Brazil’s happiest, craziest bass player

JAZZ NOS FUNDOS CLUB, Sao Paulo — Most bass players live in the background, literally and figuratively. They add immensely to the beat and rhythm of a band, but they aren’t the stars, the entertainers, or the “wowee” soloists. Zerró Santos is all of those, and much more. 

Zerró is a one-man high-wattage power plant who has more expressions in his face, more velocity in his fingers, more energy in his body, and more imagination in his compositions than any bass player (or any jazz musician) I’ve ever seen. 

And he’s 65!

Zerró is deeply dedicated to his music. He practices for hours every day in a city park not only because he can’t afford to rent a studio, but also because the resident above his apartment is a terminal cancer patient and cannot abide the “noise”.

But he puts in those practice hours mostly because he has taken Italian violinist Niccolò Paganini’s advice to musicians to heart: “No matter how long a man lives, he cannot practice enough.”

Zerró also still deeply enjoys every moment of his own music as well the performances of his band members. He lights up when one of his colleagues plays a particularly awesome solo, grinning broadly and pointing to them with enthusiasm and delight. 

He is the same way when he himself is in the middle of one of his own solos and he does something especially fun or inventive. He laughs and nods and seems to be winking at the audience with the message: “Wasn’t that fun?!”

Music, though, is more than just fun for him. “It’s life,” he says. “It completes me.”

And it’s been part of his life forever. “I was born playing jazz,” he says. “Even when my mother was pregnant, I was already ‘bang-bang!’”

Maybe so (and to see Zerró in action, it’s easy to believe it), but his first encounter with a musical instrument was at age ten. 

“When I was ten, the father of a friend of mine took a group of kids to a place for the arts. The kids all got toy instruments to play, and I found a little guitar with just one string,” he said. “I decided to play the theme from a television show with a guy called Peter Gunn. Dun-dun-du n-dun (he sings the Peter Gunn theme song) … with only one string!”

Today, he has gone far beyond his one-string plastic guitar, but he’s just as inventive. 

“When I play a solo, I don’t think of anything. My mind is empty. Because, after practicing so many hours a day, I get spiritual help and I just let it go,” Zerró said. “It doesn’t work to be a musician and do a solo in a technical way. Bad news, very bad news.

“I play differently from American musicians who play four by four,” he says. “I play two by four and that gives me a different time — it’s happier music. Happier and happier!”.

Like most of the best jazz band leaders, Zerró is perfectly comfortable surrounding himself with five of Sao Paulo’s best players on the sax, trumpet, trombone, and drums. 


Zerró Santos: Bass (Facebook page and YouTube channel)

Reynaldo Izeppi: Trumpet

Thiago Souza: Alto Sax

Vinicius Chagas: Tenor Sax

Fabio Oliva: Trombone

Fernando Amaro: Drums (regular drummer)

Jorge Amorim: Drums (playing this night; Jorge’s Website and Facebook page)


The Jazz Nos Fundos

Rua Cardeal Arco Verde, 227, 


Website (English version):

Jazz Nos Fundos (“Jazz in the Back”) is a club in the spirit of Small’s in New York’s Greenwich Village. It’s down a steep set of stairs, funky, and completely lacking in artifice. It reeks authenticity. 

It is also extremely difficult to find. There is almost no signage outside (see the picture) but when your map app on your mobile phone says you’re there, trust it. Just park and walk through the door. It really is there!

Venture down the stairs and around the corner and you’ve arrived.

There is only one set of chairs (they’re actually old theatre seats, I think), and nobody sits in them. The rest of the space is standing room where people can drink and listen to the music. 

Because the space is so close and because the acoustics are so incredible, it feels like you’re being surrounded by the music.

There is a bar at the back with great service and a good selection of beers (sorry, I don’t drink wine or spirits, so I can’t help you with those).

One Comment Add yours

  1. No luck playing the video John

    Sent from my iPhone



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