The Artistry of Almeida
by John Tynan
There is nothing of the stereotyped conception of the virtuoso about classical guitarist Laurindo Almeida.
From the moment he entered the office on the 11th floor of Capitol Records' towering glasshouse one was impressed by his complete lack of aggressiveness. He communicated, rather, an air of quiet, almost humble, self-assurance.
The casualness with which he settled into the big leather chair, one felt, stemmed from an inner relaxation. Almeida, in fact, struck one as the epitome of natural, unself-conscious talent.
Smilingly refusing a cigaret, Laurindo commented, "I'm not actually a jazz guitarist. Not so far as the electric guitar is concerned, anyway. I love jazz - very much - but I feel that I can do more with the instrument by sticking to my own style. You see, I don't feel the style of, say, Barney Kessel or Johnny Smith, so there's no sense in my trying to play like them."
First introduced to the jazz public as featured guitarist with the Stan Kenton band over a decade ago, when he regularly performed in concert Pete Rugolo's Lament, Almeida subsequently made many jazz friends via his quartet album on Pacific Jazz on which he was aided by Bud Shank's alto, Harry Babasin's bass, and Roy Harte's drums. Now expanded to a 12" record, the Laurindo Almeida quartet LP still is a good seller in the catalog of World Pacific Records.
Bob Myers (left) & Laurindo Almeida
His present Capitol contract, however, is to produce classical albums only. "This is not because I don't want to do jazz albums, but because my classical records have been so successful." At present writing Almeida has the following distinguished albums on the market: Impressoes Do Brazil, Vistas De Espana, From The Romantic Era, Guitar Music Of Spain, Guitar Music Of Latin America, and Duets with the Spanish Guitar. The last named features the flute of Martin Ruderman and Salli Terri's contralto voice.
As a classical artist, Almeida is blessed by having the sensitive direction of artists and repertoire supervisor Bob Myers, who permanently brought the guitarist to the coast label.
Bespectacled, fiftyish Myers describes Almeida as "...the Marcel Grandjany of the guitar." Grandjany, dean of classical harpists, and Almeida, feels Myers, have on important quality in common, "...an innate refinement and gentility. They approach music humbly, as if they were its servants. This is rare."
Because of the guitarist's success as a classical artist, Capitol sees no point in his recording another album with jazz musicians. Laurindo feels differently. He hopes to record another album similar in tone to the one with Bud Shank and, noting the determination with which he expresses that idea, one gets the distinct impression that he'll do it - by hook or by crook. Considering he finished 10th in this magazine's 1957 Readers Poll as the world's most popular jazz guitarist, that idea adds up to plain economic horsesense.
At present, Laurindo states candidly, "...I make my living by doing free lance work, so often I don't get name credits on the television and motion picture features I do." Recently, however, he has gotten screen credit for his background playing on such pictures as Paramount's Maracaibo and Columbia's Escape From San Quenton. The latter film features solo guitar throughout.
Remarking that "...I love this work," Laurindo discussed his musical part in a recent movie short feature produced by famed designer Charles Eames, The Day Of The Dead. "The setting was a Mexican holiday similar to our Memorial Day. There was just guitar all through. Me. I had to catch the different moods of the people on this important day in their lives. It was very exciting. The movie is only 15 minutes long, but I found the work fascinating."
Almeida also wants to do "...things that haven't yet been done with the Spanish guitar. Segovia accomplished all the things worth while by the established classical composers. I'd like to see what American composers would write for the Spanish guitar. As a matter of fact, I commissioned works from a group of American composers for the instrument." He smiled once more.
"I think when you hear the results you'll be quite pleasantly surprised."
[from down beat - July 24, 1958]