January 2003

On Jobim's Track

Being dedicated Jobimophiles, we had asked to be shown all
the places Tom Jobim loved to go to, including Tom's favourite
tree—the towering sumaúma, in the Botanical Gardens—
where he would go to relax.

Liz Ashton

"Sounds that overflow the listener's brain,
so sweet, that joy is almost pain"

Percy Bysshe Shelley

For me, this sums up the beguiling enchantment of the bossa nova and the genius of Brazilian writers such as Antônio Carlos Jobim, Luiz Bonfá, Ivan Lins and others, whose music has long been my great passion. The opening lyrics of Tom Jobim's magical "Corcovado"

"Um cantinho, um violão" (a cosy spot, a guitar...)

reflects perfectly the sentiments of guitarist Oscar Castro Neves "to play the music we like for our friends". We had promised Rio we would be back, not only to soak up a second helping of her intoxicating atmosphere, but to take more time to follow the Jobim trail in greater detail.

This time we chose to fly Varig, so that the moment we stepped on-board, we felt we were "in Brazil"! We stayed at the Hotel Mar Ipanema in the heart of the Ipanema district this time, where more "Wow" factors lay in store around the bossa nova haunts, courtesy of our English guide, Lisa Graham, and her Brazilian husband, Miguel, (a guitarist and—what luck!—a keen bossa nova fan!) Being dedicated Jobimophiles, we had asked to be shown all the places Tom loved to go.

In addition to our own research prior to the trip, Lisa and Miguel (and their very useful set of wheels!) had further exciting places lined up for us. Apart from the Garota de Ipanema Café and Vinicius' Bar on the opposite corner, renowned for being the favourite—shall we say, refreshment stops—of Tom Jobim and poet Vinicius de Moraes, (went there, bought the T-shirts), we were also driven to see the beautiful hillside Jobim residence in the stylish Jardim Botânico district, (a private estate with security guards at every corner). We viewed from a respectful distance only, and did not take photographs.

Later we visited the magnificent Botanical Gardens to see Tom's favourite tree—the towering sumaúma—where he would go to relax. A commemorative plaque is now placed by the tree. (Following Tom's untimely death in 1994, his body was laid "in state" in the Botanical Gardens for a day, before he was finally laid to rest.) The tree is featured on the front sleeve of Tom's CD Minha Alma Canta. Miguel was keen to find out just how many Brazilian songs I knew, (or didn't) and so we hummed along together, comparing notes as we strolled through the gardens. There is a lovely view here of Cristo Redentor at the end of an avenue of palm trees.

It did not escape our notice during our visit that the elections were in full swing, with placards just everywhere, one saying "Vote Carlos Santana". Oh, really?

Our other reason for returning to Rio was to visit "Casa Jimmy", a shelter for street children managed and run by Task Brasil Trust (The Abandoned Street Kids of Brazil), from London, which we actively support. They do admirable work in giving these children a new start in life, hopefully with the aim of reintegrating them into their families. The shelter was purchased through the generosity of rock-guitarist Jimmy Page, and it was so special for my husband, Tony, and myself to visit and meet the children and staff personally. We received a most warm welcome and the children are quite delightful.

Later we raided two music stores in the smart Ipanema shopping district, firstly the cosy Toca do Vinicius on Rua Vinicius de Moraes, an Aladdin's cave of Brazilian music and books. We bought three CDs. Upstairs is a permanent museum and history of bossa nova, in particular of Vinicius de Moraes, and among the treasured belongings we saw was his original hand-written lyrics in pencil, on flimsy paper, for the classic favourite "Só Danço Samba". Big Wow factor!

Lisa then told us of the newly-opened Livraria da Travessa in Rua Visconde de Pirajá, where we feasted on more CDs, books and videos. Upstairs was a very pleasant, airy café where we relaxed with a delicious lunch. Four more CDs purchased, plus a Portuguese/English dictionary! That night we had dinner at the smart jazz restaurant, Mistura Fina where many international artists have performed.

It was invaluable having Lisa and Miguel with us, not least because Miguel told us about a gig the following night by Os Cariocas at a swish restaurant/bar in Rio, the Cais do Oriente. He explained that this group was very famous, among the most popular and successful artists who emanated from the birth of the bossa nova in the sixties, and that this appearance was a rare treat not to be missed. I thought I knew most of the `big' names in the world of Brazilian music, but this group was new to me. The four of us went along, and my gob was proverbially smacked.

For any others who don't know, Os Cariocas is a quartet (piano, bass, drums, guitar) who also sing the popular bossa nova repertoire in the most melodic and polished close-harmony I have ever heard—kind of Brazilian Four Freshmen is the nearest description I can think of. We sat entranced as they weaved their magic through so many well-loved songs—you name it, they sang it.

I was particularly delighted that many of the songs I have selected for my new Brazilian CD Tudo Azul were sung by them that night! Clearly I made a good choice! What amazed us even more was that the entrance charge for this unique event was the equivalent of a mere 10 dollars per head. I added their new CD (signed, of course) to my collection after the show, asking them why I had never seen them in Europe. The unbelievable reply was "no demand". Promoters, get your act together!

In the short space of two days, Lisa and Miguel became firm friends, with the surprise bonus of Miguel being a musician, and I found it very touching (and a great relief) that he seemed genuinely delighted in meeting "an English singer who loved the bossa nova so much". (Another rarity, apparently!) I had been a little apprehensive that the Brazilians might be thinking "Who is this English singer who thinks she can come over here and sing our music?" Unfortunately there was not time for me to hear Miguel play his guitar. We played them a few demo tracks of the first mix of Tudo Azul, and it seems my Portuguese passed muster, as our new friends have placed a firm order for the finished product! Lisa told me that a friend of hers used to be one of Tom Jobim's backing singers. Now there's someone I'd like to meet!

We moved on to spend three days relaxing at Lee's Pousada, an enchanting, yellow-shuttered private beach-house on the tiny island of Jaguanum (off the south coast of Rio) via private schooner, the Never-Never Land. With only two other guests staying, we were totally pampered in this idyllic hideaway with the delectable cooking of hostess Lee Randall and her staff, and we wished we could have stayed longer on this paradise island which, to me, evoked an atmosphere where a new novel might have been spawned. (Perhaps it was?) Lee's CD collection was quite diverse, my abiding memory being the sonorous tones of Andrea Bocelli serenading our sublime solitude. Of bossa nova she had none, but was keen to purchase a copy of Tudo Azul—wow!

The following morning, our next great treat lay ahead—our return to the luxurious Praia do Forte Eco-Resort on the northeast coast of Bahia. (The photographs for the CD sleeve were taken here.) Amidst tropical gardens, ocean sounds and beautiful people, the lyrical bossa nova weaved its way everywhere—CDs by maestros Caetano Veloso, Ivan Lins, Gal Costa, João Gilberto et al accompanied our caipirinhas (Brazilian cocktails) in the poolside bar, and Luciano entertained us live, Joao Gilberto-style, with very pleasant voice and instinctive flair for guitar at happy hour every evening.

On our final night, I joined him for a couple of songs: "One Note Samba" and "Corcovado", including some duetting in Portuguese. Although we had a language barrier, music speaks, and through an interpreter he was able to convey to me his observation that I had a natural feel for bossa nova. I nearly melted with joy. Another "Wow" for me to be singing Brazilian music in the country of its origin, and yet more special was when Luciano asked if I would sing with him again the next night.

Unfortunately by then, Varig would be whisking us back to Heathrow... maybe another year?

Task Brasil, which has a branch in the USA, is working to raise funds and awareness to help street children and teenagers in Brazil. You may visit them at and email them:  

Liz Ashton, the author, is an accomplished jazz singer. A chance meeting with Britain's top Brazilian band, "Sirius B", has culminated in the recent release of her album Tudo Azul, 13 tracks from the pens of some of Brazil's best composers—Ivan Lins, Dori Caymmi, Luiz Bonfá, in addition to Jobim. Liz sings in both English and Portuguese. You can hear sound samples from Tudo Azul via Liz's website: Her email:  

                    ©Liz Ashton

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