, it's wonderful. I can't recall who the pianist was on that flight; I think it was Bugge Wesseltoft, but it might have been Lars Jansson. Whoever it was was, he was sitting in coach, while we were in business; Garbarek joked that was because he was Swedish.

It wasn't just Garbarek, of course. Nana played with almost all the great ECM musicians, and he also made his own records for the label. He was not just an accompanist: with voice and percussion he could lead and provide his own polyrhythm section. Sometimes I think his best music comes in collaboration with Egberto Gismonti; look for the early ECM record Saudades, but here's a link to a tune, Bianco, from their 1994 record Duaz Voces, linked here.  Or go backwards, to his work with Milton Nascimento, or Gato Barbieri, or Gilberto Gil. I know I did after that short plane ride, which was a real highlight of my ABC Sports career. RIP Nana.

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