In Brazilian circles, veteran drummer João Palma commands the sort of respect that has been given to Max Roach in hard bop, John Bonham in heavy metal/hard rock and Ray Barretto in salsa/Afro-Cuban music; in other words, he is widely regarded as one of the best drummers in his field. Over the years, Palma has played with everyone from Milton Nascimento to Sergio Mendes to Astrud Gilberto—and that isn't counting all the non-Brazilian stars who have employed him (a list that ranges from Stanley Turrentine to Frank Sinatra). Palma is both a jazz drummer and a pop drummer; he has done more than his share of jazz projects, although he is equally accomplished when it comes to Brazilian pop or MPB (which is short for "musica popular braziliera"—a Portuguese-language term that means "Brazilian popular music"). Over the years, Palma has been compared to various American jazz drummers; perhaps the most accurate comparison is cool jazz icon Shelly Manne. Clearly, jazz' cool school has had a major impact on Palma's playing—and like Manne, Palma is a master of subtlety, restraint and understatement. Another valid comparison is American post-bop drummer Joe Chambers, who is also known for his use of subtlety. Born in Rio de Janeiro in 1943, Palma was only 16 when, in the late ‘50s, he joined the original lineup of the Copa Trio (a group that also included pianist Toninho Oliveira and bassist Manuel Gusmão, who has often been described as a Brazilian equivalent of Ray Brown). When Palma reached adulthood and joined the army, he was replaced by another legendary Brazilian drummer: Dom Um Romão. Palma left the Brazilian military in 1963, and it wasn't long before he joined the quintet of pianist/producer Eumir Deodato; around that time, Palma was also employed as a sideman by guitarist/composer Roberto Menescal and appeared on four of his albums. In 1966, Palma moved to Los Angeles at the invitation of Sergio Mendes, who hired him to play with his famous Brasil '66 band. After leaving Mendes' employ in the late ‘60s, Palma moved to New York City—and in the ‘70s, he was employed as a sideman by artists who ranged from American jazz greats (including Paul Desmond and Stanley Turrentine) to Brazilian favorites like Jobim and Astrud Gilberto. Although Palma was successful in the Big Apple, he didn't remain there; after getting married, Palma and his wife decided to move to his home town of Rio de Janeiro. Perhaps Palma was in search of a less hectic life when he returned to Rio; the drummer seemed to feel that life in Brazil gave him more time to stop and smell the roses. Nonetheless, Palma remained quite active in the Brazilian music scene throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s, working with Egberto Gismonti, Jose Roberto Bertrami (of Azymuth fame), Dori Caymmi and others (although he seemed to become more selective about the projects he participated in). The late ‘90s and early 2000s often found Palma playing with Brazilian singer Ithamara Koorax.
- by Alex Henderson
All Music Group