February 2001

Under Bonfá's Spell

A bossa nova show in November, 1962, at New York's Carnegie Hall
opened the door for Bonfá in the U.S. Here he would record
Black Orpheus Impressions and many more albums.

Francesco Neves

"Manhã de Carnaval" is the song that most people think about first when they talk about 78 year old composer/guitarist Luiz Bonfá, who died January 12, 2001, in Rio, from prostate cancer complicated by ischemia. According to the Guinness Book of Records, "Manhã de Carnaval" is one of the top ten songs played around de world.

Frank Sinatra and Joan Baez are two of the many singers who recorded "Manhã de Carnaval" in the '60s. More recently, Andy Summers, the Police guitarist, and classical singers Plácido Domingo and Luciano Pavarotti have also recorded the introspective tune. Bonfá, however, had much more to his credit, taking part in over 500 records and creating movie sound tracks including the one for Ruy Guerra's much-praised Os Cafajestes.

Born in Rio on October 17, 1922, Luiz Floriano Bonfá, as a kid, taught himself to play the guitar. At the age of 12 he had a chance to take classical guitar classes with Uruguayan instructor Isaías Sávio. For that he had to take a train from Santa Cruz (a remote place in the west of the city), and then walk for a long time to the teacher's home in the hills of Santa Teresa. "The good thing is that he appreciated my effort and refused to receive payment for the classes because I wouldn't have money to pay the weekly lesson," Bonfá wrote in the liner notes for his CD Luiz Bonfá e as Raízes da Bossa.

He would become better known in the '40s when at age 24 he was invited to play at Rio's Rádio Nacional, a showcase for the best talent in the country at the time. In the '50s his songs were recorded by Dick Farney giving Bonfá even more exposure. Thanks to Farney he met Tom Jobim and Vinicius de Moraes and played the guitar on Orfeu da Conceição, the anthological play that would give origin to Marcel Camus's masterpiece film Black Orpheus. Bonfá wrote some of the original songs for the movie, including "Manhã de Carnaval" and "Samba de Orfeu"

Even though one might have foreseen the revolutionary musician in 1948 when he was with the vocal group Quitandinha Serenaders, it was from 1951 on that he became one of the leaders of a trend that would give origin to bossa nova. Together with Dick Farney he recorded "Canção do Vaqueiro" (Cowboy Song) in 1951, followed by "Sem Esse Céu (Without This Sky) in 1952 and Perdido de Amor (Head over Heels in Love) in 1953.

A bossa nova show in November, 1962, at New York's Carnegie Hall opened the door for Bonfá in the U.S. Here he would record such albums as Black Orpheus Impressions, Jacaranda, and Introspection. In MGM's Live a Little, Love a Little, a film from 1968, Elvis Presley sang "Almost in Love," a Bonfá composition. About the influence of Yankee sound in his music he wrote: "I absorbed a lot from American music, I achieved a suave sonority, without prestidigitation, further enriching the harmonies. When everybody used just the nail to play I was already using the pick. Sometimes I put both things together and would get a new sound. My execution is practically noiseless."

He was instrumental in spreading the budding bossa nova, especially in the U.S. where he lived during the '60s, playing with such names as George Benson, Stan Getz, Quincy Jones and Frank Sinatra. He went back to Brazil in 1975, but stayed connected to the United States. His last CD, Almost in Love, released in 1997, was a partnership between with Brazilian singer Ithamara Koorax. Earlier, he had recorded The Bonfá Magic in 1991. Both records were released in Brazil and the U.S. He was rarely seen in the last few years while recording companies and his heirs fought over his royalties.

Commenting on the importance of Bonfá on Brazilian music, critic Mauro Dias wrote: "No aesthetic movement is born instantly. It starts by being molded, its elements integrating into the language—written, sung, painted—until, at a given moment, it crystallizes. João Gilberto was the catalyst for what would be called bossa nova. He crystallized, in the definitive format, what was being suggested by Tom Jobim, João Donato, Johnny Alf, Luiz Bonfá. Like Tom, before João Gilberto had defined that guitar beat, Luiz Bonfá was a samba-canção composer.

"Ângela Maria and Nora Ney had his songs—always sad, always reflecting a kind of nostalgia, of longing of what one never had, something close what in black culture is known as banzo—in their repertoire. Nora Ney recorded "De Cigarro em Cigarro," ("From Cigarette to Cigarette") in 1953. Ângela Maria would re-record the tune, a little later. Ângela had enormous success, in 1955, with the melody "A Chuva Caiu" (The Rain Fell), by Bonfá and Tom Jobim.

"These are all fundamental songs for the history of bossa nova, although its syntax didn't fit the one required by bossa nova. The samba-choro Chega de Saudade (Enough Longing), by Tom, became (thanks to João Gilberto's guitar) the inaugural classic of bossa nova. De Cigarro em Cigarro didn't suit the genre. However, it started to be shaped through a harmonic melodic language, a colloquial language:

Vivo só sem você
E não posso esquecer
Um momento sequer
Vivo só sem amor
À espera de alguém
E esse alguém não me quer

Vejo o tempo passar
O inverno chegar
Só não vejo você
Se outro amor em meu quarto bater
Eu não vou atender

I live alone without you
And I can't forget
Not even a moment
I live alone without love
Waiting for someone
And this someone doesn't want me

I see the time passing
Winter arriving
I only don't see you
If another love knocks on my room
I will not answer


Almost in Love—Ithamara Koorax and Luiz Bonfá 1996 CD
The Bonfá Magic 1991 CD
Non Stop to Brazil 1989 CD
Bonfá Burrows Brazil 1978 LP, CD
Manhattan Strut 1974 LP
Jacarandá 1973 LP, CD
Introspection 1972 LP, CD
Sanctuary 1971 LP
The New Face of Luiz Bonfá 1970 LP
Bonfá 1968 LP
Black Orpheus Impressions 1968 LP, CD
Luiz Bonfá Plays Great Songs 1967 LP
Steve & Eydie, Bonfá & Brazil—Steve Lawrence, Eydie Gorme and Luiz Bonfá 1967 LP
Luiz Bonfá 1967 LP
Maria Toledo Sings the Best of Luiz Bonfá 1967 LP
The Brazilian Scene 1966 LP
Braziliana—Luiz Bonfá & Maria Toledo 1965 LP
Violão Boêmio—vol. 2 1963 LP
Recado Novo de Luiz Bonfá 1963 LP, CD
Jazz Samba Encore!—Stan Getz & Luiz Bonfá 1963 LP, CD
Caterina Valente e Luiz Bonfá 1963 LP
Luiz Bonfá Plays and Sings Bossa Nova 1962 LP, CD
Brazil's King of the Bossa Nova and Guitar 1962 LP
O Violão e o Samba 1962 LP
A Voz e o Violão—Luiz Bonfá e Norma Suely 1960 LP
O Violão de Luiz Bonfá 1959 LP
Amor—The Fabulous Guitar of Luiz Bonfá 1958 LP
Meu Querido Violão 1958 LP
Bonfafá—Fafá Lemos and Luiz Bonfá 1958 LP
Ritmos Continentais 1958 LP
Violão Boêmio 1957 LP
Alta Versatilidade 1957 LP, CD
Noite e Dia—Luiz Bonfá and Eduardo Lincoln 1956 LP
De Cigarro em Cigarro—Luiz Bonfá and Jorge Henrique 1956 LP
Luiz Bonfá 1955 LP

The Gentle Rain _ Soundtrack for the Film—Luiz Bonfá / Eumir Deodato 1965 LP
Rio—Paul Winter 1964 LP
Bossa Nova at Carnegie Hall 1962 LP
Orfeu da Conceição 1956 LP

Enciclopédia Musical Brasileira—Luiz Bonfá e as Raízes da Bossa 2000 CD
Aloysio de Oliveira Apresenta Gênios do Violão: Garoto e Luiz Bonfá 1996 CD

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