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Wagner Tiso is an internationally renowned musician whose achievements include a having a solid impact on the rise of major singer Milton Nascimento, an extensive set of composed soundtracks for movies, a solo discography comprising 28 albums, and performances with jazz giants such as Edison Machado, Paulo Moura, Ron Carter, Johnny Alf, and many others. He frequently played in the best European jazz festivals such as Montreux, Berlin, Montmartre (Denmark), and Nice and the main concert halls in Greece, Italy, France, Austria, and Germany. Tiso was a self-taught musician in his small town, lost behind the mountains of Minas Gerais. He soon formed a group that played in little neighborhood parties, later playing in local nightclubs. They went by Luar de Prata and later as the W's Boys, from 1958 to 1961.
As his lifelong partner and friend, Milton Nascimento accounts about his own first public appearance, at 14. "I was a neighbor of Tiso's and we used to perform together. Because we were underage, when the inspectors came, we used to run for the kitchen, where we would drink guaraná and eat chips." Moving to Belo Horizonte, from 1962 to 1964 he performed with the Berimbau Trio. In 1964, he moved to Rio, joining the Sambacana group, recording for them for the first time through Odeon. From 1964 to 1965, he was the pianist for the legendary Edison Machado Quartet. With the renowned clarinetist/conductor Paulo Moura, he worked from 1965 to 1967 in a profitable association where he learned that music could also be instrumentally played without vocal support. In 1967, he wrote the musical arrangement for the opening of the major Carioca showroom Canecão, for a Maysa Matarazzo show directed by Paulo Moura. As an accompanist, he worked in this period for several top singers, such as Cauby Peixoto and Marcos Valle. In 1969, he joined the Som Imaginário, a group dedicated to accompany Milton Nascimento in recording sessions and live performances. In that year, he performed extensively abroad, in Athens, Greece, and Montreux, Switzerland. In the U.S., he performed with Ron Carter, Flora Purim, and Airto Moreira, along with his shows with Milton.
In 1969, he also composed the soundtrack for Ruy Guerra's movie Os Deuses e os Mortos. In 1970, the Som Imaginário recorded their first LP for Odeon. In that year, with Milagres dos Peixes Ao Vivo, Tiso started his career as a conductor in a duet with Milton Nascimento. He was awarded as Best Arranger by the São Paulo Art Critics Association and Best Arranger by the Folha de São Paulo, Jornal do Brasil and O Globo newspapers. The next year, they recorded the Som Imaginário II for the same label. In 1972, they recorded the Cabeça de Porco album, awarded as Best Record by the São Paulo Art Critics Association and as Best Record by the Jornal do Brasil newspaper. In 1974, he worked on the LPs Flora Purim in Montreux and Wayne Shorter's Native Dancer. In 1975, Tiso was awarded as Best Arranger for Milton/Fafá de Belém/Gal Costa's recordings. In 1977, he wrote the soundtrack for Lyra dos Deuses, Walter Lima, Jr.'s movie. In 1978, he released the solo LP Wagner Tiso, through Odeon, and was awarded for Best Record by the São Paulo Critics Association. The specialized press also voted him as one of the all-time best of Brazilian music. In the next year, he released Assim Seja, also through Odeon. In 1980, he wrote the soundtrack for Ferreira Gullar's play Poema Sujo, and recorded Trem Mineiro for Odeon, which was awarded as Best Record and Best Show by the Jornal do Brasil newspaper in 1981. Also in 1981, he wrote the soundtrack for Walter Lima, Jr.'s movie Inocência (awarded as Best Musical Direction in the Brasília Film Festival of 1983), was awarded as Best Arranger by the Brazilian Records Association for his work on Milton's Sentinela, and recorded Toca Brasil (Ariola/Barclay). For the same label, he recorded in the next year Wagner Tiso ao Vivo na Europa and in 1983, Todas as Teclas, with César Camargo Mariano, was awarded as Best Instrumental Record by the following magazines and newspapers: Isto É, Domingo, Veja, Playboy, Jornal do Brasil, O Globo, Folha de São Paulo, O Estado de São Paulo, and was also one of the best-selling instrumental records in Brazil. Tiso was also awarded as Best Arranger and Best Keyboardist (Playboy, 1983) for the album. In 1984, he wrote the soundtrack for Walter Lima, Jr.'s movie Chico Rei (awarded as Best Soundtrack at the Colombia Film Festival of 1987) and Silvio Tendler's documentary Jango, which was awarded as Best Soundtrack at the Gramado Film Festival. The next year, he recorded two albums, Coração de Estudante (Barclay) and Os Pássaros (Odeon). Coração de Estudante was awarded as Best Show and Best Record by the press of Rio de Janeiro and Best Music, Best Musician, and Best Record by Rádio Tupi (1985). In 1986, he wrote the soundtrack for Ramalho Júnior's movie Besame Mucho and soap opera Dona Beija. In that year, he recorded two albums, Branco & Preto — Preto & Branco (awarded as Best Arranger Villa-Lobos Award — A.B.P.D., 1987, and as Best Orchestrator: Villa-Lobos Award A.B.P.D. 1987), and Giselle, both through Polygram.
With João Carlos Assis Brasil and Ney Matogrosso, he recorded A Floresta Amazônica with music by Villa-Lobos, in 1987. In 1988, he wrote the soundtracks to both Osvaldo Caldeira's movie O Grande Mentacapto and the Primo Basílio TV series. Also in 1988, he recorded Manu-çaruê (Polygram) and Coração Imprevisto, and with Eugênia Melo e Castro, he recorded through the Portuguese label Valentim de Carvalho. In 1989, he was commissioned by Portugal's education cabinet to write the soundtrack for six documentaries and released a compilation, Cine Brasil (Polygram), and Só Louco (with Nana Caymmi, for EMI). He also wrote several other soundtracks for documentaries in that period. In 1990, he recorded Baobab for Polygram. In 1992, Tiso recorded Wagner Tiso — Profissão: Música, also for Polygram.
For the label Trem Mineiro, he recorded O Livro de Jó in 1993. In 1995, he recorded the live album Wagner Tiso ao vivo com Rio Cello Ensemble (BMG). Tom Brasil's series Brasil Musical brought 1995's Wagner Tiso e Orquestra de Cordas Brasileiras. The same series brought Wagner Tiso e Paulo Moura (1996). In 1997, Tiso recorded Brazilian Scenes for the French label Kardum/Iris Musique. In 1997, Tiso recorded the CD A Ostra e o Vento for Rob Digital, and in 1999, Debussy e Fauré Encontram Milton e Tiso, for Visom.