A self-taught musician, Hermeto Pascoal ascended from his humble upcountry origins to an international acknowledgment still unfair to his musical stature. Developing his ears from an early age at his grandfather's blacksmith shop, Pascoal used to pick up pieces of iron and hit them, trying to create music (not to emulate the harmonics of his father's eight-bass button accordion, as has been spread). This led to an unusual approach to music, where the tones themselves give a stronger conducting motif than chord connection, scales, or modes. His understanding of music as a vital force, emanating organically from everything in Earth, is reminiscent of Kepler's music of the spheres and conducted to eccentric performances and recordings with pigs, kettles, and anything at hand. He has also developed the Sound of the Aura concept, in which music is developed out of people's speech, traffic noise, and out of every possible source of sound. That didn't impede him from conquering the admiration of world-class musicians such as Miles Davis, for whom he recorded as instrumentalist and composer. John McLaughlin, Duke Pearson, Gil Evans, Berlin Symphony, Copenhagen Symphony, and many others played and recorded his compositions. He also recorded with Ron Carter, Alphonso Johnson, Tom Jobim, Cal Tjader, and several others. As a sideman, he recorded with Brazilians Aquilo del Nisso, Luiz Avellar, Maria Bethânia, Fagner, Galo Preto, Eduardo Gudin, Joyce, Edu Lobo, Elis Regina (including a live concert recorded at the Montreux Jazz Fest), Walter Santos, Mauro Senise, Robertinho Silva, Sivuca, Marcio Montarroyos, Taiguara, Sebastião Tapajós, and Geraldo Vandré, to name a few. Down Beat's Howard Mandel, wrote about him "as pan-global a leader as Sun Ra and as surefooted an individualist as Rahsaan Roland Kirk."
His father used to animate parties with an eight-bass button accordion. Beginning to play at local parties at 11, in three months' time, Pascoal advanced so much that he took his father's place because he became ashamed to play together with him. In 1950, his family moved to the capital Recife PE, and he debuted at radio stations in that city and around. In 1958, he moved to Rio, working with the Regional de Pernambuco do Pandeiro, Fafá Lemos Group, and Orquestra do Copinha. In 1961, he moved to São Paulo, playing in several nightclubs there. Already playing brass and wood instruments, he formed the group Som Quatro with Papudinho (trumpet), Dilsom (drums), and Azeitona (contrabaixo). With Sivuca, he had an accordion trio called O Mundo em Chamas. In 1964, he began a fertile association with Brazilian percussionist Airto Moreira, joining his Sambrasa Trio (which also had Humberto Clayber on the double bass). His first recording was accompanying singer Walter Santos' LP Caminho in 1965, soon following the historical album No Fino da Bossa, Vol. 3, on which he backed Elis Regina on one track. The album was recorded in 1966 but was issued in 1994. Moreira was then in a band called Trio Novo which had guitarist Heraldo do Monte and bassist Teo de Barros; Pascoal joined them the next year and the group changed its name to Quarteto Novo. The first proponents of a Northeastern sound based on baião mixed with jazz improvisations, the group would be highly influential despite having recorded just one album, Quarteto Novo (Odeon, 1967). The album had Pascoal's first recorded composition, "O Ovo." In October of that year, the group accompanied Edu Lobo on "Ponteio" (Lobo/Capinam), the winning composition at TV Record's III FMPB (III Brazilian Popular Music Festival). In 1968, Pascoal toured France. In 1970, he was invited by Miles Davis to record with him on the live album Live Evil. Davis also selected three of Pascoal's compositions for that album: "Little Church," "Nem Um Talvez," and "Selim." In fact, he selected 11 songs of Pascoal's material, but Pascoal wanted to release his solo album and let go only those two. As Miles had a habit of taking credit for tunes written by his groups' members, both were erroneously published under his name. Pascoal credits that to producer's tactics, not to Miles'. Pascoal's first solo LP, Hermeto (Cobblestone), was recorded in 1971 in New York and was produced by Ron Carter and Flora Purim. In that same year he, and Carter recorded another LP, with Pascoal's "O Gaio da Roseira," awarded as one of the best of the year by English critics.
In 1973, he toured through the U.S. and Mexico, recording in Brazil A Música Livre de Hermeto. By the Association of Critics of São Paulo (APCA), he was awarded as Best Soloist and, in the next year, Best Arranger. He toured the U.S. again in 1974 and had his song "Porco na Festa" awarded as Best Arrangement at the Globo Network's Festival Abertura. Recorded in 1976 with Sérgio Mendes and Brazil '77, he recording two more albums for Mendes in that period. His LP, Slaves Mass, released in 1977, also had Carter. In 1978, he recorded Zabumbê-Bum-Á. Since then, he has recorded 12 solo albums. His live performance at the 1979 Montreux Jazz Festival was recorded on a double LP and released through Warner: Hermeto Pascoal ao Vivo. In 1996, he was awarded with the Prêmio Sharp as Best Arranger for the Duo Fel CD Kids of Brazil. In the same year, he received the Prêmio Ary Barroso. His recordings as a sideman add to over 79 albums. In April 2000, Pascoal toured again through the U.S. and the Boston Globe, in a recent review of one of his American performances, commented: "With equal parts virtuosity and eccentricity, Pascoal's sextet gave the rare example of a band that actually earned its standing ovation." ~ Alvaro Neder