Tom Jobim and Vinicius, the Brazilian Odd Couple Who Started It All – Part One

Tom Jobim and Vinicius inside LP Brasília, Sinfonia da Alvorada

After sitting in silence for nearly three quarters of an hour, an agitated
audience member suddenly let loose with an unexpected outburst that completely
filled the main hall: “It’s an outrage, an outrage I tell you! See what they’ve
done to my piece!”

In the middle of the film’s premiere presentation in Laranjeiras (a well-to-do Rio de Janeiro suburb), the person deemed most responsible for its worldwide success had just stood up from his seat and was headed briskly for the nearest exit.


“No, wait! Don’t go!” cried the movie’s producers after him. “Tell us, what’s wrong? Let’s talk it over. Give us a chance to explain. Wait, wait…come back!”


But it was to no avail. They were unable to calm their irate guest down or prevent him from leaving the scene in that infuriated fashion. To make matters worse, the now thoroughly seething citizen was suspected of having gone all the way home to his apartment complex in Rio, overlooking the gorgeous Guanabara Bay, and drowned his sorrows out by getting “comfortably numb” in his bath.


This slightly speculative account, in so far as it possesses all the earmarks of a Hollywood scenarist’s private fantasy, fits in perfectly with the events as they were known to have occurred – give or take a few dramatic liberties, of course – but not, thankfully for us, to composer Antonio Carlos Brasileiro de Almeida Jobim, nor to such an underwhelming Columbia Pictures project as Bruno Barreto’s Bossa Nova (2000).


As a matter of record, Jobim, who was born in the Tijuca section of Rio on the 25th of January, 1927, could never have been given the red-carpet treatment there at the time Bossa Nova hit movie theaters, as he had previously passed away of heart failure in New York City, at the age of 67, on December 8, 1994 – a good five or more years before the film was even released.


Admittedly, not only could he not have left the showing in that uncharacteristic manner, he played absolutely no part in the Amy Irving-Antonio Fagundes costarring vehicle, a weak celluloid homage to Cidade Maravilhosa, designed by Amy’s director-husband Bruno to show off Jobim’s Marvelous City through some of his most delectable song structures – “The Girl from Ipanema,” “Corcovado” (“Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars”), “Desafinado” (“Out of Tune”), “Chega de Saudade” (“No More Blues”), and others – even though his name appears prominently in the opening credits.


It’s hard for anyone to imagine the gifted but introverted Tom Jobim – a gentle enough “free soul” who suffered terribly from a persistent stage fright and shyness of others – as managing so attention-grabbing a stunt as running out of a movie screening, never mind having to live down the next day’s news headlines because of it. It simply wasn’t in his nature.


One man, however, did have the nature inside him, a man who had taken part in many a motion-picture gathering, along with the late-night extravaganzas and five-star gala events that inextricably went with it – and who did, in fact, walk out of one of them – and that man was Vinicius de Moraes.


Not just another urban dweller of that photogenic playground-by-the-sea we all know as Rio de Janeiro (he was born there on October 19, 1913), former diplomat, journalist, movie critic, lyricist, poet, playwright, songwriter and performer Marcus Vinicius da Cruz de Mello Moraes was an obviously cultured sort, as well as Jobim’s senior by fourteen summers. Yet he died, almost Marat-like, in his trademark porcelain tub (or so we are told) in his native city, on July 9, 1980 – during the height of the region’s seasonal cold snap – at almost the same expiration age (66) as his ex-creative partner.


It is there that any similarity between these popular-music icons would end, for while Jobim had labored valiantly to leave his admirers with the sometimes-erroneous impression of “coolness” incarnate (he did adore the sophisticated sounds of North American cool-jazz players, though), the veteran de Moraes was, for lack of a better word, the personification of volatility in the Brazilian male.


Not surprisingly, for two such hard-living talents as Vinicius and Tom had been while they were alive (their mutual fondness for strong drink and equally potent conversation was legendary among close friends and followers), the most lasting part of their 24-year association – their classic song output – was the one surviving aspect that could easily have been counted on to outlast them both.


Perhaps it was a sad commentary as well that the organ they most touched in others by their timeless tunes would, ironically for both of these fine artists, give out so early in their own lives: Ars longa, vita brevis, as the case may be.


But surely, if Heitor Villa-Lobos could be associated with the revered name of Johan Sebastian Bach; if another Antonio Carlos – opera composer Antonio Carlos Gomes – could be hailed as the “successor” to the Italian master Verdi, then the lyrical songwriting unit of Jobim-de Moraes was bound to be touted as Brazil’s answer to German romanticism’s Robert Schumann, with the British variant of Lennon and McCartney following close behind.


No matter who they were compared to, however, we can be assured of one thing: make no mistake about it, they were, by common consent, the recognized “rock stars” of their generation – within certain limitations.


This brings up not a few interesting points to ponder, such as how this intemperate league of extraordinary Brazilian gentlemen reached such unattainable heights in so short a period of time; by what means did the popular pair – exposed, as it was, to the early stimulus of art, literature, poetry, language, music, film and the theater – generate so much excitement within the jazz-pop field; and lastly, what was the catalyst that enabled the team to ride the crest of the once fast-rising bossa nova tide.


These preliminary thoughts go to the very heart of the duo’s longstanding relationship with listeners. Yet there is so much available material to sift through on this vast topic alone that it would be foolish for any writer to attempt to cover it all in one sitting. It is better to concentrate instead on a single facet of their epochal music-making career – the most logical spot being at the beginning of it. 


(To be continued…)


Joe Lopes, a naturalized American citizen born in Brazil, was raised and educated in New York City, where he worked for many years in the financial sector. In 1996, he moved to Brazil with his wife and daughters. In 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.

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