A tribute to Tom Jobim

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, Joăo Gilberto, Oscar Castro-Neves,
and Sérgio Mendes — the famous bossa nova gang — played in 1962.

Your absence hurts, Maestro!

Sérgio Mielniczenko

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, Joăo Gilberto, Oscar Castro-Neves,
and Sérgio Mendes — the famous bossa nova gang — played in 1962.

Your absence hurts, Maestro!

Sérgio Mielniczenko

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 mission—to 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, Joăo 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, Joăo
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

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

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 Săo 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: Joăo’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, Joăo 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 Joăo be present at the performance or
would he change course at the hour of reckoning? We would know only at
show time. Joăo 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

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 Săo 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

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 Joăo 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 Săo 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 Joăo
Gilberto. Joăo 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. Joăo’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.

Joăo 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 Joăo’s collection.

It was like this: when Astrud finished her set with
“Água de beber” she called Joăo to accompany her in “The Girl from
Ipanema.” It would be more than natural — after all it was with Joăo,
Astrud, Jobim, and Stan Getz that the music became world famous. But on
this night Joăo 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.

Joăo 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 déjŕ vu ready for the first chord, after
Joăo’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 Joăo’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
Joăo’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 Joăo’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)

The last, a must

Antônio Carlos Jobim’s last studio CD Antônio
Brasileiro is available in the United States (Sony Latin Jazz –

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!

About the author

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

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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