News of virtuoso, master trombonist, composer Raul de Souza’s death sent shockwaves throughout Brazil and the international music community. “With great pain, the family communicates the death of Raul de Souza tonight in France. “Guerriero,” as always, fought until the end of his forces against cancer. Our Brazilian hero left for eternity, leaving for everyone his greatest legacy, his music. We are immensely grateful for the support that all of you have always shown,” wrote de Souza’s family in his obituary.
João José Pereira de Souza, aka “Raulzhino” was born in Rio de Janeiro, on August 23, 1934. He grew up in Bangu, a suburb of Rio de Janeiro. There, a trombonist in the local church band encouraged him to take up the instrument. At 16, after winning two talent shows, he adopted the moniker “Raulzhino.”
De Souza cites the jazz trombonists Frank Rosolino, J.J. Johnson, and John Coltrane as primary influences.
In the early 60s, de Souza was (briefly) a member of Sérgio Mendes’ revolutionary Bossa Rio Sextet and Manfredo Fest’s (pop-oriented) Bossa Rio. In 1965, he recorded his first album as a leader titled Raulzinho, A Vontade Mesmo (At Ease) for RCA.
De Souza was part of a wave of Brazilian artists that migrated to the U.S. on the heels of Stan Getz’s Jazz Samba (1962) and Getz/Gilberto (1964). When Airto Moreira and Flora Purim moved to the U.S. in 1968, they encouraged the trombonist to be part of their touring band. In a past interview, de Souza said he came to the U.S. seeking “better monetary conditions” and “recognition.”
De Souza is perhaps best remembered for his Samba/Jazz/Fusion recordings of the 70s and 80s: Colors (Milestone, 1975), Sweet Lucy (Capitol, 1977), Don’t Ask My Neighbors (Capitol, 1978), and ‘Til Tomorrow Comes (Capitol, 1979)
Lesser-known is his work as a sideman with Sonny Rollins (Nucleus, 1975), Cal Tjader (Amazonas, 1976), Hermeto Pascoal (Slaves, 1977), and with the jazz/fusion group, Caldera.
De Souza returned to Brazil in the 90s and participated in Tom Jobim’s 1996 Grammy-Winning Album Ant Nio Brasileiro. Between 1996 and 2020, he recorded The Other Side of the Moon 1993), Rio (1999), Elixir (2004), Jazzmim (2006), Soul & Creation (2008), Bossa Eterna (2008), Brazilian Samba Jazz (2016), Blue Voyage (2018), and Curitiba 58 (2020).
In 2017, de Souza and a group of young musicians met at a jazz festival in Hamburg, Germany, and formed the Generations Band. The group toured shortly before the pandemic and lived together for several weeks before recording Plenitude (Pao Records). The repertoire consists of contemporary arrangements that breathe new life into de Souza’s early funk successes. It also includes a rework of Chico Buarque’s Apesar De Voc and several original compositions.
The lineup includes the Swiss-born trombonist and arranger Christophe Schweizer, pianist Alex Correa, bassist Glauco Soltes and drummer Matheus Jardim. At the time of the sessions, de Souza was 83.
Unbeknownst to the general public, de Souza is the inventor of the electric valve trombone known as the “Souzabone.” According to de Souza, he created the trombone with four valves and pedals to find the low F and C notes.
While researching de Souza, I realized, with some exceptions, there is very little information about de Souza, the man. Here’s what he had to say about his collaboration with Sonny Rollins. “It was a fantastic experience! We became friends instantly. Unfortunately, he couldn’t do the album promotion tour because I was hit by a taxi and was immobilized for three months in the hospital. Sonny visited me at the hospital. We were sad because we couldn’t continue this work together.” Also, he believed the roots of samba, jazz, and funk were different languages united by their African roots.
If you’re not familiar with de Souza’s music, Plenitude is a great place to start. For a taste of de Souza as a composer and arranger, check out Brazilian Samba Jazz.
In the spoken introduction to Plenitude de Souza says, “a big hug to everybody. Be happy, glad, and satisfied with the life that God gave you.” RIP Raulzhino, descanse em paz!
Editor’s Note: Much of de Souza’s work is available on digital platforms and YouTube. For a complete discography visit discogs.com.