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'Pieta': Milton Nascimento's Homage to Women

Unidentified Man: Now please help us welcome to the Blue Note stage Milton Nascimento.

(Soundbite of cheering and applause)


Brazilian singer, composer, pianist and guitarist Milton Nascimento recently played some rare concert dates in North America, including a four-night stint at the Blue Note in New York City.

(Soundbite of song)

Mr. MILTON NASCIMENTO (Musician): (Singing) Hey-yah, hey! Hey, uh-huh. Hey! Hey, uh-huh. Hey! Hey-yah, hey, hey, hey!

HANSEN: Milton Nascimento's chant is his signature sound. It appears on his jazz and his world music albums. But he defies labels. His charismatic and experienced stage presence, though, makes an audience feel it has been drawn into his living room.

(Soundbite of song)

Mr. NASCIMENTO: (Singing in Portuguese)

HANSEN: Nascimento was in the United States to support the American release of his new recording, "Pieta." It's a collection of songs dedicated to his adoptive mother, Lilia. She used to sing in a choir under the direction of Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos, and was a profound influence on Nascimento's long career as one of Brazil's music heroes.

Mr. NASCIMENTO: Lilia was the first feminine voice that I heard in my life. And she has a piano in home in Rio. And she--her sister used to play the piano, and I stayed in the sight of the piano, dancing.

(Soundbite of song)

Backup Singers: (Singing in Portuguese)

Mr. NASCIMENTO: When I was very, very young--four or five or six years--I only liked to listen for women singing because the women, I felt like they sang with their heart. And the men used to sing to show their power in the voice.


Mr. NASCIMENTO: So I used to listen only for women, and I think I was a little crazy because I used to imitate the women singing.

HANSEN: Is it true that you used to impersonate people like Billie Holiday when you were younger?

Mr. NASCIMENTO: Yes, like, Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald and Yma Sumac. Do you know Yma Sumac?

HANSEN: Yma Sumac, yes.


HANSEN: Peruvian.

Mr. NASCIMENTO: Yes. Sarah Vaughan, many kinds of voices.

(Soundbite of song)

Mr. NASCIMENTO: (Singing in Portuguese)

HANSEN: When Nascimento's voice began to change in adolescence, he became upset. He was afraid he would lose his heart if he was not able to sing like a woman.

Mr. NASCIMENTO: I was not happy. And then the radio was playing a song with Ray Charles. "Stella By Starlight" was the first music that I heard with Ray Charles, and I became very quiet with my eyes closed and I said, `My God, men can sing with the heart, too.' So Ray Charles saved my life.

(Soundbite of song)

Mr. NASCIMENTO: (Singing in Portuguese)

(Soundbite of music)

HANSEN: Milton Nascimento became one of Brazil's greatest pop singers, but his musical horizons quickly expanded. And throughout his career, he's worked with such music greats as Paul Simon, Wayne Shorter, Peter Gabriel and Sarah Vaughan.

(Soundbite of song)

Mr. NASCIMENTO: (Singing) Love will always win when you give it make-believe. Love will set a trap to catch the souls of those who dream. Love is just a child at play when true love breaks your heart.

(Singing in foreign language)

HANSEN: What did you learn from working with Sarah Vaughan?

Mr. NASCIMENTO: It was a shock for me, because the women's voice that I used to listen when I was a child, one of them was Sarah, Sarah Vaughan. And when she came to--the first time we record in Brazil. When she came to Rio and she called me to sing with her my songs, I almost died. It was fantastic.

(Soundbite of "Cantelope Island")

Mr. NASCIMENTO: (Singing) Da-da. Doo-doo-doo-doo, doo-doo-doo-doo-doo. Dooo.

HANSEN: Milton Nascimento also collaborated extensively with pianist Herbie Hancock and they continued to be very close friends. Hancock's tune, "Cantelope Island," is featured on "Pieta," and Nascimento performs it with his signature wordless vocals. The cut also features guitarist Pat Metheny. Nascimento first met Herbie Hancock when Hancock was in Brazil on his honeymoon.

Mr. NASCIMENTO: Herbie said, `Hey, play for me.' So I picked up my guitar and I sat down beside him and start to play a song called "Pargie"(ph) that is on the "Native Dancer."

(Soundbite of "Pargie")

Mr. NASCIMENTO: (Singing in foreign language)

Suddenly, he said, `Hey, please, stop.' And then he came back with a tape recorder and said to me, `Now you can play.' So I played them many songs. And from this time until now, almost every place, everything that I do in the United States, Herbie is there.

(Soundbite of "Cantelope Island")

Mr. NASCIMENTO: (Singing) Da-da-da-da-da, doo-doo-doo-doo-dooo. Doo-doo-doo-doo-dooo. Doo-doo-doo-doo-dee-dee. Doo-doo! Ooh.

HANSEN: "Cantelope Island" can be heard on Milton Nascimento's new recording on the Savoy Jazz label called "Pieta," and he joined us from the studios of WGBH in Boston.

Milton Nascimento, thank you so much.

Mr. NASCIMENTO: OK, thank you.

(Soundbite of "Cantelope Island")

Mr. NASCIMENTO: (Singing) Hey-hey!




HANSEN: Sheilah Kast will be sitting in next week. I'm Liane Hansen. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.