There is nothing like refutable subject matter to shake away the lethargy
of summer from one's bones and get the old creative juices flowing again.
This is why I simply could
not resist a swipe at a recent controversy surrounding the American origins
of bossa nova that has lately resurfaced in the June 2004 issue of
the publication JazzTimes.
In a highly informative
article, "Give the Drummer Some," writer David Adler discusses the
seemingly (at first glance) far-fetched notion that it was the concept of
Buddy Deppenschmidt, the drummer, and Keter Betts, the bassistboth of
whom were featured on the milestone 1962 Verve album Jazz Samba, alongside
legendary tenor saxophonist Stan Getz and guitarist Charlie Byrdthat
first brought American jazz musicians together to play and record the then
unknown Brazilian rhythms.
According to Mr. Adler's
research, Getz was the only one of the original group members to have reaped
the full artistic and financial benefits from his involvement in the pioneering
Sadly, in Byrd's case,
it took a lengthy lawsuit against Verve Records for him to recover some form
of monetary compensation for his trail-blazing efforts. He even lost out to
Getz in the coveted Grammy Awards category for Best Solo Jazz Performance
of 1963, which gave Byrd further cause to protest his continued lack of recognition.
Adler goes on to give
a detailed description of the Charlie Byrd Trio's State Department-sponsored
visit to South America and Brazil in 1961, specifically to Salvador da Bahia,
where Byrd, Deppenschmidt and Betts were treated to the infectious live sounds
of native-born players and the unique voice of Bahian singer João Gilberto
(via newly bought record albums).
A cryptic, chance meeting
with a "mysterious" woman admirer led to an informal dinner invitation
for Deppenschmidt, who was suitably impressed by the charming young girl's
musically talented family and their helpful instructional insights.
This and other personal
recollections by the drummer encompassed what he would later remember as a
virtual on-the-spot master class in basic bossa nova rhythm-playing.
Putting these strictly
historical aspects aside for the moment, the main focus of Adler's essay became
the resultant campaign launched by Deppenschmidt to produce an album of new
Brazilian songs which eventually led up to the initial appearance of Jazz
Samba on LPfollowed more currently by court action and a subsequent
four-page press release outlining the above chain of events.
His version of the way
things were, however, differed markedly from that of several other participants
in the event, including the bassist Betts.
In Mr. Adler's words:
"According to Deppenschmidt, Charlie Byrd was in fact reluctant to record
bossa nova. For a time it became the drummer's pet project to change
Byrd's mind. It took him and Betts about six months to win the guitarist over."
Dissenting opinions seemed
to have gravitated as well toward Byrd's late wife, Ginny, "who convinced
her husband to do a Brazilian record. But Deppenschmidt insists it was he
who asked Ginny to aid his cause, and that she too was initially unmoved."
As to the participation
of Stan Getz: "Deppenschmidt insists that Getz's involvement was also
his idea. Joe Byrd (Charlie's youngest brother), for his part, says it was
Ginny who suggested Getz get the call."
Intriguingly, the drummer
had a substitute sax-player waiting in the wings had Getz decided not to show:
the equally celebrated Paul Desmond, well known for his timeless turn with
pianist Dave Brubeck's jazz band.
How that potential
match-up might have affected and influenced the introduction of bossa nova
to the North American jazz scene is a question left unanswered by the author.
And, further along this
same path: "Byrd did not know Getz well, although Betts had become friends
with the tenor giant during his tenure with Dinah Washington. According to
Deppenschmidt, Getz had never played with Byrd's group until the day of the
Jazz Samba sessions.
"Betts, on the other
hand, remembers Getz sitting in with the band at the Showboat Lounge in D.C.,
where Byrd and the trio had begun workshopping the bossa nova
material. Deppenschmidt is sure that Getz's visit never happened; Betts counters
with equal vehemence that it did," and so on.
The matter of who was
responsible for what, when and how is a moot issue, at this point, coming
as it does more than forty years after the fact.
Most of the key players
associated with bringing the bossa nova beat to this country have almost
all passed on. Indeed, the revered names of Stan Getz, Charlie Byrd, Antonio
Carlos Jobim, Luiz Bonfá, Vinicius de Morais, Laurindo Almeida, Herbie
Mann, and countless others will always be remembered in hallowed halls for
their priceless musical contributions long after we mere mortals are dust.
A Little Too Late
But for drummer Deppenschmidt
to suggest that he be given credit for the Jazz Samba project at this
stage in the game, let alone bring suit in a court of law over it is, in my
view, a highly debatable issue that flies in the face of the most inescapable
element of all, apparently sidestepped by Adler in his otherwise well-documented
piece: namely, that of the solid and incontrovertible qualities of bossa
nova itself and those of its creators.
Although each of the album's
hit songs is cited and discussed, Adler gives short shrift to the inherent
beauty of the works, in and of themselves. He spends far too much time on
dry, clinical analysis rather than on the merits of the music.
For example, on "Desafinado,"
he notes: "What we hear is Joe Byrd, continuing with the chord changes
to the body of the tune while the band vamps. Charlie (Byrd) has no choice
but to solo over a train wreck. Then bass and drums vamp alone for roughly
And, in the same vein:
" `Samba de Uma Nota Só (One Note Samba)' finds Joe Byrd bowing
a pedal note on double bass. Getz skirts around the main melody but does not
play it; his solo chorus beginning at 1:53 defies belief."
In all fairness the original
Verve recording does sound positively prehistoric, with a scrawny and suspect
rhythm section reminiscent of two people rattling matchboxes at each other.
If this was as the drummer claims his "master class" in Brazilian
rhythm-playing, then he definitely needed a few more lessons prior to graduation:
at best, it's rough-hewn and all-purpose but hardly the stuff of legend. Bill
Reichenbach provided additional percussive support throughout the session.
Stan Getz's winnowing
tenor twists and winds its insinuating way on many of the tracks, most notably
on the classic "Desafinado" by Jobim, "Samba Dees Days,"
written by Charlie Byrd, and on João Gilberto's wonderful "O Pato
(The Duck)," with music and lyrics by J. Silva_N. Teixeira.
The lack of rhythmic refinement
is equally palpable on "Samba Triste," borrowed by Charlie Byrd
from the unheralded Baden Powell; it's an elegantly slow choro-like
showpiece, a minor-key masterwork both moody and melodic, with Byrd's guitar-strumming
more prominent here than on the other sets.
The final items on the
disc, "Samba de Uma Nota Só" (Jobim_Mendonça), "É
Luxo Só" (Barroso_Peixoto), and "Baia" (Ary Barroso),
wrap things up nicely, although the latter two numbers can hardly be classified
as bossa nova originals; their inclusion here is more in the way of
paying homage to Latin big-bands and wartime Brazilian samba.
In point of fact, the
entire record is a bit of a throwback to a much simpler, less complicated
musical time period.
I wonder, moreover, if
Mr. Adler even bothered to notice that on the back of the original album,
just below the main title and cover art, was printed this tantalizing phrase:
Two Jazz Soloists Play
Sounds from Modern Brazilian
That kind of innocent,
"truth-in-advertising" marketing ploy was only one of the many key
ingredients to the album's popular success with listeners.
Almost exactly a year
later, however, the difference in approach between this work and its highly
touted sequel Jazz Samba Encore! is absolutely astounding, especially
in the reinvigorated rhythm session now manned by Brazilian artists.
Getz is noticeably looser,
too, as is the virtuoso yet deceptively simple guitar work of Luiz Bonfá,
plucking away on the stings of his instrument in a delectable pizzicato
effect worthy of Segovia himself. Only singer Maria Toledo's bland vocalize
fails to please and is the sole disappointment in a nearly perfect rendering
of early Jobim and Bonfá compositions.
But even this minor flaw
would later provide the kernel of an idea, the basic template that took hold
in the forthcoming 1964 release, also on Verve, of Getz/Gilberto with
Stan, Tom, Joãozinho, and, of course, Astrud Gilberto supplying the
In spite of my earlier
criticism about his work, author David Adler does attempt to present a fairly
balanced case for both Deppenschmidt and Betts' claims.
He concludes by observing:
"But when future historians treat the subject of Jazz Samba, they
ought to give the drummer some."
Let's just say, for the
sake of argument, that modern-day musicologists should give equal time as
well to the true progenitors of the genre, i.e. the many native-born
Brazilian artists who made it all possible, instead of paying lip service
(and devoting precious magazine space) to the implausible assertions of long-retired
No drummer, bassist, saxophone
player, guitarist or singer past or present would ever have gone as far as
they had in the music business, and achieved any kind of lasting fame or renown,
without the sterling contributions of bossa nova composers and their
That's where the real
credit is overdue.
Joe Lopes, a naturalized American citizen born in Brazil, was raised and
educated in New York, where he worked for many years in the financial sector.
In 1996, he moved to Brazil with his Brazilian wife and daughters. In January
2001, he returned to the U.S. and now resides in North Carolina with his
family. He is a lover of all types of music, especially opera and jazz,
as well as an incurable fan of classic and contemporary films. You can email
your comments to JosmarLopes@msn.com.
© 2004 by Josmar F. Lopes