This extraordinary Brazilian guitarist, composer, and arranger was introduced to music by his mother, a concert pianist who gave him his first lessons. Like his sister, however, he would eventually choose the guitar as his primary instrument. As a teenager, Almeida witnessed, and participated in, a great deal of civil unrest; the experience galvanized him and fueled a lifelong passion for the politics of his native country. At age 19, he became a performer aboard the Brazilian ocean liner Cuyaba, which enabled him to travel to Europe, hear the legendary Django Reinhardt in Paris, and experience a great deal of foreign culture.
In Brazil, he formed a guitar duo named Cordas Quentes with Garoto, who he met at Radio Mayrink Veiga in Rio de Janeiro. In 1947, he went on tour with singer and actress Carmen Miranda's band. This led him to Hollywood, where he performed on film soundtracks and appeared in concerts with violinist Elizabeth Waldo; he also composed the first of his more than 800 scores for movies and television series. He was to win Oscars for his soundtracks to The Old Man and the Sea (1958) and The Magic Pear Tree (1970). He soon joined the innovative Stan Kenton Orchestra and became a featured soloist. After three years, he established permanent residence in Los Angeles and began an astonishingly prolific recording career that was to earn him ten Grammy awards.
Almeida's palette of stylistic and emotional expression was wide-ranging. His early '50s Brazilliance albums with Bud Shank helped establish the bossa nova style in the States several years before the craze hit. He also recorded and toured with the Modern Jazz Quartet and was equally at home with classical and modern concert music, such as Gnattali's Concerto de Copacabana and the Guitar Concerto of Villa-Lobos.