Flora Purim began studying piano and classical guitar while growing up in Brazil. Her Russian-born father and Brazilian mother were both musicians and encouraged their daughter's love of the art form. Although her father forbade her to study anything but classical music, her mother introduced her to jazz during the daytime when her father was not home. "My father didn't want to hear anything in the house but classical music," Purim told JazzReview.com. "My mother, who was a pianist, loved Oscar Peterson and Erroll Garner. She would bring home those 78 vinyl RPMs and when my father was at work, she would play them. That was how I got exposed to jazz music."
Purim began playing guitar and singing in nightclubs in her hometown of Rio de Janeiro and in Sao Paulo in the 1960s and met her husband, percussionist Airto Moreira, during this time. She moved to Los Angeles in 1966 and briefly studied drama at UCLA. The following year she moved to New York, where Moreira joined her, and she began frequenting jazz clubs and after-hours jam sessions.
Soon, Purim was invited to sing with Duke Pearson, then with Gil Evans and Stan Getz. "After-hours in New York, the musicians would go to Walter Booker's studio to jam," the singer recalled in Down Beat. "Stan was there, and Chick Corea was playing piano; Joe Chambers was playing drums; Walter, bass. They were doing 'How Insensitive,' and I went over to the piano to sing. Somebody recorded it, and it sounded so good that Stan invited me to work with him in Europe." Purim credits Evans with introducing her to a more improvisation-based form of music. "This guy changed my life. He gave us a lot of support to do the craziest stuff. This was the beginning for me," she is quoted as saying in her website biography.
In 1971 Purim was invited to sing with Chick Corea. When she discovered Corea also needed a percussionist, she recommended Moreira, and the pair signed on to the project that would become the seminal fusion outfit Return to Forever. The couple remained in the group for two key albums, Return to Forever and Light As a Feather, before departing to pursue solo projects and tour together. Purim released her first solo LP, Butterfly Dreams, in 1973; Stories to Tell was released the following year. Purim's career was waylaid briefly when she served a year-and-a-half sentence for cocaine possession during 1974 and 1975. Still, she was able to pursue her art even behind bars; she performed a widely reviewed concert, emceed by Cannonball Adderley, at the Terminal Island minimum security federal prison in southern California, where she was being held. The concert, the first performance by an inmate in the history of the U.S. penal system, was also broadcast, preceded by an interview with the singer, on Los Angeles jazz station KBCA. Purim had kept her voice limber by hollering at airplanes and imitating cats and birds. Purim's producer, Orrin Keepnews, reviewed the concert, which was attended by more than 800 fellow inmates, for Down Beat. "I have believed for about 20 years that one of the most important things jazz is all about is love; in all those years I have never heard a stronger demonstration of the truth of this," Keepnews wrote in his review.
Purim stayed in the spotlight even during her residency at Terminal Island, releasing a live album, 500 Miles High, and receiving the first of four Down Beat magazine Top Female Vocalist awards in 1974. While faced with the threat of deportation following her release, Purim ultimately was allowed to remain in the United States with Moreira and her daughter, Diana. She released a steady stream of albums throughout the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, and in the 1970s she also lent her voice to recordings by some of the decade's biggest names, including Carlos Santana, Gil Evans, Chick Corea, and Mickey Hart. In 1991 Purim and Airto launched their Fourth World project. In 1992 she contributed to two Grammy Award-winning albums: Mickey Hart's Planet Drum, which won an award for Best World Music Album and Dizzy Gillespie and the United Nations Orchestra, which was awarded Best Large Jazz Ensemble Performance. Purim cites Gillespie as a major influence on her later work. "In the three years I spent singing with the United Nations Orchestra, he taught me so much about American music that I got involved with a new way of singing jazz music," she told JazzReview.com.
While affiliated with many of jazz music's luminaries, Purim has never considered herself a jazz singer. "She has borrowed from jazz, but that doesn't make her a jazz vocalist," one Down Beat reviewer noted. Nor did Purim have any interest in being associated strictly with bossa nova, the most identifiable Brazilian musical form. "I am not a bossa nova singer," she told Americas. "I never was. I am a fusion singer." As such, Purim's vocal style is marked by a fluid ability to alter styles, a reliance on scat-style, wordless vocals, and a remarkable six-octave range. Her reliance on rhythms over words comes as much from linguistic necessity as it does from any musical intuition. "I first got into that because I couldn't pronounce words in English," she told Down Beat. "There were many good lyrics but I couldn't pronounce and articulate them and I had to sacrifice the music in order to be ready to say a word properly."
It was the recognition that she could set her own rules that allowed Purim to develop her staggering six-octave vocal range as well. "I extended my voice when I was no longer afraid that I'd miss the notes—or, rather, not hit them with quality," she told Down Beat. "Then I found out that people like it better when you put your real feelings into the music, not caring if the quality is perfect or not. That's too cold. Human beings aren't perfect, and it's good to sound like a human being."
For the Record . . .
Born on March 6, 1942, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; married Airto Moreira (a musician), late 1960s; children: Diana.
Performed at Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro nightclubs, 1960s; moved to Los Angeles, briefly studied drama, 1966; relocated to New York; sang with Stan Getz, Duke Pearson, and Gil Evans; joined Chick Corea and husband Airto Moreira in Return for Forever; launched solo career with release of Butterfly Dreams on Milestone, 1973; continued to work as soloist and in ensembles with Moreira, in Mickey Hart's Planet Drum project, in Dizzy Gillespie's United Nations Orchestra.
Awards: Grammy Award, Best World Music Album (with Mickey Hart) for Planet Drum, 1991; Grammy Award, Best Large Jazz Ensemble Performance (with Dizzy Gillespie and the United Nations Orchestra), 1991; four Down Beat Top Female Vocalist awards.
Addresses: Record company— Narada, 4650 N. Port Washington Rd. Milwaukee, WI 53212, website: http://www.narada.com Website— Flora Purim Official Web-site: http://www.florapurim.com.
Purim's fiery human sound continues to earn her accolades into the twenty-first century, with such recordings as 2001's Perpetual Emotion and Speak No Evil, released in 2003. Of Perpetual Emotion, Billboard magazine noted of Purim, "Never sounding better, her voice still has the clarity of a bell, and her wonderfully nuanced phrasing shines." Throughout her career, Purim has fought attempts to commercialize her sound. "I was a rebel from the beginning," she told Americas, "and I still am a rebel."
(With Return to Forever) Return to Forever, ECM, 1972.
(With Return to Forever) Light As a Feather, Polydor, 1972; reissued, Polygram, 1998.
Butterfly Dreams, Milestone, 1973.
Stories to Tell, Milestone, 1974.
500 Miles High, Milestone, 1974.
Encounter, Milestone, 1976.
Nothing Will Be As It Was … Tomorrow, Milestone, 1976.
Carry On, Concord, 1979.
The Magicians, Concord, 1986.
The Midnight Sun, Venture, 1988.
Milestone Memories, BGP, 1994.
Speed of Light, B&W, 1994.
(With Fourth World) Encounters of the Fourth World, B&W,
1995. (With Fourth World) Last Journey, M.E.L.T. 2000, 1999.
Perpetual Emotion, Narada, 2001.
Flora Purim Sings Milton Nascimento, Narada, 2002.
Speak No Evil, Narada, 2003.
Kernfeld, Barry, editor, The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz, Macmillan, 2002.
Americas, July/August 2001.
Billboard, February 17, 2001; February 1, 2003.
Down Beat, December 19, 1974; April 24, 1975; June 5, 1975; October 5, 1978.
"Flora Purim," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (December 2, 2003).
"Flora Purim: Queen of Brazilian Jazz," JazzReview.com, http://www.jazzreview.com/articledetails.cfm?ID=1202 (December 2, 2003).
Flora Purim Official Website, http://www.florapurim.com (December 2, 2003).
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