On the eighteenth of April, 1995, I woke up in New York. The night had been tranquil, I had slept well and felt rested and ready for the show which was about to take place. New York, syncopated spindle of Spring. I soon remembered that I was at the Parker Meridien, where the musicians and artists who would appear in that evening's "Tribute to Tom Jobim" were staying. I took a quick shower like someone who was late for an unexpected appointment.
Soon I found myself in the lobby of the hotel, or rather in its pink marble atrium, when I bumped into Milton Nascimento. Milton was one of the artists invited to participate in the Tribute. I fooled around with him as I had for years when we met by scheduled-surprise in radio stations and shows in Brazil and Los Angeles. I asked him playfully "What are you doing here?" and without waiting for an answer, gave him a hug expressing how good it was to see him, confirming to myself that I was in the right place.
This was a very special mission. I thought of my many years of radio production. The Brazilian Hour, which began in the Los Angeles Consulate in 1978, was now broadcast over more than 30 stations in the United States and a hundred worldwide. Brazilian music, how many friends it has given me: Milton, Ivan, Bosco, Sérgio, Dori, Rique, Gil, Laurindo, Oscar, Moacir, Rafael, Tom, Aloísio, Nana, Eliane, Tânia, Gal, Marina, Joyce, Paulinho, Viola, Ricardo, Ariel, Caetano, Leny, Zizi, Rita, Nara, Roberto, Menescal, Egberto, Edu, Chico, Luiz Gonzaga, Sivuca, Hermeto, Baden, Bethania, Elizeth, Elis, and more. All now played within me like a non-stop musical film. Something Tom said came back to me: "To do something well, you have to love what you're doing."
The morning sped by. The spinach omelet and coffee looked like California but tasted like New York. I had breakfast in a diner on the corner of 56th Street and Eighth Avenue, a half block from the hotel, a kind of Cafe 50's. I drank my coffee listening to interior Jobim. I savored the East Coast flavors, knowing this would probably be my first and last meal of the day. It was 11 o'clock, and I had some time left before immersing myself in my missionto write about the event and interview musicians for the radio program. So I decided to go back to the beginning, that is the beginning of the bossa nova movement in the United States.
I walked down 56th Street and turned left. Carnegie Hall was majestic with flags and banners that read "The One and Only" flapping in the wind. The appellation seemed to me more than appropriate. It was here that Jobim, João Gilberto, Oscar Castro-Neves, and Sérgio Mendes the famous bossa nova gang played in 1962. Flown in as if by magic carpet on PanAir and PanAm, that night they changed the course of our music and world music, too. I entered Carnegie Hall as if I were entering a temple, imagining how those boys from Rio had felt on that November 27 night in 1962, more than 30 years ago.
In 1988, when I interviewed Tom, he mentioned how surprised and in some way unprepared the musicians had been. Not musically of course, but they had left Rio in the hundred degree heat of summer and arrived in the Big Apple's winter chill. Ipanema froze. But the music was balmy and seductive, so much so that it soon became the sound of the sixties, the seventies, and today still lives in the chords and phrases of musical artists of every kind. After Carnegie Hall, Tom Jobim would hear his compositions sung by Frank Sinatra, Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald, and, years later, by Sting among many, many others.
Stan Getz with his impeccable tenor sax, João Gilberto's guitar and vocals, Astrud Gilberto whose tenuous voice was never intended to sing "Summertime" at the Metropolitan Opera, seduced us, as did Jobim's two-finger piano which soon made the "Girl from Ipanema" the most famous girl in the world. This was the beginning of the simple, of less is more.
Inside the "Hall," I paid tribute to the place which had been so receptive to our music. How would Tom's night be now, so many years later, at Avery Fisher Hall? The concert should be memorable the musicians are all first class and the music indisputably beautiful.
At the beginning of 1995 when the Tribute was in the planning stage, I was invited by Carmen Santos Ritenour, the event's producer, and Lee Ritenour, its musical director, to create a musical review of Tom's work to serve as a touchstone for the American musicians in the form of a digital tape of songs with which they could familiarize themselves and select what they would present. After two weeks of meditation I came up with the seemingly mystical number of 33 songs, interpreted by numerous artists, both foreign and Brazilian.
In spite of knowing intimately that the majority of the musicians were already well acquainted with Tom's music, actually listening to the recordings of his compositions brought up something we had been thinking and saying for years: his music is beautiful, involving and inspiring but, like many of the simplest things in life, it had failed to crystallize for me into something beyond the obvious, to take a new form. It was like the experience of maternal love about which we all talk but only mothers understand. I felt the depth and simple beauty of Tom's work and all that which he had given and told us as time passed, little by little. To die, to be born, to love. I ended up with a small but representative selection of recordings. To have a collection of his songs would always be a gift, a tender living memory.
On the way back to the hotel, I decided to stop by the Steinway & Sons piano store which, according to an article in that morning's New York Times, had been sold along with other company stores and factories for one hundred million dollars to Semer, known for its premier saxophones.
I recalled with a smile that Jobim's piano on the Getz/Gilberto sessions was a finely woven counterpoint compared to some forms of jazz, from bebop to cool, it was Brasília and the calm of Ipanema in the sixties, few notes but what impact! The pianos rested silent and majestically tranquil, awaiting some delicate fingers to come and touch them. Insensatez?
It was already early afternoon. Manhattan wasn't resting and never would. The yellow cabs were fighting for imaginary space on the streets. The traffic lights changed colors rhythmically. It was the sound and spirit of the city which had at one time inspired Gershwin, Porter, Goodman, and Jobim himself.
Back at the hotel I went up to the 39th floor, from which Central Park looked like a scale-model, to say hello to Lee Ritenour and Carmen. Carmen had been involved for the last 13 years with music and art in the US as the founding director of the Sociedade Cultural Arte Brasil and C.S. Productions. In these years Carmen has been dedicating herself to multi-media projects involving Brazilian music, film, photography, video, sculpture and painting, encouraging the North American public to immerse itself in our worlds of Brazilian art.
Producing along with her husband, Lee Ritenour, Carmen created some celebrated concerts, among them "Earth Day 90" and "Earth Voice" in 1992, with the participation of renown artists like James Taylor, Gilberto Gil, Maxie Priest, Anita Baker, and James Ingram among others. Both concerts were staged in Tokyo, Japan. Among the art shows she promoted were expositions at the Guggenheim in New York and the Modern Art Museum of São Paulo.
On the 18th of April, Carmen was constantly on the telephone. As concert producer and coordinator, for her time was critical, an emergency; the many crises demanding resolution multiplied and bloomed like the buds on the trees in Central Park. Concerns and demands resounded: João's little Persian carpet, Gal's Italian makeup man, the ironing board which had to be brought to the theater by taxi, budget control with Mark Wexler, preparations for the cocktail party to be held at the hotel that night. Innumerable calls pleading for tickets for artists who had come to New York just for the show. The ticket problem (there weren't any) would become the topic of the day. It was said that as soon as they went on sale they ended just like the "One note samba."
Lee Ritenour was talking with Zero Nelyn, the production manager, going over details. I was reminded that Lee and Carmen had undertaken numerous productions together, both of his own shows and those grandiose ones in Japan, Europe, and Indonesia.
In some part of the hotel or on the other side of the world, João Gilberto, as always, was continuing to be one of the mysteries of the night. No one had seen him or heard from him and, from what we gathered, he had changed hotels in the past few days and unexpectedly returned. His spokesman was his manager, Gil. Not to be confused with Gilberto Gil. Would João be present at the performance or would he change course at the hour of reckoning? We would know only at show time. João has always been a bossa nova Houdini.
There were lots of musicians, picked as if from a music box containing a few rare jewels. Milton Nascimento was seen from time to time walking with friends down 56th Street on the way to who knows where, on one of his many crossings of New York. All were somewhere in the city, each preparing for the event in his or her own way, maintaining privacy, waiting. Out there were Gal, Caetano, Nana and Danilo Caymmi, Maúcha, Astrud Gilberto (who has been living in the City for many years). Would she sing "The Girl from Ipanema"?
The pianist Eliane Elias has also been living in New York since the seventies. Paulo and Daniel Jobim had already arrived from Rio. Maestro Oscar Castro-Neves, based in Los Angeles, would be the one who maintained the evening's flow, cohesion, and musical balance.
In the last decade, Oscar had become the ideal musician. Apart from being a renown arranger, he has become involved with the art and science of phonographic production as well as creating work for American television and films. I remembered that Oscar had come to the United States for the first time with the bossa nova boys in '62. Actually, Carnegie Hall was his first big musical concert. It was natural that he should be the connecting link between the American and Brazilian musicians. He speaks all musical languages fluently.
Also present was the percussionist Paulinho da Costa, another resident of the City of Angels. He is considered an authority, due to his sensibility and musical subtlety, and admired by other musicians and the world at large. The Jobim-Morelenbaum Quartet is made up of Paulo Jobim and Jacques and Paula Morelenbaum, members of Jobim's New Band since its formation in 1985. The newest member of the group is Daniel Jobim, Paulo's son and Tom's grandson, a young musician of great talent, according to Dave Grusin and Herbie Hancock. The percussionist Caf' from São Paulo would also bring the typically Brazilian taste of his drumming to the music of the group.
Among the non-Brazilian musicians were Sting (who recorded "How Insensitive" on Jobim's record Antônio Brasileiro), the master pianist Dave Grusin, the magical pianist Herbie Hancock, Lee Ritenour, Michael Franks, the singer of "Popsicle Toes", who met Jobim in Rio and wrote "Antônio," super-sax Michael Brecker, Russell Ferrante, pianist and member of the jazz fusion band Yellow Jackets, the extraordinary base-player John Patitucci, who recently recorded the disc Mistura Fina, inspired by Brazilian music and jazz and Mike Shapiro, the young American drummer who was accepted in 1986 into The Brazilian Secret Society of Good Drummers. (I'm kidding!)
Mike began his career with Airto Moreira a good start! In the band which would accompany most of the singers we also had Vinnie Colaiuta, one of the most respected American drummers, who has recorded with stars like Madonna, Barbra Streisand, Michael Jackson, and recently Sting. Well, the result promised to be remarkable.
Lee Ritenour had been anchored for days in the hotel's music room where he had spent long hours looking over the sheet music, studying the arrangements, playing with possibilities, rethinking and solidifying the order in which the songs would be presented. A lot of this he had decided long before, but like the consummate professional he is, he was mulling over his ideas.
Ritenour, the musical producer of the "Tribute," began his career as a guitarist when he was twenty and soon became one of the most sought-after studio musicians in his native United States. He has participated in more than two thousand recording sessions with big names like Quincy Jones, Steely Dan, Kenny Loggins, Pink Floyd, and Barbra Streisand, among many others. He has recorded 25 solo albums of contemporary jazz. Lee is one of the most influential musicians in the cross-over of jazz, rock and R&B in the United States.
The final rehearsal of the show was set for 3:45 P.M. at Avery Fisher Hall. I still had around an hour to eat a sandwich in one of those delis where I believed a pastrami on rye would help me really immerse myself in the spirit of this city where Jobim himself was inspired, from time to time, by his walks through Central Park. I ran into a lady friend, by chance, who suggested we have a bite at Planet Hollywood, next door to the hotel. There would be a few minutes' wait during which we could bring each other up to date on the latest happenings.
Our chat contained many musical stories: Paulinho da Costa's latest trip to Brasil; his first performance in 17 years at the Heineken Concerts along with João Bosco; the afternoon party hosted by the singer Alcione in Rio, with Bahian appetizers; the visit of the samba school musicians honoring their illustrious colleague who had long since become the most requested Brazilian percussionist for recordings in the United States. So much time passed in line at the Planet that now I had only a half hour to get to the theater.
Finally, three lines later, they served us very good hamburgers and Caesar salad, better than at most of these stylish places. After eating my sandwich, I took off like a mini-marathon runner who knows from the start that he's going to be late. In this case the finish line was Avery Fisher Hall. Pardon my delay. After an interesting, zigzag trip in a Haitian's taxi, I found myself in the wings of the stage where they were testing the sound and trying out bits of music.
Now the imaginary sound became a reality as Michael Franks rehearsed with the Paulistana (from São Paulo city) Eliane Elias, always exuberant in her chords and phrases, Oscar Castro-Neves on guitar, and the beautiful voice of Gal Costa, while Herbie Hancock appeared to mysteriously improvise a theme of Jobim's; the old transcontinental musical alchemy. Milton Nascimento sang as if he were in a temple, which he probably was. After the music, his interpretation merited only the silence of satisfaction.
Interesting, these rehearsals. Sting, the rock singer gone pop with excursions into the jazz world, classical music and Broadway musicals, tried out "Insensatez." It was bossa with a pop feel or what some would call nova-bossa, something slightly surprising given the fact that I remembered him singing "Roxanne" with The Police or the impeccable recording of "Bourbon Street" and that almost collage-like appearance with Pavarotti in Stravinsky's Soldier's Tale on American public television.
After this musical flight, I decided to go back to the hotel and wait for the evening hour when the "Tribute" would take its definitive shape. I was afraid that I had committed an injustice toward myself: after having witnessed such intimate musical moments as these, would the event still have the magic I expected?
With the tickets in my pocket, I telephoned to invite my old friend, the writer-diplomat Edgard Telles Ribeiro, who joined me in radio projects at the Los Angeles Consulate and was now serving with the Brazilian mission to the United Nations.
At the appointed hour, I succeeded in speaking with Edgard. On the telephone, he asked excitedly "Have you got the tickets?" and, almost without waiting for my answer, "Let's meet at seven o'clock."
On the way to the theater my guest would show me, as if in a preview of coming attractions, some of the city's passing points of interest: a good French restaurant, the Metropolitan, the Blue Note, Tower Records, as the opening measures of Jobim's "Rio de Janeiro Symphony" played inside my head.
Inside the theater, Avery Fisher Hall, Lincoln Center, you could feel an air of excitement, a healthy dose of expectation. The Brazilian Embassy in Washington and Ambassador Paulo Tarso Flecha de Lima had supported the event; he had been the one who facilitated the necessary introductions so that patrons were found and the "Tribute" could take place. The Ambassador was here not only for this reason but also because of the obvious fact that President Fernando Henrique was one of the guests of honor.
In the entrance hall, people in formal dress for the occasion maintained their customary air of nonchalance as if this happened every day rather than every thirty years! The presidential gathering settled on the second floor foyer with Ministers, Ambassadors and Senators encircled by Brazilian and American security and hangers-on. It was almost as if the event became a fusion of two.
The show was ready to begin. Off stage, Herbie Hancock announced: "Welcome ladies and gentlemen to Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center. Please welcome Lee Ritenour, Dave Grusin, and Oscar Castro-Neves." A movie screen descended like a vertical magic carpet and the music and image of Tom Jobim slowly materialized, transporting us to the 60's with beautiful pictures of Tom at the piano, historic slides recording momentous musical meetings and events which, as the evening went on, gradually brought us back, by way of more recent images, to ourselves.
In the background, from the beginning of the presentation, a pot pourri of Tom's compositions was played live by Lee, Dave, and Oscar, bringing a melancholy sensation which, despite the peace which the music transmitted, left us with an ache of loneliness. In moments like these we feel we have souls. This was the start of an unforgettable night.
The musicians came next, interpreting Jobim compositions. Paulo Jobim with the Jacques Morelenbaum Quartet. The talented, twenty-year-old Daniel Jobim appeared with them. Who knows? I imagine that Daniel, living with Tom and Paulo Jobim, his father, had the sensitivity and the opportunity to learn and absorb this beautiful side of the music of Brazil. Nana Caymmi interpreted two of Tom's songs in a simple manner, reminding me of a tune I did not recognize but had heard long ago. The notes came from inside her with the ease common to great singers. It was the feminine version of Dorival or Dori's voice, really lovely.
Oscar Castro-Neves came on and off stage like the chords which live in his fingers and sometimes must miss the guitar. Oscar presented Eliane Elias who was enthusiastically applauded before and after she played. As expected, she surpassed the rehearsal. Eliane announced Michael Franks who sang with the American, Veronica. The rule appeared to be two songs per interpreter. Michael and Veronica presented "Chansong" and "Antônio's Song" in simple interpretations characteristic of the success of Michael Franks.
Sônia Braga also made her presence felt. Here was the Bahian Gabriela of many years and dreams. When Jobim composed "Gabriela" did he see your heart on the lid of his piano, Sônia? She was graceful in New York, thanking the show's sponsors in a voice like Dietrich's and announcing the presence of President Fernando Henrique Cardoso and his wife, Dona Ruth. The audience smiled. Sônia can do almost anything. Everyone loves her. The President seemed happy. I was certain that Fernando Henrique and Dona Ruth were delighted with this musical night of Jobim.
Sônia Braga then presented the renown pianist, Dave Grusin. Dave is an outstanding composer and arranger as well as the founder of the jazz label GRP, along with the drummer Larry Rosen. He has distinguished himself in solo recordings and in his television and film scores. These artists live in many worlds. Dave has cut more than 20 albums, received numerous Grammy nominations, and won an Oscar in 1988 for the musical soundtrack to The Milagro Beanfield War. A master with years of musical experience, whose good taste is reflected in every chord he plays, Dave Grusin is part of the universe of musical stars in the States.
The show proceeded. Sônia Braga announced João Gilberto. João is always a special case. He broke the rules and ended up playing more than two songs, which, for the innocence of the unadvised and the luck of all, became an improvised gift. João's mystery has existed and persisted from the time of his arrival from Juazeiro via Salvador to Rio de Janeiro in 1950. To negotiate his moods is a necessity and can be painful, but when he plays the angels listen.
João Gilberto has always been the subject of stories which have become legendary, an integral part of the myth of Brazilian popular music. He is the possessor of a peculiar personality. To put it simply: he doesn't always like what others like and others don't always like what he likes or does. Well, on the night of the "Tribute to Tom," another story was added to João's collection.
It was like this: when Astrud finished her set with "Água de beber" she called João to accompany her in "The Girl from Ipanema." It would be more than natural after all it was with João, Astrud, Jobim, and Stan Getz that the music became world famous. But on this night João had already left the stage when Astrud called him back. He seemed to have taken another elevator inside himself. If Carmen Ritenour and Herbie Hancock hadn't brought him back, the "Girl" would not have been invoked on stage.
João entered the scene with guitar in hand just like a black and white picture I saw as a child in O Cruzeiro magazine. Astrud was already at the microphone, Oscar moved almost in slow motion, it seemed a déjà vu ready for the first chord, after João's all but triumphal entrance. In this version, Dave Grusin was going to be even more minimalist than Tom himself in the "Girl's" original recording. The fact was that João's guitar was not in tune with the band.
Any musician, no matter how courageous, who attempted to unite with that guitar would be musically deported. Neither the tone nor the tuning coincided. I never imagined I would see such a subtle musical conflict on stage, and all done with such delicacy and style. Oscar was sending musical messages in code to Michael Brecker and John Patitucci who instantaneously attempted to tune their instruments to João's. And the piano? Well, you could go so far as to say it was a "blue note," but that wouldn't do it justice. The story entered, as it couldn't help entering, the historico-musical annals. However, it is probable that the magic of João's guitar and voice had hypnotized many in the audience so that the happening passed unnoticed.
One moment of standout brilliance among many was the performance by Caetano Veloso, accompanied by Paulinho da Costa. Caetano, the "tropicalist" concrete poet of the ideas and polemics and festival protests, with the beautiful voice and confidence of the artist he is, appearing with the master percussionist Paulinho da Costa. The musical marriage of Caetano and Paulinho was immediate and flowed like a river of saudades from the first moment. It couldn't have been otherwise.
At the very start, Caetano presented Paulinho as the musician in America of whom we Brazilians are proudest. What a beautiful remembrance and homage. Paulinho da Costa is a musician emeritus with many awards offered by the US National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences. He has recorded with Quincy Jones, Miles Davis, Madonna, Sting, and hundreds of others. Caetano shone, and his homage to Tom confirmed what he has said in the past: "Tom is the sun of our music."
Another happy and illuminating moment was the performance by Daniel Jobim, Tom's grandson, along with his little aunt Maria Luiza just over five years old. Dave Grusin announced the entrance of the young musicians and said that Daniel's talent confirmed the existence of genes, when science and nature work in tune with great art. Daniel at the piano with Maria Luiza singing "The Samba of Maria Luiza" was emotional.
Daniel showed his talent once again that night. Maria Luiza sang as sweetly as on the compact disc Antônio Brasileiro which she recorded with Tom, her papa. Only this time, on stage, represented by Daniel. "The Samba of Maria Luiza" played in me, a different beat, for many days after the show.
The "Tribute" in Lincoln Center was coming to an end. The show ended with the traditional curtain call of all the musicians. It was the closing music after the cries of "encore."
We Brazilians, lovers of music, those who have dreamt of tropical forests, equatorial sunsets, bare feet in the sands of Ipanema, blue skies decorated with white clouds, who fell in love one day to the sound of the bossa nova, are going to make tributes to Tom as we have for a long time. Tom is the sun.
(English version by Peter Lownds)
Antônio Carlos Jobim's last studio CD Antônio Brasileiro is available in the United States (Sony Latin Jazz - CSZ-821514/2-476281).
It was recorded with his "Nova Banda" and special guests. It includes some of his famed compositions such as "Só danço samba," "How insensitive," and "Surfboard."
Other noteworthy songs are "Maracangalha," with the special participation of its legendary composer Dorival Caymmi; "Blue Train," a marvelous arrangement on the 1970's Lô Borges/Ronaldo Bastos song with lyrics in English by Jobim; and "Trem de ferro," based on a poem by Manuel Bandeira and illustrating Jobim's flirtation with classical music with the possible influence of Villa-Lobos. Antônio Brasileiro is a must!
Sérgio Mielniczenko is a staff member of the Brazilian Consulate General in Los Angeles. He produces a series of radio shows aired in Los Angeles, including the The Brazilian Hour broadcast on KXLU-LA, 88.9 FM on Saturdays and Sundays from 9:00 to 10:00 a.m.; and Sounds of Brazil on KPFK 90.7 FM on Thursdays from 12:00 noon to 2:00 p.m., and at over 30 National Public Radio stations nationwide.
To receive Sérgio Mielniczenko's monthly music and culture newsletter, Brazilian Cultural Bit, write to: Newsletter, 8484 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 730, Beverly Hills, CA 90211.
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