Letieres Leite

“I always say that the dance comes before the music. I can´t conduct or teach class without dancing.”

Letieres Leite, Bahian maestro, compositor, saxophonist, flutist, and teacher, left the mark of his dance in countless projects.

Defined by Gilberto Gil as a “multi-artist interested in reclaiming and propelling advances in the music of Bahia and Brazil”, Letieres has collaborated with a vast range of artists, including Gil himself, Hermeto Pascoal, Caetano Veloso, Timbalada, Paulo Moura, Maria Bethânia, Naná Vasconcelos, Daniela Mercury, Olodum, Toninho Horta, Lenine, Ed Motta, Lulu Santos, the Moroccan-Senegalese percussionist Mokthar Samba, the Hip-Noses band, Glenn Fischer Quintet, and Ivete Sangalo (for whom he arranged various songs that went on to become hits). 

Letieres attended the Fine Arts course at the Federal University in Bahia for three years, while beginning his music studies at the same time. 

He enrolled in the Franz Schubert Konservatorium in 1985 and lived in Vienna until 1994, during which time he performed at various festivals in Europe and Brazil.   

 When he returned to Salvador, Letieres delved deeper into teaching, focusing on the Afro-Bahian rhythm that spawned the big band Orkestra Rumpilezz and Rumpilezzinho Music Laboratory. 

Even the neologism baptizing the Orkestra Rumpilezz (a contraction of the names of the candomblé drums – rum, pi, and lé – with “jazz”) and the group´s positioning on stage (with the percussion in front of the horns, inverting the stage organization of traditional organizations and big bands) revealed the creator´s commitment to what he called the Bahian Percussive Universe. 

The Orkestra has cut three albums: Letieres Leite & Orkestra Rumpilezz (2009), The Saga of the Crossing (2016), and Moacir of All the Sambas (2022). There is also a DVD, Rumpilezz visits Caymmi, from the show by the same name in 2015.

Letieres Leite & Orkestra Rumpilezz (released by the Biscoito Fino label) brought Rumpilezz the Brazilian Music Award of 2010 in the categories Best Instrumental Group and Revelation of the Year, the Bravo! Award of 2010 for Best Popular CD, and a highlight as Gold Medal for Quality of Brazil in the InterMarketing Award. 

The Saga of the Crossing (SESC label) was listed among the 10 best CDs of 2016 by the São Paulo Art Critics Association (APCA), and in 2017 it was the only CD to win three categories in the Brazilian Music Award: Best Arranger, Best Instrumental Album, and Best Instrumental Group.

This big band has performed in various festivals outside Brazil: Europalia (Belgium), Moers Festival (Germany), Music Meeting (Netherlands), San Jose Jazz Festival, Lincoln Center Out of Doors (New York), Hollywood ArtsPark Fest (Miami), Philadelphia Jazz Project, and San Francisco Jazz Center Summer Festival.

Meanwhile, the maestro partnered with other teachers in a non-Eurocentric method to develop the Rumpilezzinho project, targeted to training young musicians in Salvador. He also applied his new methods to countless courses and talks in Brazil and elsewhere in the world, featuring a residence with the Berliner Jungend Jazz Orchester; workshops at the Havana Music Conservatory, San Jose Jazz Festival, UNIRIO, University of Rio Grande do Sul, Souza Lima Musical Conservatory (São Paulo), and the Bahia Museum of Art; and master classes at City College of New York and the New York Library for the Performing Arts.

In June 2019, our Rocinante label released O enigma Lexeu (The Riddle of Lexeu), an album by the Letieres Leite Quintet with a new authorial repertoire, both jazzistic and grounded in the Bahian Percussive Universe. A few months later it was Canção da cabra (Song of the Goat) by composer and singer Sylvio Fraga, signed jointly with the arrangements’ author, Letieres.

 In 2022, we released Moacir of All the Sambas, the Orkestra´s third CD, in which seven of the classic “Things” composed by Pernambuco native Moacir Santos reemerged in original arrangements by Letieres. “It´s as if we invited Moacir to visit all the candomblé nations´ temples in Salvador,” he said in 2019.  

This project is being released just a few months after the maestro´s untimely death at age 61, in October 2021. Caetano wrote that “music lost one of its greatest creators today. Life lost one of its most worthy representatives.” Emicida said that Letieres was the “the perfect encounter between depth, virtuosity, and generosity in everything he dared to do”. Ed Motta added: “a unique chapter in world music”.

Photography: João Atala
Photography: João Atala