Than Jobim's Alter Ego
Mendonça and Tom Jobim met in 1942, when they
were fifteen, and became inseparable. There have been
speculations about Mendonça's songwriting abilities.
Would he have measured up without Tom as his partner?
What did he contribute to the songs they wrote together?
Who was Newton Mendonça
(1927-1960)? Among bossa nova lovers, the name is familiar as the
one trailing Tom Jobim's in the credits of such standards as "Desafinado,"
"Meditação," and "Samba de uma Nota Só."
Ruy Castro's Chega de Saudade, the book many consider to be the
seminal work on bossa nova, doesn't shed much light on the figure
long known as Tom's earliest and personally closest partner. Castro tells
us only that Newton Mendonça spent his entire musical career trapped
as a nightclub pianist and died early of hereditary cardiac disease.
Over the past forty
years there have been speculations about Mendonça's songwriting
abilities. Would he have measured up without Tom as his partner? What
did he contribute to the songs they wrote together?
Many of the speculations
have now been laid to rest in Marcelo Câmara's biography Caminhos
Cruzados: A Vida e a Música de Newton Mendonça (Mauad
Editora, 155 p.). Câmara has been researching the life and work
of Mendonça since 1996. He paints a portrait of a boy from a poor
family, whose parents lived apart from the time he was twelve. Son of
a junior army officer, Newton was educated in a military academy, where
he manifested more interest in music than in socializing.
He was known as Newton
Gaitinha, for the harmonica never left his mouth. Unlike Tom Jobim, who
grew up in a middle-class household and had the advantage of formal musical
education, Newton was largely self-taught beyond the rudimentary violin
and piano lessons he had received from his mother. Yet a fellow military-academy
student (who happened to be the son of the great choro flutist
Benedito Lacerda) said that "music burst out of him."
In 1940, Newton, his
mother and siblings moved to Rua Nascimento Silva in Ipanema. There he
befriended Carlos Madeira, who was distantly related to Tom Jobim. Newton
and Tom met in 1942, when they were fifteen, and became inseparable, their
bond cemented largely with music. Recalls Madeira: "Tom and Newton
played the themes they created, without title or lyrics. They kept creating,
By 1951, both Newton
and Tom had begun to play piano in nightclubs. The following year, Newton
composed the samba-canção "Você Morreu
pra Mim" and took it to the journalist and songwriter Fernando Lobo
(Edu Lobo's father), who arranged to have it recorded by the singer Dora
Lopes in exchange for a co-author's credit (friends report that this rankled
Newton). Newton & Tom's first recorded song was "Incerteza"
(1953), with vocalist Mauricy Moura accompanied by Lyrio Panicalli and
How did they compose?
By all accounts, they did it together, in "four hands," as Newton
characterized the process in a rare interview. Both contributed melody,
harmony, and lyrics, passing the song from one to the other and arguing
over the piano seat, which both wanted to occupy. Altogether, they collaborated
on seventeen songs, thirteen of them recorded, two unpublished, and two
lost. But this wasn't Newton's entire output. Of the 43 compositions Newton
left, 26 (including "Você Morreu pra Mim") were his alonesambas,
choros, canções, sambas-canções, and
Carnaval marchinhas. The second part of the book is devoted to
the songs. The musicians Jorge Mello and Rogério Guimarães
discuss the musical aspects of thirty songs and present their scores.
Fourteen of the songs
were recently released on the beautifully produced CD Caminhos CruzadosCris
Delanno canta Newton Mendonça. Eight of them were penned by
Newton alone (including the Lobo partnership), and two of those ("O
Mar Apagou" and "Verdadeiro Amor") had never been recorded.
Even those solo songs that had been previously released are quite unknown,
as are some of the New-Tom collaborations included here.
But this disc is worth
hearing not just for the rarities it presents. Music director/arranger
Roberto Menescal (who also plays all the guitar parts) assembled an expert
team of musicians that includes pianist Adriano Souza, bassist Adriano
Giffoni, drummer/percussionist Marcio Bahia, saxophonist Sérgio
Galvão, and trombonist Bira, who provide the right setting for
Cris Delanno's powerful yet sensitive interpretations.
The booklet is a valuable
bonus, crammed full as it is with lyrics, extensive notes on each song,
a biographical timeline, and rarely seen photos of Newton Mendonça
who, in a bizarre twist of fate, appears never to have been photographed
with Tom Jobim.
Caminhos CruzadosCris Delanno canta Newton Mendonça
(Ilha Verde/Albatroz/Ouver 3306744-2; 2002) 48:49 min.
Musical direction & arrangements: Roberto Menescal
01. Brigas (Antonio
Carlos Jobim/Newton Mendonça)
02. Só Saudade (Newton Mendonça/Antonio Carlos Jobim)
03. O Mar Apagou (Newton Mendonça)
04. Nuvem (Newton Mendonça)
05. Canção do Pescador (Newton Mendonça)
06. O Domingo Azul do Mar (Antonio Carlos Jobim/Newton Mendonça)
07. Incerteza (Newton Mendonça/Antonio Carlos Jobim)
08. Canção do Azul (Newton Mendonça)
09. Verdadeiro Amor (Newton Mendonça)
10. Seu Amor, Você (Newton Mendonça)
11. Caminhos Cruzados (Antonio Carlos Jobim/Newton Mendonça)
12. Você Morreu pra Mim (Fernando Lobo/Newton Mendonça)
13. Teu Castigo (Newton Mendonça/Antonio Carlos Jobim)
14. O Tempo Não Desfaz (Newton Mendonça)
publishes the magazine of Brazilian music and culture Daniella
Thompson on Brazil - http://daniv.blogspot.com
and the website Musica Brasiliensis - http://www.daniellathompson.com.
This review was
originally published in Daniella Thompson on Brazil