Drummer Vanderlei Pereira is one of the most sought-after musicians on the contemporary Brazilian jazz scene. Combining a prodigious knowledge of Brazilian rhythms with dazzling technique and a distinctive touch, he has captivated audiences around the world with his unique and electrifying performances.
Vanderlei was born into a musical family in Macaé, Brazil, a coastal city a little over 100 miles north of Rio de Janeiro. He’s the youngest of seven siblings, two of whom (Dulcilando and Dirceu) are professional musicians. At the age of eight, he taught himself to play on a drum set he built out of cookie tins; he later studied music theory and sight-reading at Macaé’s Sociedade Musical Nova Aurora, and began playing professionally as a teenager. In addition to his command of Brazilian rhythms, he developed strong pop/rock chops in local cover bands, all the while immersing himself in the jazz heard on his brothers’ record collections. Vanderlei moved to Rio as a young man, where he pursued a multifaceted career in jazz, popular, and classical music, including a six-year performance internship with the renowned Orquesta Sinfónica Brasiliera (OSB).
As Vanderlei’s inherited retinitis pigmentosa progressed and his vision deteriorated, he realized he could no longer continue working in the classical realm, and proceeded to dedicate himself full-time to playing jazz and other non-classical forms of music. He came to be known as one of the top jazz drummers in Rio, as well as being a highly regarded player of samba and MPB, working steadily even after he lost his sight completely.
When asked about the challenges of being a blind musician, Vanderlei says: “I try to keep a positive attitude. I had to deal with losing my vision while continuing to work full-time as a musician. It took over twenty years to truly accept my blindness and develop the ability to see the positive things in everyday life. I try as much as I can to share some of that optimism with everyone I interact with daily. I would hate to think that people feel sorry for me because of my visual impairment. I’m blind, but so what? I've still got music and my own way of seeing things, thank God. I try to channel that energy and I think it comes through in my playing.”
He moved to New York City in 1988, and quickly became an in-demand drummer on the New York Brazilian music scene. Vanderlei’s move to New York afforded him the opportunity to expand his rhythmic universe with exposure to and studies with some of the greats of the New York Latin and jazz worlds, including Ignacio Berroa, Bobby Sanabria, Johnny Almendra, John Riley, and Vernel Fournier. He has incorporated these diverse influences into his playing and, as a result, has earned the respect of both straight-ahead and Latin jazz musicians on the demanding New York scene, where he is widely admired and respected for his musical versatility.
That versatility has enabled him to shine in performances and recordings with numerous outstanding artists, including Toots Thielemans, Airto Moreira and Flora Purim, Sivuca, Johnny Alf, Dom Salvador, Tito Puente, Leny Andrade, Rosa Passos, Paul Winter, Arturo O’Farrill’s Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra, Claudio Roditi, Bebel Gilberto, Leila Pinheiro, Romero Lubambo, Emílio Santiago, Antonio Adolfo, Nelson Faria, Rildo Hora, Quarteto em Cy, Luis Carlos Vinhas, Manfredo Fest, Hendrik Meurkens, Helio Alves, Cidinho Teixeira, Guilherme Arantes, Margareth Menezes, Beth Carvalho, Nei Lopes, Geraldo Azevedo, Amelinha, and Jamelão.
In addition to his wide-ranging work as a sideman, Vanderlei leads the dynamic Brazilian jazz sextet Blindfold Test, whose repertoire includes his original compositions as well as the works of some of Brazil’s greatest contemporary composers. Vanderlei Pereira and Blindfold Test’s first CD, Vision for Rhythm, will be released on May 22, 2020 on the Jazzheads label.
Vanderlei has recorded extensively in both the U.S. and Brazil in a wide variety of styles. He received high praise from Modern Drummer magazine for his performance on Nando Lauria’s Points of View (Narada): “Pereira’s... interpretation of Zydeco-like baião, the martial ciranda and more syncopated maracatú, and the driving, straight-ahead xote, offers glimpses of the richness of Brazil beyond Bossa, and demonstrate some great rhythmic ideas...”
A respected educator, Vanderlei’s knowledge of harmony and theory (as well as his proficiency on bass, guitar and piano) has enabled him to teach Brazilian music to all musicians, regardless of their primary instrument. He has developed a highly original method of teaching Brazilian music performance principles in a classroom setting, in addition to giving private instruction on drumset and percussion. Vanderlei is an adjunct faculty member at the City College of New York (CUNY) and the New School. He has also taught at the Drummers Collective and has given master classes at the Berklee College of Music, the New School, Rutgers University, University of the Arts (Philadelphia), and the University of Delaware. In addition, he has been a featured guest artist/instructor at California Brazil Camp and the Escola de Música de Brasilia’s intensive summer program.
Vanderlei Pereira received a Diploma in Jazz Studies from the Mannes College of Music in New York City, as well as a Diploma and Teaching Certificate from the Academia de Música Lorenzo Fernandes in Rio de Janeiro. He studied classical percussion with Luiz Almeida d’Anunciação (Pinduca) and K. David Johnson, who were his mentors at the Orquestra Sinfônica Brasileira (OSB).