Throughout his career, David Amaro has been one of the most skilled and versatile guitarists on the music scene. Whether featured in Jazz, Fusion, Rock, Brazilian, World Music or Afro Cuban settings, David has been equally talented as a soloist and as an accompanist on a variety of electric and acoustic guitars.
Born in Santa Ana, California, Mexican American David Amaro began playing the guitar at the age of nine. As a teenager, he played with rock bands for school functions and regularly at Disneyland. He studied with the master of the seven-string guitar and veteran of the 1930's, George Van Eps. At the age of 21, David officially began his professional touring career with Bill Medley of the Righteous Brothers and International singing star Andy Williams.
The turning point in David's musical life took place in 1973 when he joined Brazilian percussionist Airto Moreira of Miles Davis and Weather Report fame. Airto was forming a group for his new album "Fingers" produced by Creed Taylor and engineered by Rudy Van Gelder on CTI Records. Playing a major role in the percussionist's group led David to becoming greatly in-demand. He has since worked with such notables as Antonio Carlos Jobim, Herbie Hancock, George Duke, Wayne Shorter, Joe Henderson, Stanley Clarke, Sonny Rollins, Ron Carter, Michel LeGrand, Toots Thielemans, Eumir Deodato, Cal Tjader, Hermeto Pascoal, Milton Nascimento, Egberto Gismonti, Dori Caymmi, Flora Purim, Hugo Fattoruso and Opa, Raul de Souza, Tom Ranier, Dave Grusin, Don Grusin, Patrice Rushen, Bennie Maupin, Alphonso Johnson, Chuck Rainey, Leon “Ndugu” Chancler, Paulinho Da Costa, Sergio Mendes and many others.
David, who was the first guitarist to blend Jazz, Rock and Brazilian music in his sound and style, plays acoustic, electric, twelve-string and cavaquinho guitars. Fortunately he has been documented on many recordings throughout the years.
With Airto Moreira and later with Flora Purim, David's guitar was very significant both for his solo voice and for the way that he blended into the grooving and crowded ensembles. “San Francisco River” from Airto's "Fingers" album is an excellent example of how David adds a great deal to the background, pushing the music forward while functioning as a driving force in the ensemble. On “Virgin Land” from Airto's album of the same name, when the piece becomes a heated groove, David's passionate jazz-rock guitar flies over the top, displaying both fluency and lyricism.
David has been a key player on Flora Purim's most highly acclaimed recordings. On the title cut of “500 Miles High”, which was recorded Live at the Montreux Jazz Festival, his guitar manages to fit simultaneously into Jazz, World Music, Fusion and Rock. His tone on this piece is rock based and his improvisation is quite explorative. His concise solo is overflowing with ideas that create excitement to the piece. From the same album, “Xibaba” composed by Hermeto Pascoal is an intriguing number that starts out with some free form vocalizing before evolving into a feature for David's explosive and virtuosic guitar.
Flora Purim's "Butterfly Dreams" yielded several spots for David's playing. On Stanley Clarke’s “Dr. Jive Part 2” David achieves sound distortions that perfectly fit the rhythmic and somewhat rambunctious piece. His array of unusual sounds is both innovative and memorable. On George Duke’s “Love Reborn” his acoustic guitar is utilized for a warm statement that creates the mood for Purim's vocal before gracefully blending into the background. Then after the great tenor saxophonist Joe Henderson has his say, David on acoustic guitar makes the beautiful but complex ballad sound quite melodic as he effortlessly constructs a fresh and innovative solo all his own.
On the title cut of Flora Purim's “Open Your Eyes, You Can Fly,” David's powerful guitar solo is the highpoint. But he really makes a major statement on “Sometime Ago”. This vintage classic starts with a funky and mysterious vamp. After a spot for Hermeto Pascoal's flute, David takes a very inventive solo that cuts through the dense and heated fusion ensemble, sounding quite modern yet making each note count. His interplay with Purim's voice is particularly memorable.
After working with David at the Montreux Jazz Festival, legendary Brazilian composer Milton Nascimento specifically requested that Wayne Shorter feature David on Shorter’s highly acclaimed debut album, "Native Dancer". During “Tarde” as part of a rhythm section that includes Herbie Hancock on Fender Rhodes, Amaro’s guitar creates atmosphere both during Nascimento's vocal and during the instrumental sections. Few other guitarists could have become a part of this wide ranging music so naturally. David plays as if he were born in Brazil.
The guitarist toured the U.S., Asia and South America with Sergio Mendes and recorded an album in Rio de Janeiro called Horizonte Aberto. On the song “To Voltando” his electric guitar propels the ensemble and gives a great deal of power and excitement to the music.
Cal Tjader was one of the major vibraphonists and an innovator in Afro-Cuban jazz. His Amazonas album was a change of pace for it cast Tjader in a contemporary setting. On Amaro's “Flying” an original jazz waltz, the guitarist's solo sets up Tjader's entrance and also sets both the mood and the groove for the piece.
David had the opportunity to record with Sonny Rollins on the tenor's Nucleus album. “My Reverie” a ballad based on a classical melody by Debussy, has David contributing a blues-based solo that casts a new light on the swing era standard.
One of Amaro's most impressive recordings is on the title cut of Hermeto Pascoal's “Slaves Mass”. He at times sounds like a flamenco guitarist. His acoustic guitar work, particularly during the solo section, shows off both virtuosity and taste on a traditional sounding melody. Amaro displays the ability to sound very much like a complete orchestra all by himself, a mark of a masterful guitarist.
David Amaro, who has toured the world many times while remaining based in Southern California, has had quite a career thus far, uplifting a countless number of musical settings. He is one of the most valuable, flexible and personal of all guitarists.
Scott Yanow, Jazz Historian and Journalist