Party Week: M meets Deodato

Will Page touches base with Eumir Deodato to reflect on his career as a composer and arranger, and finds out why he is credited with inventing house music.

Anita Awbi
  • By Anita Awbi
  • 13 Dec 2011
  • min read
Brazilian-born Eumir Deodato has racked up 16 platinum records as artist, arranger or producer, with combined sales of more than 25 million in the US alone. His discography surpasses 450 albums, and he has arranged for Frank Sinatra, Aretha Franklin and more recently KD Lang and Bjork.

Despite a professional career spanning fifty years, he will forever be associated with one song - his innovative rendition of Richard Strauss' classical opus Also Sprach Zarathustra, more commonly known as the theme to Stanley Kubrick’s film 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Will Page touches base with Deodato to reflect on his career as a composer and arranger and finds out why he is credited with inventing house music.

The name Deodato is synonymous with your jazz-funk version of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Can you tell us how you approached that song as a composer and arranger?
When I made my first record for Creed Taylor at CTI Records, he suggested repertoire and one of his ideas was The Planets by Holst. I listened to that version but I didn’t like it at all. So I suggested 2001: A Space Odyssey. It used to be a very popular movie. I did it way after that though, and there were a lot of other versions but I wasn’t even aware of them.

I listened to it and let it sit for a while because I had no ideas. But when I was asleep I remembered I had some old material I wrote when I was young, called Baiao. It used to be a little line that I remembered. It was about two in the morning and I got up and played mine on top of the melody of the classical piece and it worked out. I went to the studio without an arrangement, because there wasn’t any time. I wrote part of the original Space Odyssey line out for the musicians. We started rehearsing and I had no idea they were recording. We didn’t have a take number, so we called it 000.

Creed Taylor liked it a lot and didn’t want me to record again. I told him I needed to record another take, and even though I did, he liked the first one and we ended up using that one. It was ten-and-a-half minutes long, but eventually a radio station in California decided to cut it to four-and-a-half minutes and that’s how it was put out as a single. Creed Taylor saw the results of that – people went crazy for it – and released it. Eventually it was a hit.

How did you feel about the reaction to that track and the album Prelude? As a composer and arranger did you think that musical forms such as jazz and rock had changed course?
It felt very good and I was amazed at the reaction. As a composer and arranger I was definitely convinced that jazz and rock had changed forever. We’re talking about 1972. In roughly 40 years a lot has changed. If you look at jazz now, it uses bossa nova and samba as vital elements. Many other things that happened in music, even in rock. The new rock is a result of many things that happened before.

Did the explosion of British artists in the 60s reach you and your contemporaries in Brazil? If so, who were the most influential in your opinion?
The influence of British artists in Brazil was gigantic. Some of the major groups, such as Moody Blues and Yes, Eric Clapton and Pink Floyd of course; these were very important groups in Brazil. But it didn’t affect Brazilian music per se, it continued its inward style, and followed its own roots.

There became a distinct style from the states up north, especially Bahia. Bahia created its own thing, and some of the most notable writers from the region, such as Gilberto Gil and Caetano Veloso became popular forever. But their music was stablised, it was nothing new. There were other guys that came after that.

This year you created a new album with some familiar old faces. The Crossing features names like Al Jarreau, Airto Moreira and Billy Cobham; artists you worked with almost forty years ago. How do you feel about the record and what does the future hold for Deodato?
It was a very fortunate experiment because it’s a combination of so many elements. Basically it’s an album which started as a conversation between a fantastic guitar player, producer and video maker.  Everybody wanted and needed some exposure so it came in handy for many people! Then I came along and put my flavours to the tracks and also changed a lot of them. The whole thing worked out in the end. I was in the middle of a tour in Europe but had some sessions in Palermo, Sicily, with a friend of mine, a singer, who had always been asking me to do an arrangement for him. And then there was a singer in Germany called Marita and she wanted me to play in one of her tracks so we decided to do it. It turned out very nice.

As an artist who has had millions of performances of his songs, how would you rate the importance of performance royalties to songwriters, and is it a revenue stream that you appreciate more over time?
These days, 90 percent of the possible artist income is from performances of their songs because the whole thing has changed with record sales and it’s a no-mans land. We don’t know what’s going to happen. I have no idea how we can go back to collecting royalties from the sale of CDs. There are not many stores left. It’s very obscure right now and the only thing that seems able to survive is the performance. So I tell everyone to cover themselves for live performance and on-air performance. After companies made music digitally available it became a completely different world.

Many people associate you with Brazil, but your music is not necessarily Brazilian. What do you think about this?
Starting with 2001: A Space Odyssey - which was my first original track that turned things around for me in the US and around the world - the common elements you find throughout that record are the Brazilian influences. I think it had a lot to do with the new style that a lot of people these days just call 'Deodato style'. A lot of people ask, ‘What kind of music do I do?’ They say ‘Deodato style’.

But I disagree with this, because I eventually did a lot of different styles, such as dance, or jazz, or Latin, some boleros. In other words, it really doesn’t matter; it’s just the music that I do. And to this day – to my complete amazement - I don’t play anything else than what I’ve always played, because it reflects what I always am and reflects what I really do. I never did strict bossa nova or samba so I can only call it Deodato blend!

You conducted your first orchestra in Rio aged 17. Can you explain what Brazil was like for songwriters during that fascinating era? What memories do you have of recording with other legendary songwriters like Milton Nascimento, Marcos Valle, Elis Regina and Antonio Carlos Jobim?
It was down to a friend of mine, a young guy just like me, who was the son of a famous comedian in Brazil and who was both a comedian and songwriter. He had the chance to do a record for Copacabana Records. He invited me to do the arrangement. I said, ‘Of course!’ then asked what an arrangement was! He told me that you must write parts for all the instruments. No problem, I did it, without being prepared. I decided to keep my word and I did it.

Unfortunately I had no notion what an arrangement or score was, so I wrote each individual instrument piece on a separate bit of paper, one at a time. With my accordion hanging off my shoulder I wrote each note, one by one. And then I had to figure out what they were, because I wasn’t familiar with all the sounds the instruments could make! I ended up using five violins, one tenor sax and one bass clarinet as a string section! I used a military instrument instead of a French horn. The others were pretty simple. I used flute, bass drum, guitar, piano. The timing for this was incredible. The amount of creativity  was fantastic.

In those days we used to do bossa nova reunions. Some rich people used to invite songwriters and composers over to their houses. They would have Steinway Grand Pianos in their beach apartments, but most of the time the composers would bring their guitar. In those days they were called Caititu. It was a very pleasant thing, but they wouldn’t give me a chance to show any of my songs, so I had to participate as an arranger. It was a fantastic time.

You also asked me about my memories of recording with all those legendary songwriters. Well, I worked with so many of these people and helped them with their search for a language, especially Milton Nascimento and Marcos Valle. I got Milton Nascimento started with his arrangement on my song The Festival. With Marcus Valle I did so many records with him, it was almost as though we were partners. And with Jobim the same thing almost, but not quite to the same extent. I’m very happy they had such good careers and I’m still in contact with all of them.

Many fans will associate you with the two CTI albums Prelude and Deodato 2, and the influence they have had on artists like Jamiroquai. However,  dance music DJs cite the track Whistle Bump from Love Island as the birth of house music. Can you tell us about the appeal of this song, and especially the work you did on the drum pattern?
Even now, at this moment, DJs are my biggest fans. They use my songs in their dance tracks. There are songs I’ve forgotten but they are being used in clubs. But with Jamiroquai, people just do as they are born. I don’t think there was any malicious intent, it happens all the time. It happened with Jobim, it happened from Jobim. Everybody has that influence and it can translate to similar melodies and harmonies, after all, there are only seven notes. What else can I say?

To my surprise, Giles Peterson told me that Whistle Bump was listed in the Guinness Book of Records for being one of the most played tracks in England. The appeal of the song is simple. It was a track I came up with in the studio, with Larry Calton doing a very nice pattern on the guitar and Pops Popwell (the bass player from The Crusaders) doing a fantastic beat on the bass. I don’t think they played exactly what I asked them to play, but I needed their creativity. Some of these patterns are completely there. With the drums I told him pretty much what I wanted him to do, especially with the hi-hat and the bass drum. But the bass drum is not very even so I had to redo it. It hurt after about five hours of redoing it! The producer of the disco version was Jimmy Simpson, the brother of Valerie Simpson.

The September issue of M magazine had Bjork on the cover. Can you tell us about the various collaborations you’ve worked with her on?

We worked together and had a lot of fun. As far as I can remember there were four or five projects. My favourite is Homogenic. We did it in Trevor Morais’ studio in Marbella. He had built a castle in the hills. We worked on the material she brought with eight Icelandic players. I stayed with her in the castle. She was extremely gentle and nice to me. She made me feel happy and we worked very hard on the record. She’s amazing and super-professional about her work, and very happy when she’s having fun. She knows how to separate the two. I admire Bjork tremendously.

Speaking of collaborations, are there still any more artists you'd love to work with?
There are loads of artists I would love to work with. There is a friend who I lost contact with for many decades, a top Brazilian singer Roberto Carlos. I have some great ideas to do a record with him so I’m hoping on an invitation from him!

And there are people I would like to revisit. Luce Cassal is a fantastic Spanish singer and we did a great record with some unknown boleros from Cuba and Mexico and Spain, and one song from Brazil. I worked with a 17-year-old singer called Lara Rizzotto, its fantastic. I produced and arranged one song for her. I wish I had more time to do more with her. One of the songs I did with her is Who You Are.

But it doesn’t work like that for me. I don’t think of an artist and approach them. It’s not a good thing for me.

To read M's interview with Brazilian electro-pop party-starters CSS, click here.