Jazz Can’t Resist Brazil

        Can't Resist Brazil

decades, the recordings and live appearances of famous
and less celebrated American singers, bandleaders,
soloists and performers have featured Brazilian sidemen
and session players or been influenced by Brazil’s
most sublime and precious commodity: her music.
Joe Lopes

It was back in 1991,
in New York City, as I remember it, in the office of the stock exchange
where I used to work, that I found myself chatting with Mike, an African-American
colleague of mine. We were discussing among other topics the relative
popularity of Brazilian music with American lovers of jazz, and the fact
of his being a big fan of both genres.

"But Joe,"
Mike pointed out to me, "Brazilian artists and musicians have been
playing on pop and jazz recordings for over 20 years."

He offered as evidence
three percussionists whose respective careers, in some cases, went as
far back as the late sixties and early seventies: Airto Moreira, for Chick
Corea’s band Return to Forever; Paulinho Da Costa, in the Quincy Jones-produced
Michael Jackson album Thriller; and Naná Vasconcelos, with
Pat Metheny’s ECM works.

"You’re kidding,"
I scoffed, unconvinced by this ridiculous observation, but after our conversation
had ended and the day wore on, my curiosity started to get a hold of me.

I rushed home that
night and thoroughly ransacked my living room in a mad attempt to read
the credits and album covers on every one of my CDs, cassettes, and records,
with the sole purpose of ultimately disproving my music-loving friend’s
offhand remark.

But to my utter amazement,
I discovered that Mike was right. Gracing the liner notes of my precious
music collection, and buried deep within the print type of that microscopic
8-point font, were the unmistakable, tongue tripping Brazilian names of
Gilson Perranzzeta, Nico Assumpção, Waltinho Anastácio,
Duduka Da Fonseca, Claudio Roditi, Dori Caymmi, Leila Pinheiro, Paulo
Braga, and so on.

I needed no further

To state the obvious,
no jazz or popular recording artist, whether of the past or present, has
been able to completely resist the incredibly sultry sounds of Brazilian
samba or her twin sister bossa nova.

For decades, the recordings
and live appearances of singers, bandleaders, soloists and performers
as varied and talented as Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan,
Dionne Warwick, Stan Getz, Charlie Byrd, Joe Henderson, Pat Metheny, Paul
Simon, David Byrne, Al Jarreau, Sting, Eric Clapton, and Sade, right down
to the slightly less than mainstream outpourings of David Benoit, Bob
James, Don and Dave Grusin, Larry Coryell, George Duke, Lee Ritenour,
Michael Franks, Basia, Spyro Gyra, The Rippingtons, and countless others,
have featured Brazilian sidemen and session players or been influenced
by Brazil’s most sublime and precious commodity, her music.

Looking back now on
my own initial shock at this revelation, I really shouldn’t have been
so surprised. After all, my wife had introduced me to the sensuous charms
and gorgeous melodies of Brazilian jazz, samba, bossa nova and
MPB (Música Popular Brasileira, or Brazilian pop music) way back
in the mid-eighties, when we were first married.

She had opened my
eager eyes to this bright new world of vivacious sounds, harmonies and
rhythms, sung and played by a dazzling array of original and, in many
cases, completely self-taught vocalists and instrumentalists from our
mother country, Brazil.

She had also been
a regular listener to a now defunct New York-based radio station with
the rather intriguing call letters of CD 101.9 ("cool FM"),
which played endless back-to-back cool and light jazz favorites, many
of them flaunting the syncopated sonorities of bossa nova-tinged

How was it that American
jazz and pop, and especially the soothing sounds of cool jazz, which had
originated on the West Coast in the fifties, came to influence—and
be so influenced by—the music of a country that was once considered
a musical and cultural backwater when compared to the modern music industry
of discretionary cash-rich America?

In a previous Brazzil
article (www.brazzil.com/p122mar03.htm), writer Steven Byrd related
the various influences of American popular music of the 1940s on the future
bossa nova sounds that were to emanate from Brazil in the late
fifties and early sixties.

He charted the gestation
period of one of world music’s most famous and best-loved classic pop
songs, "A Garota de Ipanema" (The Girl from Ipanema), with music
by Tom Jobim and lyrics by Vinicius de Moraes, as a prime example of this
influence. He also stressed the distinctive guitar-playing style of João
Gilberto and the vocals of his then wife, Astrud, as popularizing elements.
To these must be added her plaintive, almost childlike performance of
the lyrics, and the wonderfully pliant and honeyed tones of legendary
tenor saxophonist Stan Getz, as well.

Debt Repaid

From these simple,
primeval beginnings, Brazilian artists and musicians came to lasting preeminence,
and have long since returned the favor and repaid Brazil’s debt to American
pop by permanently changing the landscape of jazz for future generations
to enjoy and thrill to.

The presence of many
Brazilian musicians in recording studios all over the U.S. and around
the world, which my friend Mike had so casually alluded to, may have greatly
accounted for the presence as well of the familiar sounds of this singularly
infectious style of music to be found in American jazz, and which has
now been happily incorporated into the vocabulary of multi-ethnic jazz
and pop artists from places as far a field as Africa, France, Italy, Germany,
Belgium, the Netherlands, Russia, and Japan.

This influence can
be partially attributed to immigration, which first took place during
and after the Second World War, with the early appearances of such iconic
figures as singer-actress Carmen Miranda, guitarist Laurindo de Almeida,
and poet and diplomat Vinicius de Moraes. This would be known as the first
wave of artists to hit the American musical and cultural shores.

The second mass migration
occurred soon after the worldwide bossa nova craze took off in
the early sixties, made more fervent by the championing of the cause by
such luminaries as Jobim and Vinicius, who were later joined by the likes
of Luiz Bonfá, Oscar Castro-Neves, Astrud and João Gilberto,
Sérgio Mendes, and Bola Sete. This second wave came about just
as Brazil had won successive victories in the World Cup soccer finals
of 1958 and 1962, and coincided with my own family’s moorings into the
port of New York around September 1959.

With the further flowering
of MPB and the tropicalismo movement of the late sixties and early
seventies, artists as diverse as Caetano Veloso, his sister Maria Bethânia,
Gilberto Gil, and Gal Costa (all from the northeastern state of Bahia)
had evolved a highly eclectic brand of music that, while popular with
the public, proved consciously critical of the rightwing military-backed
government and its repressive censorship policies.

Along with other leftist-leaning
intellectuals, poets, writers and journalists, many of these artists were
either jailed or banished in a solemn third wave, with Caetano and Gil
prominent among the offenders, and included even Brazil’s future president
Fernando Henrique Cardoso in their number.

Mass Defection

The fourth and possibly
largest flight of immigrants from Brazil began as the country took its
first unsteady steps toward democracy in the mid-eighties, but which later
threatened to totter altogether as the scandal surrounding President Fernando
Collor de Mello helped spiral the already sputtering economy further downward
in the early nineties.

Undoubtedly, the mass
defection of so many Brazilians at the time, by both legal and illegal
means, to the environs of such tempting locales as New York, Miami, Los
Angeles, Boston, Dallas, and Toronto, greatly increased the size of the
overseas community of Brazilian artists and musicians.

It certainly helped
to benefit the dining and restaurant business. The popular lower Manhattan
hotspot S.O.B.’s (Sounds of Brazil), for example, had affiliated itself
with Brazilian jazz chanteuse Tânia Maria, and catered exclusively
to the now chic and highbrow tastes, both culinary and musical, for all
things Brazilian among New York’s dinner-hopping yuppies.

In the major cities,
however, these makeshift expatriates quickly became a rather motley and
disorganized assortment of street personages more akin to Old World gypsies
than to New World pioneers, constantly multiplying and dividing in number
and size, vanishing and reappearing with equal dexterity, and traveling
freely to and from the United States and Brazil, seemingly at will and
without proper documentation.

I personally ran into
many of them while living in New York. Most were invariably from the state
of Minas Gerais, the former birthplace of jazz guitarist/composer Toninho
Horta, and of Milton Nascimento, another popular Brazilian vocal export
and a highly influential artist among knowledgeable jazz buffs (see Wayne
Shorter’s 1975 album Native Dancer).

But all of these migratory
patterns and political musings are neither very satisfactory nor fully
convincing explanations for this musical diversity and embrace of Brazilian
talent. For another more mundane exploration of this phenomenon, we must
look to one Edson da Silva, known by his professional name as Café.

Café is a Brazilian
percussionist who has appeared on many American jazz recordings, but first
began his long musical association with Chesky Records, primarily an audiophile
specialty label out of New York, as a new arrival atop the fourth wave
of immigration back in the mid-1980s.

Record producer and
part owner of the label David Chesky is a multi-talented bandleader, solo
pianist and composer in his own right, as well as a confirmed Brazilianist.
He has enlisted some lesser-known but experienced Brazilian performers
(Ana Caram, Romero Lubambo, Badi Assad) to counter-balance his engagement
of older, more established pros (Luiz Bonfá, Leny Andrade) in his
all-digital music productions. Chesky’s own album of original compositions,
Club de Sol (1989), is a particular favorite of mine, and is highlighted
by his superb piano playing and by Café’s distinctive vocal and
percussive effects on several of the tracks.

Love Connection

Both my wife and I
had the immense pleasure of meeting Café at the Brasilia Restaurant
in midtown Manhattan in the spring of 1988. It was basically a friendly
get-together of teacher and students from my Portuguese language class
at the New School for Social Research in Greenwich Village.

Upon greeting him,
I was immediately struck by Café’s pleasant demeanor (typical of
many Brazilians) and easy smile, which completely lit up his coffee-colored
countenance, hence his descriptive soubriquet. He wasn’t tall by American
standards, but was as solidly built as the Gávea rock in Rio, and
as sturdy as a Brastemp (a native-Brazilian brand) refrigerator.

He was dating a fellow
student at the time, a doctor by profession, who lived on Roosevelt Island,
an exclusive and nearly inaccessible New York enclave wedged between the
boroughs of Manhattan and Queens.

It was quite apparent
from our conversation that Café had abundant personal charisma,
which he used to overcome his rudimentary grasp of English.

"Americans are
so… antipathetic," he exclaimed, as he plopped increasingly
generous helpings of feijoada (a black bean stew made with dried
meat and pork) onto his dinner plate. He was trying to describe the general
aloofness of most New Yorkers by using the Portuguese word antipático
in lieu of unfriendly, the more common English term for it.

"Not so,"
I argued, as the discussion really started to heat up.

While we were talking,
his doctor girlfriend, a blue-eyed strawberry blonde, sat there and beamed
at him, fascinated by his bungled yet inoffensive transgressions against
the English language. The obviously smitten American professional appeared
to be totally charmed by this happy-go-lucky, wire-haired Afro-Brazilian
musician seated to her right.

It was then that it
finally struck me, the reason why so many jazz artists enjoyed playing
and performing Brazil’s music: they simply happened to love Brazilians.

But I needed to put
this theory to the test.

I thought back to
some interesting artistic and romantic couplings of the recent past: American
trumpeter Randy Brecker with jazz pianist Eliane Elias; actor/director
Robert Redford with sexy screen siren Sônia Braga; jazz-funk guitarist
Lee Ritenour with his Brazilian spouse; and other amorous associations
too numerous to mention, including my own.

I remembered, too,
that back in his salad days as an entertainer, Sérgio Mendes and
Brasil ’66 recorded and performed a Burt Bacharach-Hal David song called
"The Look of Love", which proved to be one of the group’s most
requested numbers. Mendes was far more successful in his musical career
in the States, with his then revolutionary strategy of lacing a Brazilian
beat or two into the seams of American pop standards—a musical union
of sorts—than he would ever be had he stayed in his native land.

I guess my theory
could be true after all, I reasoned.

This love affair that
American jazz and pop musicians have had, continue to have, and—dare
I predict it—will continue to have for Brazilian harmonies, rhythms,
and musical textures, despite the difficulties they may encounter with
their respective languages, clearly reflects the real, palpable, and overpowering
affection they must feel for the open, unaffected, and ingenuous qualities
of the Brazilian people themselves. It would seem to be the important
missing element I had been searching for, if not the all-powerful magnetic
allure: a literal marriage of convenience, and of mutual benefit.

One could probably
justify anything to oneself, I correctly fathomed, if given enough time
and thought, but yet, I couldn’t help to recall that in his massive historical
tome War and Peace, Russian author Leo Tolstoy once wrote that
to love life is to love God.

Since many Brazilians
truly believe the old adage that "Deus é brasileiro"
(God is Brazilian), it should logically follow, then, that to love life
is to love Brazilians, and by extension, their music, language and culture.

If only most things
in life and art were that logical, or simple.

Joe Lopes,
an 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 two daughters. He returned
to the U.S. in January 2001, and now resides in Raleigh, North Carolina
with his family. He is an avid collector and lover of all types of
music, as well as an insatiable film buff. You can email your comments
to the author at JosmarLopes@msn.com

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