It seems lucky: a Brazilian comes to America and the
first week gets a record deal and a lawyer. Ahhh, the
land of opportunity. It’s Mayuto Correa’s mettle rather
than luck that resulted in success
“I’m a jazz militant activist,” he confesses.
Mayuto Correa. I met him in Laguna Beach, California, at a concert he and his twelve piece Samba Pack were giving
in benefit of Rio Films. It’s all a blur in my memory now. I remember him playing the conga, guitar, and all his little
percussion toys. It was dark. Frantic sounds were coming from everywhere, as if Carnaval had hit, making it was easy to lose
oneself in the splendor of it all. The backup singers in his Pack were dancing the samba, when several Brazilians from the
audience arose, as if being called, and began to
samba in front of the stage. Conga lines started to form. It was like an
underground Brazilian cult, a tight stupor. Everywhere people were moving while sounds were flying and Mayuto sang; did
somebody say PARTY!!?!?? At the end of the song, Mayuto triumphantly brought the Brazilian
sambistas up from the audience and proclaimed, “Brazilians—hot stuff!”
Six months later, I arrive at his new home on the outskirts of Los Angeles. It’s white, with a white picket fence.
Mayuto ushers me in, apologizing for the mess, since he hasn’t had a chance to unpack everything, as I can see from the boxes
piled up against the bare white walls. I sense his ambitious nature as he reveals his plans to cover the walls with murals and
convert the extra room into a recording studio once he is settled.
His demeanor is relaxed, and already I can tell from his glasses that he’s of the intellectual sort. Even more
enchanting is his voice. It’s thick, with a charming Portuguese accent and the allure of a storyteller. Offsetting his personality is his
attire. He’s wearing a Drew University Jazz Fest hat, a festival he will attend later today. He wears it like an Angel’s fan would
wear a baseball hat. It’s almost funny. I like it. He’s really great. We find a place to sit among the stray microphones, boxes,
OK, OK. Now the story of his life. Mayuto was born in São Gonçalo, Rio de Janeiro state. From the time he was a
young boy, he was not just good, but very good at many covetable talents.
As a teenager, there was a time when he could have become a star
futebol (soccer) player. He “wasn’t really going to
school,” when his father took him to see a head
futebol coach. He made it into the divisão infanto-juvenil de futebol do
Flamengo, or in plain English, the young division of the professional soccer team Flamengo. “I was so busy deciding what I was
going to do, and it took my life apart.” He explains that to be in soccer, a player must go into a three-day period of nothing,
called concentration, before each game.
It was impossible to be fully devoted to soccer while trying to do music at the same time. So he quit. “It was a
nightmare for twenty years. In my sleep I would dream I was playing.” Things did fall into place though, and now the beaming
musician is at peace with this decision. “Now I joke with Pelé,” he says laughing, because “now he’s an entertainer too.”
With soccer crossed off the list, he only had psychology, medical school, music, and acting remaining. “Psychology
was my real passion,” he says. He was not a regular student, yet he was “totally dedicated.” Spending many a day following
people on the street to observe their behavior was not uncommon. As a teenager, he had already read Freud and the major
psychology books, and even authored his own stack. He even had his own theories. He entered medical school, but again, it
conflicted with his music. An X through medical school.
Doing It All
The list now concisely read: music, acting, and psychology. He would do them all. By this time you’ve probably
figured out that he’s a prodigy.
“Salgueiro—that was my samba school,” he says, going on to talk about his musical origins. At this point we’ll skip
the “David Copperfield” stuff—you know, the typical musician’s story: talented as a kid, performs here and there in
nightclubs, joins bands, rises like a new star on the horizon, etcetera, etcetera. In a nutshell: he becomes a percussionist.
In the mid 60’s he became the artistic director of Human Behavior at the renowned Sao Paulo and Rio university,
PUC (Pontifícia Universidade Católica). At this time revolution was brewing: the military staged a coup, oppression was
rampant, and militant student movements formed a resistance. “The military took over and PUC was closed for two years.
Students were killed,” he admits sadly. “It was very hard for an artist in that period. Any writer in Brazil if not for the government
went to jail. And I said, `I’m not gonna write for this government!’ ” As it is widely known, Gilberto Gil and many other artists
were jailed. “When I saw those people go to jail, I said `I’m not going to jail!’ ”
So off to Mexico he went to join the other prominent Brazilian musicians of the time: João Gilberto, Carlos Lyra,
Vinicius de Moraes, and Leny Andrade to name a few. He hung out for a year in Mexico City where he performed as
percussionist with the Tamba 4, João Gilberto, and the rest.
When I ask about the Joãos, he smiles. “João Donato is very similar to João Gilberto,” which has often been said.
“They are both very elevated in terms of the arts,” and with a chuckle he adds, “and a little bit off the walls. I would not let that
happen to me.” Mayuto then starts acting out what went on in Mexico for the entire year of his residence. “Every night João
Gilberto would knock on my door at 2 a.m.” Mayuto is playfully illustrating, knocking the air as João would knock on the door,
“and I knew he was coming. He’d ask, `What are you doing?’ ” Mayuto roars with laughter. “We would stay up till 6 in the
morning singing.” When João and Mayuto’s wife would sing together, “I would leave them for a couple hours, and when I came
back, they would be singing the same song.” Mayuto laughs, and then softening he says, “You never know what you’re
going to do with Joao Gilberto. His repertoire is beautiful and a song is each time different.”
Mexico was a lark, but after a year he left for what he thought would be a one-week vacation in Los Angeles,
California. At the airport, the first person he called was João Donato, who had already left Mexico. “I was going to go by bus—a
uh, what do you call it? Greyhound?” I nod. “Greyhound.” The two had never met before, but finding Donato in the crowd
wasn’t hard. “He’s very tall. I saw this tall guy looking around, and then he turned and pointed at me,” raising his voice
Mayuto mimics him, “Ohhhhh MAYUTO!!!” He had planned to stay in a hotel, but since “Brazilian people are very hospitable,”
Donato insisted Mayuto “no go to hotel.”
Mayuto remembers Donato “bangin’ the piano” at his L.A. house. “I said `What are ya doin’ man?’ and [Donato]
said, `I have a record to record this Saturday and I’m composin’ the tunes now.’ ” Mayuto lets out a big laugh, and its
evident that, like everyone else, he can’t help loving the Joãos. “In three to four days he had seven songs. Two days before
Saturday, he had nine. And the last one, he took so long.” Mayuto helped him, “I gave him the bridge,” and Donato was so
impressed, that he told producer Tommy LiPuma, “I want [Mayuto] to perform with me.” When asked by LiPuma what he needed,
Mayuto responded, “$1000 and a contract.”
Obtaining a green card was no problem because big-time lawyer Tony N. (representing Cantinflas) offered to
represent Mayuto for free after seeing one of his enchanting performances.
It seems lucky, doesn’t it: a Brazilian comes to America and the first week gets a record deal and a lawyer. Ahhh, the
land of opportunity. Mayuto admits humbly, “my life has been very easy,” and gives credit to God. But let’s consider, was it
really easy? Easy for him; but to any other it wouldn’t have been. It’s his mettle rather than luck that resulted in success. In all
his endeavors, he put in 110 percent. Choosing integrity and shunning moral relativism from the beginning set him up to get
everything he wanted the right way, “without stepping on anybody’s toes.”
“Everything I do has a purpose. Everything comes from my view of behavior and the arts. I’m a jazz militant
activist.” Nonconformity, he explains, means being true to yourself, “you’ve got to be the best of you to show you.” This meant
being selective in using his talents, and if necessary, turning down lucrative deals when they violate his values.
When a big shot from industry asked Mayuto to do disco, he replied, “I don’t do disco music,” and wiping off his
look of disgust he adds, “I can make anybody dance, but not to disco.” I am of course cracking up—Mayuto’s a clencher.
Another time, Mayuto declined doing the percussion for the production of
The Lion King in L.A. because it required him to play
by the book. “I will not play because I’m a percussionist. I don’t go to replace anybody,” he says resolutely.
The line must be drawn, you see, to protect the true spirit of music—something so beautiful and sacred that every
time you think of it, you can’t help but stop and sigh.
Fed Up With Rock
Mayuto mentions again that he’s a “jazz militant.” Jazz had become low key in the 70’s due to the fusion and rock n’
roll invasion. “I was fed up with rock n’ roll invading jazz.” And with a grimace, he mutters,
“Smooth jazz was damaging jazz.” You’re probably imagining elevator music and Kenny G. “Musicians were dying; killing themselves. A lot of jazz clubs
were in trouble.” Like a respectable jazz junky, Mayuto verdantly worked to preserve clubs, arranging bookings and helping
them get back on their feet. During these years, he also wrote for the
Los Angeles Times, publishing articles on the importance
of preserving jazz to combat the ever-impinging pop culture.
When he wasn’t going to “all the places” with Donato, Mayuto drifted around the jazz scene in the 70’s, playing
with numerous jazz greats and making his mark. Leonard Feather would list him in his
Encyclopedia of Jazz in the 70’s.
He played with them all: touring with Gabor Szabo (later joining Szabo’s Perfect Circle), Freddie Hubbard, and
sharing the stage with numerous others itoncluding Sinatra, Milton Nascimento, Kenny Burrell, etcetera.
Mayuto lights up when he remembers being a band with Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter, and Ben Carson. He would
cook the band a mean fish Brazilian style, and they loved it. “Herbie would always say, `Mayuto, when are we going to Brazil?!'”
When it comes to his legendary performances with Cannonball Adderley at the Troubadour Club in L.A., Mayuto
gets especially sentimental. He reminisces softly, “When Adderley died, there was a hole in the wall of music.” Mayuto
tenderly displays the program of a UCLA tribute to his friend Adderley, in which he participated with fellow musicians Kenny
Burrell, Freddie Hubbard, Joe Sample, and Billy Higgins.
On a three year hiatus in Brazil, Mayuto, still on the multi-task mode, produced and directed many plays, including
Zarina, Skid Row, Brazilian Wave, and Negra
Elza. He told his actors to act from within the subconscious, that they had to
“dig inside” deeper. “The press asked me, `Don’t you think it’s dangerous?’ and I said `No, she still followed the script.’
Improvisation goes absolutely deeper.”
Improvisation, like in acting, is the jewel of his spontaneous ability to create sound as beauty upon beauty. Mayuto
is music; simply is.
He brings out some old records he has appeared on. Over the years he has lost track of all his credits, and even
he doesn’t have all his recordings. He relies on friends to find them. “These are my
treasures,” he says holding his records close.
He pulls out Moacir Santos’ Saudade. Showing me his name next to percussion, he says, “Moacir Santos
is the maestro (teacher). And Oscar Castro Neves—he’s also the
Mayuto’s somewhat a maestro himself. His wisdom is simply contagious. Over the course of time, he has adopted
many protégés. Occasionally he would give lectures to UCLA students. “The first thing I would tell them is, `This is a place of
many lies.’ ” He quickly adds that this applies to any university. “In university you learn how the
universe is. You follow procedures, books, and traditions—this does not reflect what
really is.” Mayuto then justifies himself, admitting that college is a
wonderful thing, but warns that students should not depend on fact alone. He emphasizes getting out of the classroom and into
the real world, which is exactly what he did. He is very active in the community. In L.A. he founded the Rainforest Theater.
“I would take in the homeless and teach them how to act.”
Currently Mayuto leads his twelve piece Samba Pack, which includes himself on percussion, and a wide variety of
musical talent and even a few samba dancers. You might catch him and the Pack at venues in L.A. every now and then. In
addition to unpacking, one of his current projects is composing the musical score for a documentary on the California sea lion,
which he was commissioned to do by his producer friend, Alan de Herrera of Rio Films.
People down at Jazz at Drew keep calling Mayuto on their cell phones, and he realizes he’s lost track of time. It
seems I will have to catch him at his next concert for the former.
“No problems about me is the best compensation to have. I go to sleep happy.” Happy with being dissatisfied with
actuality; happy knowing he did right. “Actuality is whatever people made outside,” he says motioning to the window where
outside lurks mankind—yuppy cell phone addicts, recklessly driving SUVs.
“Reality exists in the minds of some people. It is
what’s supposed to be.” I cannot deny it’s true. Mayuto
knows. He is so down to earth; undeniably the realest person you’ll
ever meet. There’s a knowing look in his eyes, one that embodies that genuine quality of old that I admire so much. “You’ve
got to sharpen yourself,” he declares; and at 59, he is still plenty sharp, because after all, he’s Brazilian—”hot stuff.”
other people on Mayuto
Gabor Szabo (musician): “A fiery percussionist, full of lyricism and romantic beauty.”
Astrud Gilberto (musician): “A wonderful musician.” And in reference to performing with Mayuto in the group put
together by Oscar C. Neves for Jobim’s tribute in New York, she recalls the group was “top notch!”
John Dants (critic): “The Coltrane of the Congas.”
Earl Palmer, Sandra Oei, John Levy: “The best conga player in the world.”
Carmenmara Bravo-Hernandez: (professor): “His music moves even the souls of people.”
Francesco Crosara (musician): “Mayuto is the ray of sun that breaks through after a dark storm. Wherever he
shows up with his thousand percussions and toys the room “lights up” and suddenly comes alive. I have never met a more
exceptional musician and friend.”
Ara Tokatlian of Arco Iris (musician): “Apasionado e increíble…Mayuto era un visionario.” (Passionate
and incredible….Mayuto was a visionary.)
Check out Mayuto’s sounds!
Gato Barbieri’s Finest Hour, Gato Barbieri. Verve. ’00.
Brazilian Horizons, Vol. 2. Various. Fantasy/Milestone. ’99.
Blue Break Beats, Vol. 3. Various. ’97.
Groovy, Vol. 2: A Collection of Rare Jazzy Club Tracks.
Various. Irma. ’97.
Waves, Charles Lloyd. A & M. ’89.
Stepping into Tomorrow, Donald Byrd. Blue Note. ’76.
Places and Spaces, Donald Byrd. Blue Note. ’75.
Saudade, Moacir Santos. Blue Note (Jpn.). ’74.
Tambu, Cal Tjader & Charlie Byrd. Fantasy.
Latino America, Gato Barbieri. Impulse. ’73.
Symphonic Soul, Henry Mancini. RCA. ’88.
Caricatures, Donald Byrd. ’76.
Live with Charles Lloyd, Gabor Szabo. Blue Thumb. ’74.
The Happy People, Cannonball
Adderley. Capitol. Unknown.
Mayuto Correa can be reached at
Melinda Wong is a California jazz junky and college bum. Email her at