A giant in the world of jazz has gone on down the Good King’s Highway. Zuza Homem de Mello (original name: José Eduardo Homem de Mello), was born in Sao Paulo, Brazil in 1933. He was justifiably the most respected Brazilian journalist and musicologist who specialized in Brazilian Music and Jazz. He was a man of uncommon spirit and grace, of soul and of engagement with human possibilities through the art of music. Zuza’s curiosity, his scholarship and his collegiality transcended all boundaries. He was excellence itself.
In his teenage years, he played the bass in music clubs all over Sao Paulo. In 1957, he moved to the United States to study with the great Ray Brown at the School of Jazz in Tanglewood and he also studied Musicology at the Juilliard School.
Coming back to Brazil in 1959, he joined one of the most famous TV networks (TV Record) to work as a sound engineer and went on to book international artists for the most important music festivals in Brazil.
After ten years of working at TV Record, Zuza devoted the remainder of his career to developing radio and TV programs, and to writing bestselling books that provided high quality and detailed information about Brazilian Music to all audiences.
He produced and directed Brazilian music and Jazz festivals held in Sao Paulo in the late 70’s and 80’s where he worked with the most famous Brazilian musicians including Elis Regina, Joao Bosco, Milton Nascimento and Jacob do Bandolim, among many others. To know him was to love him. He was infectious enthusiasm with the fire of social consciousness. His work was imbued with cultural and musical understanding. It was ennobled by his tireless work to bring diverse people together through concerts, festivals and gatherings and to connect each person with a larger world through education.
Last year in September, Zuza came to New York for the premiere of his documentary “Zuza Homem de Jazz”. I was fortunate to greet him at a party with many of our great brothers and sisters. His presence illuminated the room and we were all so happy to be with him. In the documentary, he talks about the influence of Jazz on Brazilian music and of Brazilian music on Jazz. Before going to the premiere, he made sure to stop at our House of Swing to watch the JLCO rehearse. He brought his characteristic joy to this experience and we responded with a commensurate respect and elation.
A couple of weeks later, in Brazil, he launched a series of 50 podcasts devoted entirely to telling the history of Duke Ellington and his music, leveraging his vast collection of albums and research materials about Duke.
Zuza was a giant and we have suffered a great loss. As is the case with Stanley Crouch, don’t listen to people’s accounting of him – if you want to know him, read him. He was for real. Rest in Peace Brother Zuza. Proveta and I have to do something to show the proper respect.