Toninho Horta was born into a musical family in the capital of Minas Gerais, Belo Horizonte, in 1948. His mother taught him guitar and his elder brother, Paulo Horta, a composer and multi-instrumentalist, provided guidance. His successes came early, with a first composition, written when he was only thirteen, being picked up by local bands – “Flor Que Cheirava Saudade” – and a later one, “Litoral”, becoming an instant standard for its twenty-year-old composer.
Formative lessons from his older brother would eventually help him ride the jazz tide with such artists as Joe Pass and Delmar Brown, Gary Peacock, and Billy Higgins. In a short time, absorbing the world of music, he was invited to perform with Milton Nascimento and some of Brazil’s most popular artists, such as Maria Bethania, Elis Regina, Gal Costa and many others.
In 1976, he recorded with Nascimento along with the famed musical duo of Airto Moreira and Flora Purim, gaining widespread recognition in the Brazilian music industry. Horta is, quite simply, a master whose harmonic sensibility, with a fantastically inventive chording. As a writer, Toninho’s musicality has produced standards that top the list of the best-loved songs in Brazil. His story is somewhat typical of the artists of his generation. Like all Brazilians, he grew up with the music of his region everywhere about him: the folkloric traditions of former slaves, the religious music of a deeply religious land, a glorious tradition in samba, and as a youth at a time of worldwide flux, he grew with an ever widening exposure to foreign forms. He and his friends from Minas Gerais were first introduced to American jazz in the 1950’s, cool jazz, or by richly harmonic masters like Duke Elington. Then came the rock and roll of a later generation – especially The Beatles.
The site www.allaboutjazz.com says thar “Toninho Horta is a virtuoso electric and nylon-string guitar player; his music could be defined as (jazz influenced) Brazilian music. He has developed his own very personal style. His compositions are marked by beautiful harmonies and rich melodies often with surprisingly virtuoso right hand grooves. (…) His beautiful compositions and original guitar playing has influenced a whole generation of musicians in Brazil. Pat Metheny, who considers him to be “one of the world’s great composers on nylon-string guitar (named violao in Brazil), comments, ‘He (Toninho) plays such great voicings with such a cool time feel… I’ve often described him to other musicians as the Herbie Hancock of Bossa-Nova guitarists …in short, Toninho Horta is an incredible musician, the rare guitarist who understands harmony in its most intimate ways…’ (Pat Metheny’s words on the booklet of Toninho’s “Diamond Land”). Pat’s strong admiration for Toninho’s music can be heard on many of his own compositions.