Musica Popular Brasileira

The ‘Jazz Samba’ Project: What’s Old is New (Part Three, Conclusion) — A Penny for Your Thoughts

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Let’s Discuss It!

Drummer Buddy Deppenschmidt at the Jazz Samba Symposium, June 2014 (Strathmore Music Center)

After Ken Avis’s introduction, Leo Lucini started the discussion off with a few words about the roots of Brazilian music, especially the native indigenous sources, mixed in with those of the country’s Portuguese colonizers, and, of course, the African slave influence. He went into a bit of the history of how the descendants of former slaves came together at a street corner named Praça Onze (“Square Eleven”), in Rio, and began to play the rudiments of choro, maxixe, and street samba. From there, later generations of Brazilians, i.e., Jobim, Vinicius, and, in Lucini’s opinion, the “founder” and pioneer of bossa nova, João Gilberto, had also banded together along the beachfront sections known as Ipanema and Copacabana.

Leo paused in his talk to give an active demonstration, involving sections of the audience, of the sounds that comprised the basic samba rhythm. This portion of the program went on a trifle longer than necessary; however, the point was made that samba encompassed a variety of contrasting elements that, together, created the music and rhythm which, when slowed down, gave way to what we know as bossa nova.

The next speaker was David Adler, who wrote the 2004 cover story for JazzTimes on the making of the album Jazz Samba. Most of David’s discussion was centered on his article, but the part that opened most of the audience’s eyes was the sidebar involving the so-called “Phantom Sessions” that allegedly took place prior to Jazz Samba being recorded. Basically, it was an October 1961 session with guitarist Charlie Byrd and saxophonist Stan Getz with Getz’s working quartet at the time, including bassist John Neves and drummer Roy Haynes.

Jazz writer and musician David R. Adler

David actually talked to Haynes, who remembered being in the studio with Charlie Byrd before bossa nova became popular. David even sought out and spoke with knowledgeable individuals, several of whom were able to provide specific dates (October 24-26) for the sessions, although no tapes or supporting material was found. “So there is a Jazz Samba session that’s in the ether somewhere, and it is gone,” David concluded. “It doesn’t exist anymore.”

What David drew from this disclosure was the incontrovertible fact that bossa nova required artists who were exposed to the music, who knew it and were capable of playing it. This is where the drummer Buddy Deppenschmidt and bassist Keter Betts came in.

The talk transitioned over to Buddy and his experience with making the now-classic album. He admitted, quite candidly, that “it’s just my version of it, my interpretation of it. It is not pure bossa nova. It’s exactly what the [album] cover says it is. It’s Jazz Samba. It’s the first fusion album before they even started using the word ‘fusion.’ ”

Without realizing it, Buddy held the audience in the palm of his hand from the start. He remained calm and collected throughout the experience. And he showed a canny sense of humor and comic timing, too, when he regaled the crowd with this morsel: “We had no idea [the album] was going to be so successful. Keter Betts said months later, ‘You know that album we did?’ I said, ‘Yeah.’ ‘Well, it got a Grammy.’ And what’s even funnier is, I was 24, and I said, ‘What’s a Grammy?’ I didn’t even know what a Grammy was!”

More controversially, Buddy equated the album’s popular success with, quite possibly, percussionist and second drummer Bill Reichenbach’s placing the emphasis on the rhythm of the songs (which Charlie Byrd selected) on beats two and four, something the “American public was used to hearing” and “could identify with.”

It was now multi-award-winning sound engineer Ed Greene’s turn to discuss his participation in the venture. Ed wasted no time in stressing the fact that a jazz combo, as much as a symphony orchestra, needs to be recorded in an acoustically agreeable environment, not in a “dead room.” It was the raison d’être for recording Jazz Samba at All Souls Unitarian Church in D.C.

Sound engineer Ed Greene

True to his profession, Ed emphasized the technical aspects of sound recording, including his use at the time of vacuum tube circuitry, Ampex tape recorders, condensers, and mixers. More important than these was his insistence the musicians be comfortable playing with one another.

It was at that point that Ed turned to Buddy, who he hadn’t seen in over fifty years, and asked, “Were you guys comfortable on stage, playing together?” Buddy replied with a simple “Absolutely,” which he prefaced with “You made my drums sound better than they ever sounded.” This pleased Mr. Greene to no end, who confided to audience members the reason he left the record business, mainly because he got tired of doing guitar overdubs on albums for weeks on end. Again, the musicians had no one to relate to, which in his opinion made the business much too complicated, what with earphones and monitors and such. “It’s a miracle anything comes through at all.” He did say that he enjoyed the immediacy of television, which is where Ed had been thriving for the past several decades, prior to his passing in August 2017.

Returning to the panel discussion at the Strathmore, D.C. native Tom Cole was asked to provide, in response to Ken Avis’ prompt, some context for, as well as the impact of, the album on pop music during and after the 1960s. Turning the tables on the moderator, Tom inquired of the participants that although both instrumental and vocal music were listened to with equal interest, did any of them recall hearing Jazz Samba on the radio; and, if they did, how did they react to it?

Words to the Wise

Ed Greene was the first to interject, in that he still “hears the album on the radio. It’s an unmistakable sound. There’s something about it. The music was not only well played, superbly played. It’s a very sensual music. That’s really what that album’s about. And that’s the essence of bossa nova.” Leo Lucini confirmed Ed’s appraisal, adding “among other things.”

Buddy offered his own thoughts in that he was “pleased that it sounded good. Everything about it was okay, it was correct. I didn’t hear anything that I disliked. And I’m always listening to mistakes that I made. The worst thing about making any recording is that you have to listen to your mistakes over and over and forever.”

What ultimately came out of this phase of the discussion was that the American record-buying public was readily taken with Jazz Samba over earlier recordings that were issued (in some cases, a decade or so earlier), among them Brazilian music featuring guitarist Laurindo Almeida and saxophonist Bud Shank.

Cover of the classic Jazz Samba album on vinyl (Verve Records)

A brief question-and-answer session followed, wherein yours truly, who was present in the audience and listening attentively to what was being divulged, was asked by Buddy (thank you, my friend!) to comment on the influence of the movie Black Orpheus in popularizing bossa nova. Here’s the answer I gave the panel:

“Vinicius de Moraes and Jobim wrote the music for the original play, Orfeu da Conceição, which later was turned into a film by Marcel Camus, made in Rio. It included none of the music from the play, but all new music by Jobim, as well as music by Luiz Bonfá. That “The Morning of Carnival” and “Samba de Orfeu” were Bonfá’s music. Black Orpheus is a totally other story. It’s a film that really captured, visually and sonically, the imagination of Americans and pretty much the whole world — except at the time the native Brazilians.”

Although nobody asked me, I volunteered a story that I had read in journalist and writer Ruy Castro’s book, Chega de Saudade (a.k.a. Bossa Nova): “My comment is about Stan Getz, they said he was a great player because of his sound and everything. During the recording sessions of Getz-Gilberto, João Gilberto made a comment to Jobim about it. As Getz was blowing away, Gilberto told Jobim [and I was paraphrasing here], ‘Tell that moron to shut up, he’s playing too loud.’ Jobim saw Stan’s expression and he said, ‘He says he likes the way you play.’ And Getz, in response, said, ‘Funny, I don’t think that’s what he said.’ ”

Stan Getz (l.), with Joe Byrd (c.) & brother Charlie Byrd (r.) recording Jazz Samba

I was pleased — no, thrilled — to hear that Brazil’s music, especially the soothing sounds of bossa nova, was still seducing audiences the way it had over half a century ago.

Looking back on the previous Friday night’s  concert with Eliane Elias and Sergio Mendes, I was reminded of an elderly gentleman seated to my right. He had come into the Strathmore Music Center with the aid of a walker, so fragile and weak was his appearance. The man must have been in his eighties. He was accompanied by his wife, who looked about a decade younger.

As the music and vibes reached their peak, the man stood up and, to my astonishment, started jerking his arms around in time to the rhythm. He was hardly able to keep up with the music, but boy, was he having the time of his life! Fond memories of his younger and healthier self must have been on his mind.

Then it dawned on me. Bossa nova continues to charm the world. And based on what I witnessed that night, it never really gets old, does it?

Copyright © 2018 by Josmar F. Lopes

 

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The Jazz Samba Project: What’s Old is New (Part Two) — Look Back in Delight

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Music that Soothes the Soul

Veronneau: Jazz Samba Project, with Lynn Veronneau and husband Ken Avis (far right)

It was such a pleasure to have met and chatted with musician Ken Avis (albeit briefly) on Saturday, June 7, 2014, after the Jazz Samba Project Symposium. A former organizational development consultant with the World Bank Group, Ken is a sharp and knowledgeable music lover, especially of Brazil’s music. I congratulated him and his co-curator, Georgina Javor, for a most enjoyable and thoroughly professional presentation, which brought a variety of speakers together. Among them were teacher, lecturer, musician and journalist David R. Adler; teacher, composer and bassist Leonardo Lucini; editor, producer and NPR host Tom Cole; multi-Emmy Award-winning sound engineer Ed Greene; and professor and author Charles A. Perrone.

The symposium itself was a huge success, as was my talk the following Sunday afternoon with drummer Buddy Deppenschmidt (see the following link to my interview: https://josmarlopes.wordpress.com/2015/12/28/its-jazz-samba-time-celebrating-the-50th-anniversary-of-the-landmark-bossa-nova-album/). Buddy turned out to be a terrific interview subject: involved, alert and ready with a memorable line or two. It was incredible how he managed to recall events from fifty years back with such facility, and in precise detail. And having Jazz Samba’s original sound engineer Ed Greene on the stage and alongside him was icing on the bossa nova cake.

My only regret was that my wife and I missed the Sunday afternoon performance of Ken’s group Veronneau with German-born harmonicist Hendrik Meurkens. Regrettably, we had to rush back to our hotel to catch the shuttle to Dulles Airport. I also regret not having seen the world premiere of Ken Avis and Bret Primack’s documentary, Bossa Nova — the Brazilian Music that Seduced the World.  I asked Ken afterwards if and when the documentary would be made public, either online or on his group’s Website. He was kind enough to send me the link to Primack’s YouTube channel where I could watch the film “in the raw.” Ken assured me it was chock full of fascinating tidbits that a history maven and pop-music buff such as myself would be thrilled to have at my disposal.

While we’re on the subject, Ken also provided me with a copy of a CD he recorded in 2012. Under the title Jazz Samba Project, it was his group’s homage to the milestone Jazz Samba album from 1962. My initial thought was that it was smooth sounding, suave and sophisticated, as only bossa nova was meant to be. The lilting rhythms and additional percussion effects were added virtues, while his wife Lynn’s easy-going vocals fit in beautifully with what I like to refer to as the “Astrud aesthetic” (named after Astrud Gilberto, the former wife of bossa nova pioneer, João Gilberto, who shot to stardom on the strength of her English-language rendition of “The Girl from Ipanema”).

I did have a few reservations with Lynn’s Portuguese pronunciation, though. Heck, even pop singer Lani Hall, one of two artists featured (the other being Janis Hansen) with Sérgio Mendes and Brasil ’66 on their many A&M albums, wasn’t all that perfect. Still, it did not detract from the generally relaxed vibes I got from the players. And the recording venue, All Souls Unitarian Church in Washington, D.C., where the original Jazz Samba sessions took place, was heaven sent. While duplicating three of the selections from the original record (“È Luxo Só,” “One Note Samba,” and “Samba Triste”), Veronneau also covered the Bob Marley tune “Waiting in Vain,” Jorge Ben’s perennial “Más Que Nada,” Jobim-Mendonça-Gimbel’s “Meditation,” one of Baden Powell and Vinicius de Moraes’ afro-sambas, “Samba Saravah,” the Joseph Kosma-Johnny Mercer standard “Autumn Leaves,” and lastly Jobim’s “Wave.”

Getting back to the bossa nova documentary, Ken mentioned to me that “it’s still a work in progress and won’t see the light of day formally until [he and Bret] are able to raise a bit more money for film festival showings, etc.” All the same, Ken urged me to take a gander at it. “I’m sure you will have seen many of the clips before,” he added, “but there’s a lot of new original interview material in there too. There are some things we will change but this is it as of today!”

Bandleader, musician, lecturer, producer and playwright Ken Avis (Photo: Strathmore)

Ken was absolutely spot-on regarding the documentary. There were clips (most of them from second-generation footage) that I had never seen before: a rare showing of composer-guitarist Luiz Bonfá with Perry Como performing “A Day in the Life of a Fool” (known in Brazil as “Manhã de Carnaval”), the persnickety João Gilberto in an extended take on “Desafinado,” glimpses of Stan Getz and Charlie Byrd in concert, Elis Regina with Tom Jobim hamming it up on “Águas de março” (“Waters of March”), Vinicius and Tom in a rendition of “Felicidade,” and an interview with Charlie Byrd’s brother, Joe Byrd. In that one, Joe Byrd claimed, in his elegantly patrician Virginia accent, that brother Charlie called on the services of “two German drummers” — Philadelphia-born Buddy Deppenschmidt and Bill Reichenbach — to man the rhythm section (see the link to the video: https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=1&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=0ahUKEwjE3au2p4TXAhVBfiYKHVpiA2EQtwIIJjAA&url=https%3A%2F%2Fvimeo.com%2F95835648&usg=AOvVaw0ijjbYF5DjAkC6YrGGGL7s ).

As for my talk with the “German drummer” William “Buddy” Deppenschmidt III (who is of Danish ancestry on his mother’s side), Ken had this to say: “I wish I could have caught the Sunday morning session — I heard from a couple of people who had been there, including the [Brazilian] drummer Vanderlei Pereira that it was interesting and entertaining. I [felt that] Buddy and his companions had a really good time at the festival and were delighted at the opportunity to be part of it, which for me is one of the best things we achieved.”

I asked Ken if he had ever heard of David Chesky and his audiophile label, Chesky Records. “I can recommend many of their CDs,” I wrote back, “especially the one called Club de Sol that highlighted composer-musician Chesky on piano with Brazilian percussionist Café, who my wife and I had met when we lived in New York (see the following link to my story, “Jazz Can’t Resist Brazil”: https://josmarlopes.wordpress.com/2012/08/27/jazz-cant-resist-brazil/). “It’s a wonderful album of all original material, very bossa-nova tinged and jazz oriented — plus it swings, man, it swings! I guarantee you will love it if you haven’t heard it yet.

“I also have two of their earlier compilations (they double as sound checks, too), some of which featured singer Ana Caram, guitarist Badi Assad (she is part of an incredibly talented guitar-playing family that includes her two brothers, Sergio and Odair Assad), Livingston Taylor (James Taylor’s brother), Orquesta Nova, and a bunch of others. It’s all very eclectic stuff.”

My suggestion must have caught Ken’s ear. He wrote back to me after about a week: “When you mentioned Chesky I was aware of the label and a couple of days later I pulled out a compilation CD from them which I had bought years ago. It introduced me to [Bahian-born] Rosa Passos, who had a version of “Girl from Ipanema,” a Colombian singer Marta Gomez, who did a beautiful arrangement of “Cielito Lindo,” and included a bunch of other great tracks such as a bass and male vocal version of “Round Midnight.” If we were with a label, that’s the one I’d like to be with!”

With that said, I made up my mind to write to videographer and music journalist Bret Primack directly and introduce myself. Having put in a plug for one of my all-time favorite albums, I decided to pull out a couple of those Chesky CDs I had told Ken about. As I began to peruse the contents, lo and behold, I realized that Bret had written the liner notes himself. No wonder Ken knew about the label!

Call Me, On the Line

Videographer and music journalist Bret Primack (Photo: Optimise, Kathleen Witten-Hannah)

It was no surprise to me that Bret was a Brazilian music lover, as were David and his brother Norman Chesky. They owned (and founded) the Chesky Records label back in the late 1980s and continue to do so today. I quickly answered back: “I love their stuff! I have several excellent CDs of theirs including the two demo discs, which I still use on occasion to get the imaging right on my speakers.”

I felt an inspiration coming. Here is the gist of what I wrote to Bret: “I got your e-mail address from Ken Avis, who I met last weekend at the Strathmore after the Jazz Samba Symposium. Ken was kind enough to send me the video link to your film, Bossa Nova: The Music that Seduced the World, which I thoroughly enjoyed. My congratulations! I know he spoke with you about the making of, and genesis, of the film. I’d like to correspond with you about it, if you have some free time.

“The interesting thing is that I recommended several recordings to Ken of Brazilian music on the Chesky label. He told me he was familiar with the label. The CDs I suggested were a recital by [Brazilian jazz singer] Leny Andrade with pianist Fred Hersch — in particular, her powerful singing of the song “Wave,” which I think is a standout; and David’s Club de Sol. I would have added Herbie Mann’s Caminho de Casa (see the link to my article about this album: https://josmarlopes.wordpress.com/2012/09/03/a-brazilian-at-heart-for-jazz-artist-herbie-mann-brazil-was-home-too/), but his name did not come up in our conversation.

“Coincidently, I pulled out Caminho de Casa and a Luiz Bonfá CD (also on Chesky) called Non-Stop to Brazil, both of which are favorites of mine. As I looked over the liner notes, I noticed that YOU wrote the notes! I knew, by the way you and Ken had discussed bossa nova in your film, that you must love or at least be familiar with Brazilian music. I had no idea you wrote the liner notes to my favorite works!” I also told Bret about my having met the percussionist Café.

“Please let me know if we can discuss your film. I even suggested to Ken a possible avenue for funding your project via the Audiovisual and Rouanet Laws in Brazil (I don’t know if they apply here, but you can most certainly give it a try). Ken told me he was going to check into them as well. Anyway, I look forward to hearing from you.”

After several false starts, I was able to speak to Bret. I had no idea the Chesky brothers were his cousins! We had a most satisfactory conversation, for which I thanked Ken. Bret hailed from the suburbs of New York. He started booking bands while still a teenager. Wherever he went, Bret met up with Brazilians who were passionate jazz and music lovers. After years in the city, Bret moved out West — to Tucson, Arizona, where he set up a jazz video outlet. He became known as the Jazz Video Guy. Some of his YouTube videos include “Miles Davis, the Picasso of Jazz,” and a series about the life and work of saxophonist Sonny Rollins. In our talk, Bret hinted that in order to complete the Bossa Nova film project he would need access to better archival footage as well as additional funding sources. Perhaps a trip to Brazil would be in order.

What really got my attention was that Ken mentioned using the unexplored avenue of the theater, by way of a play about the coming of bossa nova to the U.S. (specifically, the Washington, D.C. area). I took advantage of the opportunity to discuss, via our e-mail correspondence, a ready-made theater piece that many authorities consider to be the first (and, to date, only) bossa nova musical. That would be Pobre Menina Rica or “Poor Little Rich Girl,” a 1964 play (in the form of a cabaret piece) with lyrics and text by none other than Vinicius de Moraes, and songs by Carlos Lyra, a still-living icon of the bossa nova era.

Carlos Lyra, Nara Leao, Vinicius de Moraes (with Aloysio de Oliveira, standing) – Pobre Menina Rica (1964)

I told Ken that I had a CD of the music, as well as the original text (in both Portuguese and English) in my possession. “You can read about the musical in Ruy Castro’s book Chega de Saudade, translated under the title Bossa Nova: The Story of the Brazilian Music that Seduced the World” — a not inconsequential resemblance to Primack and Avis’ film title.

Suffice it to say that the plot line and music for Pobre Menina Rica are definitely of its time. The story is of the “poor-boy-meets-rich-girl” variety, result: love at first sight, the sort of innocent, innocuous fling that prevailed in the mid-1960s. The best examples I could think of were those Frankie Avalon-Annette Funnicello “beach blanket bingo” flicks from the same period. It may not have been what Ken was looking for, but it did touch on themes related to class differences (one of the main characters is a crippled Afro-Brazilian slum dweller, highly reminiscent of Porgy from George Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess). Nara Leão and Elis Regina were originally pegged to star in the show when it premiered. In fact, Lyra wrote the musical with Nara in mind: she’s the titular “Poor Little Rich Girl,” which as we know was the title of a Noël Coward song.

I offered to send Ken the text to read over. “You can probably download some of the songs online as well.  If this perks your interest, I can even reach out to my friends in Brazil, Claudio Botelho and Charles Moëller (of Moëller-Botelho) who I have written about extensively on my blog.” For years, Carlos Lyra had been dying for someone to bring his play either to Broadway or to North American theaters in some capacity. It was another way of approaching Ken’s idea, but from a different angle, outside of writing something from scratch (which is more difficult).

However, Ken decided to give the project his own spin, the result of which was an original play called Bossa Fever! — When Samba met Jazz in 1960s Washington DC, with music by his band Veronneau. The world premiere took place in 2015 at the Atlas Performing Arts Center in D.C., as part of the INTERSECTIONS 2015 Festival (here’s the YouTube link to the show: https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=1&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=0ahUKEwjg06GilYTXAhVFWCYKHXQjCRwQtwIIJjAA&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.youtube.com%2Fwatch%3Fv%3DXadG42P5DuA&usg=AOvVaw13PclTp0Xgyoy_XEBq2EFk).

(To be continued…)

Copyright © 2017 by Josmar F. Lopes

‘What is Bossa Nova?’ — Variations on a Theme by One of the Genre’s Cultural Icons

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Bossa Nova legend Carlos Lyra (Photo: New York Times)
Bossa Nova legend Carlos Lyra (Photo: New York Times)

It’s not often that one gets to communicate with a living legend.

Carlos Lyra — known also by the diminutive “Carlinhos” — is anything but diminutive in his talent and in his abilities. A marvelous singer, songwriter, performer and recording artist, as well as a raconteur par excellence, Lyra, whose name is synonymous with his favorite instrument, the “lyre” (or rather, our modern-day guitar), was present at the dawn of Bossa Nova. His collaborations with such giants of the genre as Vinicius de Moraes, Tom Jobim, Stan Getz, Marcos Valle, Ronaldo Bôscoli, Nara Leão and others is well known to fans of the period.

Now in his early 80’s, Carlos continues to explore the essence of the music he first heard and loved as a boy growing up in the middle-class neighborhood of Botafogo, in Rio de Janeiro.  

Fresh from a live show at the Vivo Rio nightclub with longtime friend and associate, Roberto Menescal, and singer-guitarist Toquinho, the ageless icon has kindly consented to the use of his original blog entry entitled (in Portuguese) “O Que é Bossa Nova?” (“What is Bossa Nova?”). In this highly cultivated piece, Carlos shares with readers the myriad factors that helped shape Brazil’s music and culture.

It’s a view shared strongly by this author as well.   

WHAT IS BOSSA NOVA?

Recently I gave an interview about Bossa Nova for the BBC in London. Knowing that I faced a well-informed audience, I expanded upon my usual responses in a way that was almost cathartic. It became apparent to me that Bossa Nova is a most misunderstood phenomenon that deserves some additional considerations.

To begin with, Bossa Nova shares a strong affinity with the thirteenth century Provençal School, also known as Fin Amors [or “courtly love”]. It was there that Eleanor of Aquitaine, the mother of Richard the Lion Heart, became acknowledged as the poet who surrounded herself with troubadours and minstrels that, through the sound of the lute (the ancestor of the guitar) composed ballads that were whispered in ladies’ ears.

Similarly, Bossa Nova is also whispered and never yelled. Romantic and elegant, yet never vulgarized, it conforms to the description set forth by filmmaker Luis Buñuel in the movie, The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie.

Indeed, for Bossa Nova is nothing more than a product of Rio de Janeiro’s middle class that addresses itself to the world’s middle class. A middle class in Rio that, besides our Cariocas, took in a Bahian by the name of João Gilberto, the capixabas [people from Espirito Santo] Roberto Menescal and Nara Leão, paraibanos [people from the Northeast] such as Geraldo Vandré, João Donato from the state of Acre, and from São Paulo, Sergio Ricardo and Wanda Sá, as well as future songwriter Toquinho.

Carlos Lyra (left) with Aloysio de Oliveira, Nara Leao & Vinicius (1963)
Carlos Lyra (left) with Aloysio de Oliveira (above him), Nara Leao & Vinicius (1963)

It should be noted that during my lifetime as a performer, I came across something curious: that artistic talent is completely independent of intelligence, culture, good character and mental or physical stability. I have met or heard about artists endowed with undeniable excellence, but who were devoid of one or another of the qualities or gifts mentioned above.

A composer of Bossa Nova who cherishes his art suffers a series of influences that begin with the impressionism of Ravel and Debussy, along with [the music of] Bach, Villa-Lobos, Stravinsky, Brahms and Schumann. He suffers the influence of bolero from Mexico by [the likes of] Agustín Lara, Gonzalo Curiel and Maria Grever — the same bolero that in Brazil took the form of samba-canção; of the French songwriters Charles Trenet and Henri Salvador.

In quick succession, by the influence of the five major American composers: Cole Porter, George Gershwin, Jerome Kern, Irving Berlin and Richard Rodgers; and by the following artists, i.e., Gerry Mulligan, Chet Baker, Shorty Rogers, Barney Kessel, Stan Kenton and the Modern Jazz Quartet who, much as we ourselves were, are identified with West Coast Jazz.

Finally, Bossa Nova owes its existence to an effervescent cultural outbreak (not a movement, as many have wrongly stated) that took place in Brazil during the 1950s and which manifested itself on the stage with the Arena Theater of São Paulo, the Brazilian Comedy Theater [or “TBC”], Teatro dos Quatro and Teatro Oficina. In the visual arts with Lygia Clark, Lygia Pape, Hélio Oiticica and Wesley Duke Lee, among others. In architecture with Oscar Niemeyer, Lúcio Costa and Burle Marx.

In the automotive industry and in the sports world with Pelé and Garrincha at the Soccer World Cup; with Éder Jofre in boxing, Maria Esther Bueno in tennis, Ademar Ferreira da Silva in the triple jump, and with the Miss Universe Beauty Pageant where Iêda Maria Vargas was crowned.

Bossa Nova was, nothing more, nothing less, than the musical background to it all.

Roberto Menescal (left) & Carlos Lyra at Vivo Rio, February 2016
Roberto Menescal (left) & Carlos Lyra at Vivo Rio, February 2016

As to the name “Bossa Nova,” that came about during a presentation we gave, in 1958, at the University Hebrew Group in Flamengo: myself, Silvinha Telles, Menescal, Ronaldo Bôscoli and Nara. There was a sign on the club’s door with our names on it, followed by the words “… and the Bossa Nova.” I asked the producer and director of the social club what that meant. His response was: “That’s the name I invented for you.” So we adopted it. We learned later that this creative little Jew had moved to Israel.

After that, we never heard from him again.

CARLOS LYRA — Guest Contributor

SUNDAY, JANUARY 31, 2016

(English translation by Josmar Lopes, and printed with the gracious permission of Carlos Lyra and Magda Botafogo)

Link to the original entry on Carlos Lyra’s blog, ALÉM DA BOSSA NOVA: http://carlos-lyra.blogspot.com/2016/01/o-que-e-bossa-nova.html

The Jazz Samba Project: What’s Old is New, and What’s New Gets Old Fast

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Of Concerts and Symposiums

The Felix E. Grant "Wall of Fame" at the Strathmore, June 8, 2014
The Felix E. Grant “Wall of Fame” at the Strathmore, June 8, 2014

What’s old is new. And what’s new gets old fast.

This was the takeaway from my visit in June 2014 to the Strathmore Music and Arts Center in North Bethesda, Maryland. As part of their week-long celebration, “Bringing Bossa Nova to the United States,” and in honor of the 50th anniversary of the landmark Verve album Jazz Samba recorded by Stan Getz and the Charlie Byrd Trio, I was invited to take part in the Jazz Samba Legacy Symposium on Saturday, June 7, 2014.

Among the featured events that week was the world premiere rough-cut screening of the documentary Bossa Nova — the Brazilian Music that Charmed the World, directed and produced by videographer Bret Primack and co-produced by music journalist, educator, guitarist, and bandleader Ken Avis, along with a Q & A session with Buddy Deppenschmidt, who played on the classic Jazz Samba. I had the immense pleasure of meeting and interviewing the famed jazz drummer, performer, and teacher on Sunday, June 8, 2014, at the Strathmore Music Center’s Education Room 309, which I have previously written about and posted (see the following link: https://josmarlopes.wordpress.com/2015/12/28/its-jazz-samba-time-celebrating-the-50th-anniversary-of-the-landmark-bossa-nova-album/)

Prior to our interview, my wife Regina and I took an extensive tour of the Jazz Samba Project Exhibit, co-curated by Georgina Javor, the Strathmore’s former Director of Programming, and the aforementioned Mr. Avis. The exhibit showed only a small fraction of the extensive Felix E. Grant Jazz Archives, at the University of the District of Columbia, which was itself curated by Dr. Judith A. Korey, Professor of Music, whom I also met and spoke to.

Felix E. Grant was a local Washington, D.C. radio broadcaster who took a personal interest in bringing jazz and Brazil’s music and culture to American shores. It was a fabulous exhibit! We were extremely pleased with its breadth and scope, in particular the “walls of sound” (my term) wherein album covers of well known and obscure recordings from the late 1950s up through the mid-60s were displayed up-and-down and across the room’s walls. We had some truly memorable moments re-visiting and re-connecting with bossa nova greats (and not-so-greats) from years past. The entire display reflected a high degree of professionalism and respect for Brazilian music — a most satisfying experience for us.

One of the highlights was a prominently showcased, generously proportioned coffee-table tome (a copy of which I subsequently ordered online) entitled Bossa Nova and the Rise of Brazilian Music in the 1960s, and from which the above exhibition was drawn.

My wife Regina marveling at singer Elis Regina, from the book about Bossa Nova - June 2014
My wife Regina marveling at Elis Regina, from the book about Bossa Nova – June 2014

Published in 2010 by Soul Jazz Books, a division of Soul Jazz Records, this hardcover volume is a collection of bossa nova record album cover art work from the Odeon, Elenco, Philips, and other labels from the period in question. It was compiled by Gilles Peterson, a British-based DJ, record collector, and record label owner, and Stuart Baker, the founder and proprietor of the Soul Jazz label.

Between its covers were featured breathtakingly beautiful modernist and revolutionary designs (some hinting at the coming “psychedelic” era) that reflected “the radical and exciting idealism of Brazil at the start of the 1960s,” an idealism that was quickly squashed with the advent of the military dictatorship post-1964 and the subsequent crackdown of 1968.

The fading memory of those bitter times and my fellow Brazilians’ nearly two-decade long struggle to free themselves from the generals’ iron grip have left some young people — and a growing number of old-timers with faulty recollections — with an alarming nostalgia for “the way things were.” This self-deluded yearning for the purported “good old days,” where Ordem e Progresso (“Order and Progress”) — curiously, the country’s motto stamped on the Brazilian flag — remains an unrealized promise, will serve as an excellent example of our penchant for hankering after a non-existent past.

My observation above of things that are old being new and those that are new getting old stems as well from a Friday evening concert of June 6, 2014, by Brazilian pianist Eliane Elias and the Grammy Award-winning Niteroi-born singer-musician Sérgio Mendes and his band. Both Sérgio and Eliane have long pedigrees in the pop-music business going back many decades.

Photos & Bios of Eliane Elias & Sergio Mendes - Jazz Samba Exhibit, June 2014
Photos & Bios of Eliane Elias & Sergio Mendes – Jazz Samba Exhibit, June 2014

In Eliane’s case, her piano playing craft on the night of the concert was anything but old. Quite the contrary, she displayed finger-snapping pep and vigor to burn on the old 88s. Her treatment of material by Jobim, Ary Barroso, and Ronaldo Bôscoli, in addition to some of her own compositions, was well-nigh perfect, with just the right amount of zing and pizzazz in all the right places. Eliane was helped by a crack band of first-rate players, consisting of husband Marc Johnson on upright bass and the carioca-born Rafael Barata on drums. Barata made a particularly spectacular impression with his lightning-fast solos and fancy stick-work — why, the man was a veritable human octopus!

The second half of the program, which starred Mendes on keyboards and vocals, and his wife Gracinha Leporace as soloist providing backup support, included toward the end a re-imagined “rap” version of Jorge Ben Jor’s signature “Mas Que Nada” tune — fine and dandy in execution, but hardly an audience favorite with the over-50 crowd that predominated — and a final encore of Mendes, John Powell, Carlinhos Brown, Mikael Mutti, and Siedah Garrett’s “Real in Rio” from their 2011 animated collaboration Rio (produced by Blue Sky Studios) that fell flat and virtually sucked the air out of the good vibes left over from “Mas Que Nada.”

Mixing the old with the new, then, turned out to not only to be a mixed bag but one that left a big, fat hole in an otherwise excellent program shared by two established Brazilian artists.

The Offer I Couldn’t Refuse

Before I get into the particulars of the Jazz Samba Legacy Symposium, let me recount what led up to my participation in that weekend invitational. It was Buddy Deppenschmidt himself who informed me about this event in Bethesda. He sent me the link back in mid-March 2014, which I swiftly checked out. As I did so, my wife called me to say that somebody from the Jazz Samba Fest had phoned my home asking for additional information. Now that was quick! My wife tried to get the name of the lady who called, but was unable to understand the semi-garbled message.

My initial thought, if indeed I’d ever get the rare opportunity to be up there with the Giants of Jazz Samba and Bossa Nova, was to discuss Black Orpheus (that is, the original play and musical), how it all came about, how the Vinicius de Moraes and Antonio Carlos Jobim partnership came together, and all that jazz. Might as well put my knowledge to good use, at least that was my impression, since I had been involved in trying to bring the project to Broadway for the last, what, six or more years!

Yours truly showing the Black Orpheus wall -- Strathmore, June 2014
Yours truly showing the Black Orpheus wall at the Strathmore, June 2014

Finally, I received an e-mail from Ms. Georgina Javor, the young lady who had called my home. She would love to have me attend some of the festivities and asked if I had ever moderated any discussions before? I told her that yes, I had moderated a few as well as interviewed several personalities in the recent past, and that I would love to moderate the Q & A session with Buddy.

Georgina spelled out the terms of my participation, to which I accepted. In addition, she kindly provided tickets to the Elias-Mendes Friday night concert, which for us turned out to be the spicy topping on this all-Brazilian pastry.

(To be continued…)

Copyright © 2016 by Josmar F. Lopes

It’s ‘Jazz Samba’ Time! Celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the Landmark Bossa Nova Album

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Me & Buddy Deppenschmidt at Strathmore, Education Room 309, June 8, 2014
Me & Buddy Deppenschmidt at Strathmore, Education Room 309, June 8, 2014

The following is a transcript of an interview I conducted with jazz drummer Buddy Deppenschmidt, done at the Strathmore Music Center in North Bethesda, Maryland, on June 8, 2014, as part of the Jazz Samba Symposium dedicated to the 50th anniversary of the landmark Verve album, Jazz Samba.

William “Buddy” Deppenschmidt Jr. is an internationally respected performer, recording artist, and teacher who has been a member of the Newtown School of Music staff since the 1960s. Currently, Buddy teaches and is the artist in residence at the Community Conservatory of Music located in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. He studied with Dave Levin in Philadelphia, with classical percussionist Arthur Dextradeur, and with the legendary Joe Morello who was the long-time drumming sensation of the Dave Brubeck Quartet. Still active and going strong at 79, Buddy has toured the world and continues to lead an all-star band, Jazz Renaissance. His work appeared on three major motion picture soundtracks, six major record labels, and over 40 CDs. In addition, he has biographical listings in both Leonard Feather’s The Encyclopedia of Jazz in the Sixties and Barry Kernfeld’s New Grove Dictionary of Jazz.

Josmar Lopes – Now, to set the stage for what occurred in the 1960s, let me give you a little bit of background. Between the years 1958 and 1962, several incidents took place that would bring the country, people, and music of Brazil into sharper focus. It started off with Brazil beating Sweden, 5-2, at the World Cup. That was June 29, 1958. That occurred with the aid of a 17-year-old sensation named Pelé. A few weeks later, João Gilberto, a shy and reclusive – some would say obsessive-compulsive – singer/guitarist from Bahia recorded a 78-rpm single for Odeon Records. You remember the name of the song, Buddy?

Buddy Deppenschmidt – “Chega de Saudade.”

Josmar Lopes – “Chega de Saudade” (“No More Blues”) by the hit songwriting team of Antonio Carlos Jobim and Vinicius de Moraes. A year later, on June 12, 1959, Black Orpheus, a film shot on location in Rio during Carnival time, was released in France. This film, with music by Jobim, Vinicius, and Luiz Bonfá, another well known Brazilian musician, was an international sensation. It went on to win the Palme d’Or at the Cannes film festival, the 1960 Academy Award for Best Foreign Film, and the Golden Globe Award.

Now let’s move another year ahead, [to] April 21, 1960. Brazil inaugurated its futuristic new capital city of Brasilia. It was the brainchild of its then-president, Juscelino Kubitschek, or as he was known to Brazilians, “Jota Ka” (JK). His motto, “Fifty years in five,” was his promise to bring the Brazilian nation into the twentieth century. I think those five years are just about up. In November of 1960, another JK – JFK to be exact – was inaugurated president of the United States. It was part of that Kennedy administration’s cultural exchange program that in March of 1961 the US State Department sent Charlie Byrd on a three-month, 18-country tour of Latin America. The trio included Charlie Byrd, the guitarist, Keter Betts on bass, and our guest Buddy on drums. The year after that, right Buddy, remember the date … 1962, Jazz Samba?

Buddy Deppenschmidt – Oh, yeah, February 13. Three days before my birthday.

Buddy Deppenschmidt with berimbau (ca. 1960s)
Buddy Deppenschmidt with berimbau (ca. late 1960s)

Josmar Lopes – Happy belated birthday! Jazz Samba was recorded at the All Souls Unitarian Church right here in D.C. The album was released on April 20, 1962 and it charted for 70 weeks. It sold half a million copies in 18 months. It was the only jazz album ever to top the pop and jazz Billboard charts. And in 2010, Jazz Samba was officially inducted into…

Buddy Deppenschmidt – The Grammy Awards Hall of Fame.

Josmar Lopes – That’s right. A little bit later in 1962, if any of you remember, in October of 1962, the Missiles of October. We had the Cuban Missile crisis, with tensions heating up between Russia, Cuba, and the US. Buddy, it’s amazing that all this history was packed into just those four years: 1958 to 1962. And here we are, facing another World Cup, coincidentally, in a few weeks. I don’t know if that’s going to go off, but soccer being soccer it’ll come off all right. Brazil should score a goal in that one. But Buddy is still with us, thank goodness. And my first question to you, Buddy, about all this activity that was going on, how did a drummer from Philadelphia get swept up in this grandiose project with the State Department to visit 18 countries in three months?

Buddy Deppenschmidt – I was working with a piano trio, the Newton Thomas Trio, a very good trio. And we had played Birdland, the Blue Note in Chicago. We were doing the Virginia Beach Jazz Festival and Charlie Byrd’s Trio was one of the groups that played in the festival. And Dave Brubeck was on the festival, and little did I know that fifteen years later I’d end up studying with his drummer. But Charlie heard us and we did very well on the festival. In fact, we brought the house down and it was a standing ovation and all. And we weren’t supposed to be a big deal. The Brubeck group was supposed to be the star of the festival and, all of a sudden, here we are getting a standing ovation. I was overwhelmed and I was about only 24 at the time.

Charlie Byrd (Photo: Sean Dietrich)
Charlie Byrd (Photo: Sean Dietrich)

Two nights later, into the club walks Charlie Byrd, with his drummer and his drummer’s wife and his wife. His wife slips me a note under the table. I didn’t know what to think, you know. So I said, “Pardon me, I have to go to the restroom.” And I got up and went into the restroom and I read the note, and it said: “If you’re interested in playing with my group, give me a call at this phone number and we can get together in Washington, D.C. We’ll run over a few tunes and see if it will work.” He wanted Keter’s okay, wanted to make sure Keter was happy with it. And he wanted to make sure that I would work out for him.

As it worked out, I stayed with him for about three years. It was a hard decision to make, to leave the Newton Thomas Trio, because I was quite happy with him. That’s how it all happened. All of a sudden I find that here I’m being asked to go to South America. Charlie says, “How much do you want to go to South America?” I said, 24 years old, “I don’t know. What’s the going rate for drummers to South America these days?” Because I didn’t know. So we went down there and we had a great time. The people were wonderful. I hung out mostly with the local musicians and learned a lot.

Josmar Lopes – Did you get prepped by the State Department prior to going there? Did they give you pointers on how to deal with the locals…

Buddy Deppenschmidt – Oh, yeah….

Josmar Lopes – … because of all these political things going on?

Buddy Deppenschmidt – Yeah, they said, “You’re going to have a lot of press conferences, be careful what you say. They may try to entrap you into saying things. And then put it in print in the newspaper and distort the facts a little bit.” So we had to be really careful about what we said and how we acted, our manners. We were briefed in every city: “You don’t do this in this country. It’s against the customs.” It might be something that was perfectly acceptable in the United States, and we wouldn’t mean any offense by it. But we could do something innocently and cause a big deal, a big scene. So, yeah, we got briefings in just about every city.

Josmar Lopes – How soon after you joined the Charlie Byrd Trio did you set off to South America?

Buddy Deppenschmidt – It wasn’t very long at all. It was a matter of maybe weeks, not even months. The funniest part of it is that the very first night that I played with Charlie, he said, “Have you ever recorded?” And I said, “Oh, yeah, I made tapes before.” He said, “No, I mean commercial recordings.” Then I said, “Well, not really.” He said, “Well, we have a record date on Saturday.” And that was four days away. “You’re kidding!” And he said, “Don’t worry, we’ll play the tunes every night and by the end of the week you’ll know them.” He said, “We get turnover with the crowds, so we’ll play them early on, then we’ll play them again later in the evening. So you’ll get to play everything at least twice a night, for four nights.”

Josmar Lopes – You think you’d get it into your head by then.

Buddy Deppenschmidt – Yeah, and it turned out just fine, it was a great record date.

Josmar Lopes – So, let’s talk about your trip to Latin America. Which country did you hit first?

Buddy (left) with Charlie Byrd (wearing hat) & Keter Betts in the back (Photo: JazzTimes)
Buddy (left) with Charlie Byrd (wearing hat) & Keter Betts in the back (Photo: JazzTimes)

Buddy Deppenschmidt – Venezuela. We played in Caracas, and then we had to do, uh, well, first of all we didn’t get much of a rest. We got a couple of hours sleep, and then we had to get our plane very early in the morning. After the concert, I was thinking, “Oh, wow, I’m going to be able to go back to the hotel and lie down and get a little rest.” There was a command performance for President Betancourt, and we had to go over to the president’s palace. There were all these guys with machine guns lined up on either side of the walkway. I didn’t have to lift the drum. Everybody was grabbing my stuff and carrying it in. And I play with no shoes on when I play drums. I had my shoes off and I was playing in my stocking feet. People were staring at my feet thinking, “This is impolite. You just don’t take your shoes off in the president’s palace.”

Josmar Lopes – I’m sure they didn’t mind once you started playing.

Buddy Deppenschmidt – I explained, “Well, you know, think of it this way: if you were a piano player, would you like to play with gloves on?”

Josmar Lopes – No.

Buddy Deppenschmidt – You want to feel the keys. And I wanted to feel the pedals. I always played with no shoes.

Josmar Lopes – You can keep them on for today, Buddy.

Buddy Deppenschmidt – I am, I am!

Josmar Lopes – When did you go to Brazil, afterwards?

Buddy Deppenschmidt – Actually, we were only in Venezuela that one night. The next day we left and went directly to Brazil.

Josmar Lopes – Did you start in the north and work your way down south?

Buddy Deppenschmidt – Yes. We were in eight cities in Brazil. We were in Brazil for two weeks. It was in Salvador, Bahia, that I met a judge, Carlos Coqueijo Costa.

Josmar Lopes – Tell us about that. That’s your first encounter with Brazilian music, wasn’t it?

Buddy Deppenschmidt – Yeah, he invited us all over to his house for dinner. And then after dinner, everybody got the guitar and passed it around. And everybody in the family played well. His son was a piano player, but he also played guitar well, and a drummer. They put on João Gilberto records and he put a cardboard album jacket between his knees and started playing brushes on it. Unbelievable brushes! I thought, “Wow, this is really great stuff.” So, I think we went out the very next day, Keter Betts and I went out … and bought the records of Gilberto. There were only two at the time. We bought both of them. We’d go to the [American] Embassy and borrow a little portable record player and play the records in our room. Keter would bring his bass down to my room and we would rehearse. We got it together before we ever finished the tour. We were just anxious to get the sound.

Josmar Lopes – Did you show them anything about American rhythms, American jazz drumming, or the style?

Buddy Deppenschmidt – Oh, yeah, we hung out a lot with the musicians.

Josmar Lopes – You didn’t go to any of those State Department dinners or banquets or anything?

Buddy Deppenschmidt – I went to a few, but they get boring pretty fast. And I don’t like martinis for lunch – for breakfast and lunch. By the time we would get up it would be lunchtime already for most people. We hadn’t had breakfast yet. You don’t want to go off to a cocktail party and start drinking martinis on an empty stomach. So, yeah, we hung out with local musicians more than cocktail parties. I mean, the cocktail parties went on forever. Eventually, I just started bowing out.

Josmar Lopes – Probably a good move, I’d think.

Buddy Deppenschmidt – I’d have to get some rest.

Josmar Lopes – You wound up, after that occasion … Well, I might have mentioned to you that that judge that you met, Carlos Coqueijo Costa, was a friend of Vinicius de Moraes. He had even written a song that João Gilberto recorded, believe it or not, in 1973. It was called “É preciso perdoar” (“It’s Necessary to Forgive”). So that judge, the reason the family was so musical, was that he had music in his veins.

Buddy Deppenschmidt – And he never mentioned any of these things, you know.

Josmar Lopes – Ah, Brazilian modesty. Anyway, you found your tour going to Porto Alegre, in the south of Brazil. Now, that led to a very interesting encounter. I’m sure the audience would like to hear about that.

Buddy Deppenschmidt – After our concert in Porto Alegre, this young girl comes up. She was probably of high school age. And she said, “We’d like to invite you over to the house for lunch tomorrow.” And I said, “Well, I’m married and have a couple of children.” And she said, “We’d like to invite you over to the house tomorrow anyway. We’re going to play you João Gilberto records.” I said, “Well, Keter and I just went out yesterday and bought those. And we’ve been listening to them.”

Josmar Lopes – Here’s Malu and a picture of Buddy teaching them the drumming, and vice versa.

Buddy with Mutinho (left) playing guitar & Malu (center), 1961
Buddy with Mutinho (left) playing guitar & Malu (center), Porto Alegre, 1961

Buddy Deppenschmidt – They were teaching me more than I was teaching them.

Josmar Lopes – There you go! That’s her in the middle.

Buddy Deppenschmidt – So anyway, she said, “Well, then, we’ll teach you how to play the rhythm. My boyfriend is a drummer.” That was Mutinho, and he was a drummer, and also played [guitar], everybody played the guitar very well down there. It was just like you grow up, you learn how to play the guitar; just like you learn how to hit the baseball in this country, since you were a little kid.

Josmar Lopes – That’s a good analogy.

Buddy Deppenschmidt – So everybody, the first thing you wanted to do was learn how to play the guitar. When you were old enough that we could trust you to hold it and you wouldn’t break it, now we’ll show you how to play this chord and that chord. So everybody just knew how to play guitar, everyone. I didn’t meet anyone down there that couldn’t play guitar.

Josmar Lopes – So there you are, surrounded…

Buddy Deppenschmidt – We’re surrounded, her father took off from work that day. Her grandmother was there, all her brothers and sisters were there. Her boyfriend was there, and all her friends from school. It was quite a get-together. They just sat me down and showed me how to play that rhythm.

Josmar Lopes – Did you show them some American rhythms?

Buddy Deppenschmidt – Not that day, no. But I mean, there were many occasions where I would stay up all night with someone, a drummer, who couldn’t speak a word of English and I didn’t speak Spanish or Portuguese. We would turn a trash basket upside down and then turn the ice bucket upside down, have an ashtray and with a cocktail stirrer. He would show me rhythms and I would show him jazz rhythms. So it was really a cultural exchange tour, for sure.

Josmar Lopes – In the other countries you went to, did they impress you as much as the sounds that the Brazilians had made?

Buddy Deppenschmidt – They were all interesting, but I can only recall one rhythm that I fell in love with down in Colombia. It was taught to me by a drummer from Argentina.

Josmar Lopes – Oh, that makes sense!

Buddy Deppenschmidt – He was playing in the hotel room we were staying, his name was José Signo. He and I corresponded quite a bit. He would even send me rhythms written out on paper. But he taught me this one rhythm called the matecumbe, which was really an interesting rhythm.

Josmar Lopes – You demonstrated that for the [Jazz Samba] symposium yesterday.

Buddy Deppenschmidt – Yeah, I did.

Josmar Lopes – Fascinating!

Buddy Deppenschmidt – It’s an unusual rhythm.

Josmar Lopes – I’ve never heard anything like that.

Buddy Deppenschmidt – It has one cowbell beat on the first beat of every measure, just one beat. And “konk,” two, three, four, boom “konk,” two, three, four, boom “konk …” And so you hit one bass-drum beat and one cowbell beat. And then, with your drumsticks, if these were the rims of your drum, they’d go “click, click,” you’d go “bam, click, ka-tick, ka-boom, ka-tick kam, ka-tick, ta-boom-boom, ka-tick boom-kam.”

Josmar Lopes – Sounds like rap.

Buddy Deppenschmidt – So you’re hearing: “One, two, three, four, boom bah, two, three, four, boom-bah, ka-tick, tick-ka, ka-tick, tick-ka, ka-tick-tick-ka boom boom, ka-tick-bam, ka-tick-tick-ka-boom-boom, ka-tick.” Then it was such an interesting rhythm. And all the parts were very simple and sparse, but when you put them all together and at the same time, there was a lot going on there.

Josmar Lopes – A lot going on here!

Buddy Deppenschmidt – And there was nothing even close to it. I never heard anything like it. I used to play all these Arthur Murray dance parties when I was growing up. And I liked Latin rhythms a lot. I’d get those jobs because I could play the rumba, the mambo, the samba, oh, what was that called, the paso doble, the tango. And it was Arthur Murray dance party, so it was all about doing the dance steps. You had to know how to play all the different rhythms to all the dance steps. All those waltzes … It was good experience for the drummer, because you got to use your entire repertoire of rhythms.

Josmar Lopes – Getting back to Malu — Maria de Lourdes Regina Pederneiras, [but] everyone called her Malu. The young girl you met, did you have a reunion with her sometime later in life? 

Buddy Deppenschmidt – Yes, she came up to visit Margie [Marjorie Danciger] and me. Margie is my best friend and she also … Well, I would call her the best manager in the world, if you want to call her a manager. She sure manages me. Anyway, Malu came up and visited us after 50 years. The funny thing is, a few years before we were talking about Malu, and Margie said, “Why don’t you call her up?” I said, “I don’t have her phone number.” She said, “Well, I’ll get her phone number.” And I don’t know how she did it, but she got online and she got the phone, and she talked to information. She ended up getting the right phone number and I called Malu and left a message. She couldn’t believe that I had found her phone number, living up in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, and finding her phone number in Porto Alegre, Brazil.

Josmar Lopes – I’d like to show a picture of you and Malu, in October of 2010. These are the two friends after almost 50 years.

Malu & Buddy, Bucks Cty, PA, October 2010
Malu & Buddy, Bucks County, Pennsylvania, October 2010

Buddy Deppenschmidt – Yeah.

Josmar Lopes – She looks the same.

Buddy Deppenschmidt – I don’t know if I should read you this, because I’m not much of a singer.

Josmar Lopes – Before [you] do, let me tell you what Malu said of your ultimate success.

Buddy Deppenschmidt – Oh, yeah. Why don’t you read that thing that she sent to me.

Josmar Lopes – I’ll tell you, she wrote here at the time that she was a fifteen-year-old girl. Yup, “I was just a fifteen-year-old schoolgirl who loved jazz and played the piano and sang bossa nova.” As a matter of fact, João Gilberto was a very close friend of her uncle. He was single and lived with his parents. There are a lot of funny stories of João Gilberto being locked in the bathroom and playing guitar all night. He was a night owl and slept all day. But she came down and saw the Charlie Byrd Trio play in Porto Alegre, and her English teacher recommended it to her classmates. She attended the show. She said here that “there was a good looking young man playing the drums. He looked so American, and was so absorbed by the music as he played. And he played so well that when the show was over I climbed up to the stage and spoke to the lady.” That was Ginny Byrd, Charlie Byrd’s wife – she was doing the singing. She was singing “Cry Me a River,” and she wrote down the lyrics for Malu and she loved it.

Charlie Byrd, with wife Ginny, Buddy in sunglasses & Keter with overcoat, 1961
Charlie Byrd, with his wife Ginny, Buddy in sunglasses & Keter with overcoat, 1961

Then she found out that you were 24 years old and married and decided to try to make friends with you. “An American musician. Imagine! And he had such good manners and was welcoming. I told him that I knew João Gilberto and that I had a friend who was a drummer and could teach [Buddy] the bossa nova beat.” You seemed quite interested, so she invited you to have lunch with the family the next day and invited Mutinho along, the drum player, and that’s what happened. Years later, this is what she said 50 years later when you picked up the conversation again and the relationship: “All of this may not have happened if we hadn’t done what we did.”

Buddy Deppenschmidt – That’s so true. And she’s just as important a player as I am in this whole picture. Because if it hadn’t been for her, I wouldn’t have even known how to do this. And probably if it hadn’t been for my intense interest, we wouldn’t have done that. So, I was obsessed with it. I just did everything but hit Charlie over the head to make him do this thing, and finally … Charlie’s wife is the one who really convinced him to do it. I figured that was the best way to get to Charlie, it was through his wife rather than through Keter. Keter tried, but Charlie didn’t seem that excited about it at the time. And he had a reputation for playing the classical guitar and bluesy, kind of jazz stuff on the classical guitar. He figured, “Well, I better stick with this because it’s working so far. And I was saying, “No, this is just perfect for you, this is guitar music and you play guitar. You just got back from South America, and it would be so timely to do this now, rather than wait and have someone else do it. Why don’t we do it?”

Josmar Lopes – Whose suggestion was it to bring Stan Getz into the project?

Stan Getz (Photo : Getty/Frans Schellekens)
Stan Getz (Photo : Getty/Frans Schellekens)

Buddy Deppenschmidt – It was my suggestion to bring Stan Getz in. But Ginny really is the one who talked [Charlie] into doing it. Fortunately, Ginny listened to what I had to say. And many a night we would sit there in the booth, while Charlie was doing his classical set. I would say, “Look, Ginny, tell him he should do this. This is going to be a great thing for him.” I didn’t know it was going to be that great, but it really turned out to be a very good thing for him. It was good all the way around, it was good for everyone. I wouldn’t be sitting here today if it hadn’t been good for me, too. So I have to admit that it was good for all of us.

Josmar Lopes – Who was the alternative to Stan Getz, if you couldn’t get him to do Jazz Samba?

Buddy Deppenschmidt – I thought that the only other person that I could think of who might do it well would be Paul Desmond.

Josmar Lopes – The Dave Brubeck Quartet…

Buddy Deppenschmidt – Yeah. I had a lot of Dave Brubeck records that I listened to Paul’s solos, and they were nice and fluid and loose and lyrical. But Stan was my first choice. I thought he would be ideal. As it turned out we did it with Stan. But I was thinking that, you run into some problem with the record company and they don’t want to let their boy record with you, then that would be a good alternate playing.

Paul Desmond on Tenor sax (Photo: Jan Persson & CDJ)
Paul Desmond on alto sax (Photo: Jan Persson & CDJ)

Josmar Lopes – Speaking of music and lyrics, I think you have a little song of your own.

Buddy Deppenschmidt – Yeah, I wrote this for Malu when she came to visit.

Josmar Lopes – Based on “One Note Samba” (“Samba de uma nota só”)?

Buddy Deppenschmidt – Yeah, it’s based on the “One Note Samba.” And if you’ll forgive my poor vocal quality, I’ll try to sing it for you.

Josmar Lopes – Oh, Buddy, here’s JazzTimes, the magazine that the original article, “Give the Drummer Some,” appeared in, which finally gave you credit for bringing the Brazilian beat to American ears. What I’m going to do is accompany you, your rhythm section, beating on top of Stan Getz’s head.

Buddy Deppenschmidt – Oh, my God … Okay, well, here it goes. I’ll give you four beats:

Seems that more than 50 years have past

Since the day I saw you last

You shared your music and your song

This reunion took so long

 

Tom Jobim, Gilberto and Brazil

Seems somehow I just can’t get my fill

Of the samba rhythm, what a dance

You sparked a musical romance!

 

When I got back to the States

I surely knew that I was on a mission

No time for fishin’

Even though I made it happen

I guess drummers just don’t get commission

So keep on wishin’

 

Though ‘twas not authentic, just our version

Jazz and samba started mergin’

I guess we helped to spread the word

And bossa nova sure got heard

 

Now today the year’s two thousand ten

We’ve a friendship which will never end

And the message that I want to say is

Bossa Nova’s here to stay!!!

 

So that kind of tells the whole story … in one chorus.

Josmar Lopes – And on that note, let’s have a round of applause for the man who brought the Brazilian beat to American ears!

With gratitude and appreciation to William Henry “Buddy” Deppenschmidt Jr., for his kindness in allowing the use of our interview to be published on this blog site.

Copyright © 2015 by Josmar F. Lopes

‘Bossa Nova’ — Carioca Love Story: The Rio of One’s Dreams

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Doing the Bossa Nova

Antonio Fagundes & Amy Irving in Bossa Nova
Pedro Paulo (Antonio Fagundes) & Mary Ann (Amy Irving) in Bossa Nova

While Walter Salles’ Central Station attempts to bind up old wounds from Brazil’s past with expectations of a brighter future, Bruno Barreto’s Bossa Nova (1999) takes a step backward towards an altogether different set of standards. There’s no point in making a side-by-side comparison of the two pictures, although if one were attempted it would be the equivalent of pitting, say, Mark Hellinger’s documentary-style The Naked City against Hope and Crosby’s farcical Road to Rio — both flicks from the same late-forties time period.

Adapted from the 1989 novel A Senhorita Simpson by carioca writer Sérgio Sant’Anna, Bossa Nova (a Woody Allen-like romantic comedy, by most descriptions) stars the director’s spouse, Amy Irving, as the widowed Mary Ann Simpson, a forty-something former airline hostess-turned-English language instructor; and Rio-born leading man Antonio Fagundes as Pedro Paulo Silva, a middle-aged lawyer who finds the still fetching Miss Simpson worth pursuing (don’t we all?) during the course of its long-winded plot.

The other cast members, most of whom have worked together in diverse capacities throughout the years, include Drica Moraes as Mary Ann’s friend and assistant Nadine; Alexandre Borges as Acácio, a girl-crazy soccer player who frets about his recent trade to a British club; Débora Bloch as Tania, Pedro Paulo’s wife of seven years who recently left him for a Chinese tai-chi practitioner; Pedro Cardoso as Roberto, Pedro Paulo’s lovesick brother who hankers after the law firm’s new intern; Giovanna Antonelli as Sharon, the new intern who only has eyes for the soccer player; Kátia Lyra as the English school’s one-track-minded receptionist; and Stephen Tobolowsky as Gary/Trevor, a nerdy American corporate type who strikes Nadine’s fancy via an online dating service.

You can imagine the endless combination of circumstances this mixed-up group of individuals gets into! Here’s a tiny sampling: still smarting from his wife’s separation, Pedro Paulo has a meet-cute with Miss Simpson; in fact, they share an elevator ride to the English school where she teaches. Naturally, he’s immediately taken with the tutor, so he signs up for nightly classes as a pretext for getting to know her better (his master-tailor father just happens to have an office in the same building as the school).

Pedro Paulo is but one of numerous of complications Mary Ann has to contend with, among them that over-sexed soccer player who wants more than private lessons from her. His prankish efforts at turning Brazilian expletives into their English equivalent (“Go to shit!” and “Kiss it, my ass!”) are nothing short of strained.

Acacio (Alexandre Borges) tries to kiss Mary Ann (Amy Irving)
Acacio (Alexandre Borges) tries to kiss Miss Simpson(Amy Irving)

Billed as a “love letter to Rio” — and a perfect Valentine’s gift to his wife — Barreto’s Bossa Nova was produced by his parents, Lucy and Luiz Carlos Barreto, and co-produced by the movie arm of Rede Globo, Brazil’s largest TV network. Shot in ultra-photogenic style by French cinematographer Pascal Rabaud, the city itself has never looked lovelier, scrubbed down and polished up in the manner of another French-guided frolic, Marcel Camus’ Black Orpheus (1959), which also happened to have been filmed in Rio.

Miraculously, there are no street urchins or beggars to mar the luscious backdrops — and no prostitutes or drug dealers to confront, either; nor are there glimpses of ramshackle housing developments (known as favelas) to distract from this celebration of Rio as a place for lovers. From interior shots of rooms with strategically-positioned camera angles, to exterior settings of picture-postcard comeliness, the city’s idyllic landscapes (Corcovado, Guanabara Bay, Sugar Loaf Mountain, and Copacabana Beach) are expertly arranged to elicit wistful sighs of longing and nostalgia.

“Everybody has some kind of fantasy about Rio,” Barreto claimed in the Los Angeles Times, on the occasion of Bossa Nova’s release, “and I wanted the film to take place in the Rio that people fantasize about … There is the Rio of the social problems; that’s there. Then there’s the Rio of the bossa nova; that’s there too.”

Dedicated to Antonio Carlos Jobim, one of the pioneers of bossa nova, Barreto’s candid admission is a most telling change from that of veteran filmmaker and fellow Brazilian Cacá Diegues, whose own views on the subject of Marvelous City, along with his motives for remaking Black Orpheus into something less pandering to potential tourists, are markedly different.

Pass the Soap, Please

Rather than go with the flow of more serious late nineties fare, Barreto kept to a winning formula that pays homage to the work of Howard Hawks and Preston Sturges, two of Hollywood’s finest purveyors of screwball comedies. Though scarcely what most people would think of as a Cary Grant or even a Katharine Hepburn, Mr. Fagundes (closer in build to the burly Gérard Depardieu) and Ms. Irving did make for a credible pair of over-aged lovebirds. The other participants gleefully joined in the fun, resulting in a generally pleasing if hardly innovative feature.

Amy Irving as Miss Simpson
Amy Irving as Miss Simpson at the airport

Not surprisingly, the high-gloss sheen behind the film’s facade was shaped by a variety of factors, primarily those “soap-opera” vehicles called telenovelas (or novelas, for short) that super-conglomerate Rede Globo continues to export to countries beyond those of Latin America.

Those carefully crafted images of Rio — likely held together with spirit gum and baling wire — were deliberately designed to produce an effect, a dream vision of Cidade Maravilhosa which, as evidenced by the above quotation, the film’s director made no bones about exploiting. However, at this point some additional cultural background may be warranted.

For decades, Globo’s writing teams have been churning out dozens upon dozens of formulaic scripts, many if not all of these “serialized dramas” boasting interlocking story lines tailored to the serendipitous lives of the rich and fanciful. Most are ensemble pieces, i.e., character-driven dilemmas with serio-comic undertones that thrive on the chemistry and interaction of a capable cast, if only to make it in the highly competitive 9 to 10 p.m. viewing slot.

At their best, novelas are models of their kind, a factory product of enormous popularity and appeal, and, of course, staggering ratings success. Two of the more watchable examples from about the same period as Bossa Nova are Laços de Família (“Family Ties”), which aired between June 2000 and February 2001, and featuring such stalwarts as Vera Fischer, Carolina Dieckmann, Reynaldo Gianecchini, José Mayer, Tony Ramos, Marieta Severo, and the aforementioned Alexandre Borges and Giovanna Antonelli; and the earlier Torre de Babel (“Tower of Babel”), broadcast from May 1998 to January 1999, that included an all-star lineup headed by the ubiquitous Tony Ramos, Glória Menezes, Tarcísio Meira, Cláudia Raia, Maitê Proença, Edson Celulari, and Adriana Esteves.

With his qualified team of screenwriters (Alexandre Machado and Fernanda Young), Barreto employed the same logic that TV Globo had mastered and developed for its own vast repertoire of sudsers. The web of interconnected plot threads that made Bossa Nova so typical of the genre is neatly untangled by movie’s end, though not always to an individual character’s liking. (No spoilers here, I’m afraid. Let’s just say that not everyone lives happily ever after, and leave it at that.)

The job of taking this kind of culturally specific program out of its natural element and preparing it for international dissemination must have been challenging not only to Barreto’s sense of his own Brazilianness (i.e., of his having been born a carioca), but also the California lifestyle he’s been leading for well on twenty years.

Bossa Nova is very personal to me on every level,” he admitted to IndieWire magazine in April 2000, “in the sense that I wasn’t aware as I was doing it. I guess that’s actually good … When I started to edit the film and then looked at sections of it, I went, ‘It’s so close.’

Bruno Barreto behind the camera
Director Bruno Barreto behind the cameras

“The fact that the more time I spend here, the more I miss the city where I come from. I remember that while driving all the time in L.A., whenever a Brazilian song played, some song from when I was growing up, I would just cry. I’m so homesick. At the same time, I’m very happy that I have a career here. That I do what I love to do.

“The way [Rio] is in the movie doesn’t really exist. It’s the way I like Rio to be. It’s a totally idealized city. People go, ‘Oh, wow!’ But the minute they get off the plane, they see a very different Rio. The Rio in the movie is the Rio I have in my heart. It’s the way I remember Rio. That is why I think this is my most personal movie.”

If we’re to understand the director correctly, Bossa Nova represents one man’s unrequited passion — a love story, if you will, though not necessarily about a woman but for a city. In the same IndieWire interview, Barreto explained his picture’s other dedication: to the late Nouvelle Vague director, François Truffaut.

“I think Truffaut was maybe the last truly romantic filmmaker in my opinion. Above all, he was a master for me. All the films I make are very much about relationships and encounters and miscommunications. All of these in a light romantic atmosphere. And I think Truffaut was the master of that.”

Along the lines of l’amour toujours, Barreto indicated that “In Brazil, there isn’t this obsession with youth and being young … People are not self-conscious about their bodies. They go around, even the men, in their small bikinis, and they go to the beach and they don’t care much about the way they look. They’re having a good time, and they think they can fall in love and have affairs in their sixties or seventies. They don’t think that love and romance is just for young people.”

Of course not! One is never too old for love, and the film proves that. It may also help to explain Barreto’s decision to adjust Pedro Paulo’s age in the novel from a young and restless public servant to a silver-haired legal professional in pin-striped suits and expanding waistline.

What of the movie’s namesake, that calmly soothing and rhythmically enticing beat of bossa nova? Alas, there are moments where the music is simply too overpowering — that is, when it’s not relegated to the background in a way that speaks inoffensively of Muzak. At other times, as in the gathering at the cemetery, the soundtrack wells up expectantly. But then, we hear the raspy tones of rocker Sting, groaning his rendition of Jobim’s “How Insensitive.” How apropos is that?

Pretty Little Love Songs

Michelle Johnson & Michael Caine in Blame It on Rio
Michelle Johnson & Michael Caine in Blame It on Rio

Whether Barreto was conscious of it or not, his film bears a striking resemblance to another “rom-com” from the mid-eighties, Stanley Donen’s sex romp Blame It on Rio (1984), which starred Michael Caine, Joseph Bologna, Valerie Harper, and a young Demi Moore.

Caine plays a foreign businessman living in São Paulo, who, on vacation in Rio, meets up with his best friend’s daughter, the buxom Michelle Johnson. He’s hard-pressed to resist her nubile charms, so he winds up having an illicit affair with the girl. In return, his wife (Harper) has an affair of her own with his best pal (Bologna). The outcome? Emotional and family mayhem.

This irritating piece of fluff boasted a purely bossa- and samba-strewn score, with original music by guitarist Oscar Castro-Neves, a longtime resident of the West Coast. Most of the movie’s songs were written by Kenneth Wannberg and Dennis Spiegel, with the title tune and another number, “I Must Be Doing Something Right,” the work of Cy Coleman and Sheldon Harnick.

Basically, the plot stayed at B-movie levels, and was the kind of thing done better by expert hands: case in point, Swedish director Ingmar Bergman’s Smiles of a Summer Night (1955), which, in 1973, was transformed into the musical A Little Night Music by Stephen Sondheim; and Woody Allen’s A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy from 1982.

As bad as it turned out, Blame It on Rio did serve its purpose as a stepping-stone to better things; in this instance Bossa Nova, as thoroughly acceptable a domestic product as any in recent memory, but only slightly more authentic as a snapshot of present-day Rio with its share of unresolved issues.

Bossa Nova poster art
Bossa Nova poster art

How, then, did Bossa Nova stack up in the popular song category? From such classics as “Useless Landscape” (“Inútil Paisagem”), “One Note Samba,” the inescapable “Girl from Ipanema,” “Wave,” “The Waters of March,” “Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars” (“Corcovado”), “No More Blues” (“Chega de Saudade”), and “Once I Loved,” it was a veritable Jobim love-fest.

This is where the film finally came into its own to live up to that iconic title. And with the artistry of orchestrator and musician Eumir Deodato, along with performers Djavan, Bárbara Mendes, Stan Getz, João and Astrud Gilberto, Claudia Acuña, Carlos Rogers, Elis Regina, and Jobim himself, how could it be otherwise?

Still, one can’t help recalling this sage advice, allegedly attributed to the self-same Tom Jobim. When pressed for his thoughts, upon stepping off his plane at Galeão International Airport, of having lived and worked in New York and Rio de Janeiro, the shy and unassuming Tom, in that vaguely understated fashion of his, complied as only he could:

Nova York é bom, mas é uma merda. Rio é uma merda, mas é bom.” Roughly translated, it means: “New York’s good, but it sucks. Rio sucks, but it’s good.”

That sums it up for Bossa Nova as well: “The film’s good, but it sucks. The film sucks, but it’s good.”

Oh, wow! ☼

Copyright © 2015 by Josmar F. Lopes

Lo, the Savior Approaches (Part Six) — ‘Yerma,’ the ‘Girl from the Clouds,’ and the Flirtation with Hollywood

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Villa-Lobos' Yerma poster art (sagradocacete.wordpress.com)
Villa-Lobos’ Yerma – poster art (sagradocacete.wordpress.com)

After Magdalena, Heitor Villa-Lobos’ only other stabs at the theatrical genre were the opera Yerma (1955-56), written in New York and Paris to a Spanish text based on the 1934 play by poet-dramatist Federico García Lorca; and his final subject for the stage, the children’s fairy-tale musical A Menina das Nuvens (“The Girl from the Clouds,” 1957-58), given a paltry number of posthumous presentations in Rio and São Paulo’s Municipal Theaters.

As his most ambitious and innovative vocal work yet, Yerma was an atypical oeuvre in the canon of the confirmed Brazilian nationalist. But if the operatic idiom was still an unfamiliar dialect to him, certainly the play’s tightly-knit structure (three acts with two scenes each) and dramatic plot devices (the clash of earthly frustrations with magical and supernatural elements) stirred Villa-Lobos to new heights of lyricism.

The central character of Yerma is one of those incredibly demanding soprano roles requiring the vocal resources of a Leontyne Price mixed with the dramatic capabilities of Maria Callas. The story bears a striking resemblance to German composer Richard Strauss’ Die Frau ohne Schatten (“The Woman without a Shadow,” 1919) in its psychological depiction of the eternal feminine and the archetypal yearning for motherhood, albeit transplanted to rural Spain.

In brief, a peasant woman named Yerma (derived from the Spanish word yermo, or “barren”) wrestles with her insatiable desire for children and the indifference of her husband Juan, who prefers working in the fields to raising a family of four. Yerma ponders an affair with the young shepherd Victor, but her honor prevents her from taking up the matter with the youth as her lover.

With her married life turning more and more bitter and her husband’s persistent recriminations and false accusations of infidelity, Yerma’s frustrations with Juan for his using her “for sexual rather than procreative purposes” boil over in Act III, leading to his death by strangulation at her hands. The tragedy of the piece, according to a 1989 Tempo article, “is that in killing Juan the chance of a child dies with him, and [Yerma] remains imprisoned by her childlessness even more.”

Yerma at the XIV Amazonas Festival in Manaus, 2010 (fotolog.com)
Yerma at the XIV Amazonas Festival in Manaus, 2010 (fotolog.com)

“I myself have killed my son!” she cries at the end. Unfortunately, the opera focuses almost exclusively on the vocally exhausting title part, with the additional negative factor of “too little dramatic variety and characterization” in the remaining dramatis personae.

Yerma never saw the light of day during the composer’s lifetime, and, as a result, went unperformed until New Mexico’s Santa Fe Opera finally mounted a production of it on August 12, 1971, a full twelve years after his demise. A Time magazine article dated August 23, written a few days after the opera’s premiere, revealed that Santa Fe’s stage director, Basil Langdon, had heard of the Villa-Lobos score, “secured the rights” to the work, and “determined to produce it in the original Spanish.”

That task took him a total of thirteen years, which resulted in Yerma’s world premiere, in Santa Fe, in the Spanish language version that Villa-Lobos had initially set to music. Despite the sophisticated soundscape and numerous references to the styles of Puccini, Debussy and Arnold Schoenberg, along with “an undertone of suppressed sexuality running through the whole score,” Yerma did not catch on with audiences or with other opera houses.

There have been subsequent attempts to revive the piece: the first one, in 1983, in Rio de Janeiro, which was deemed its premier presentation on Brazilian soil; and the second, in England, in July 1989. About the British production, music critic Guy Richards remarked at the time that Villa-Lobos’ orchestration, as in all his mature works, was “highly individual, full of quirks that tease the ear, but always light and airy… and never overwhelming.” Not exactly the most ringing of endorsements as far as reviews go, but a fair-minded assessment nonetheless.

On a side note, Villa-Lobos dedicated the work to his mother-in-law, Hermenegilda Neves de Almeida, on Mothers’ Day, appropriately enough. An even more fascinating aspect is the theme of the original play, which apparently appealed to the composer, in that “the premise of the social ostracism of an infertile woman was a highly personal one… because,” in the words of Villa-Lobos’ biographer David P. Appleby, “he had never had any children of his own.”

Could this be a Freudian interpretation of real-life events? Perhaps. But children or no, Yerma miscarried just the same, and has languished in undeserved obscurity for the better part of half a century.

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs

A Menina das Nuvens (The Girl from the Clouds) Photo: Paulo Lacerda
A Menina das Nuvens (The Girl from the Clouds) Photo: Paulo Lacerda

The same could be said for his joyous Menina das Nuvens, although this work’s performance history has lately been less checkered than that of its immediate predecessor.

Dedicated to his wife Mindinha, with a text by Brazilian playwright Lúcia Benedetti, one of the founders of the Teatro Infantil (Children’s Theater) movement in Brazil, A Menina premiered in Rio on November 29, 1960, a year after Villa-Lobos’ passing. Soprano Aracy Belas Campos interpreted the title role, along with tenor Assis Pacheco, baritone Paulo Fortes, bass Guilherme Damiano, and conductor Edoardo de Guarnieri.

The work’s libretto is said to lie “somewhere between Cinderella and The Wizard of Oz,” but instead of a magic slipper, “it is a cloth made from the rays of the moon” that becomes the “deciding factor.”

The actual plot concerns a girl who has been brought to the clouds by a bird and is raised there from infancy into early adulthood. Upon learning of her origins the girl expresses a strong desire to get back to her terrestrial family. Complications ensue, as one might imagine, but all ends happily, as most fairy tales are wont to do, with her marriage to a handsome young prince.

The critics and public remained divided in their responses to the work, which, for a children’s opera, has its longueurs. Given its creators’ reputation, they were not as receptive to The Girl’s charms as one would have expected, the main objection being its overuse of recitative (with a preponderance of “melancholy tones”) and the lack of a consistent musical viewpoint.

Journalist Irineu Franco Perpetuo, reporting on a September 2009 revival at the Palácio das Artes in Belo Horizonte, noted that Menina das Nuvens suffers from “excessive length” and complained of “some banal writing by Villa-Lobos in the first two acts. But it all comes together in the third… where the lush orchestration and neo-romantic Villa-Lobos of the 1950s meets the melodic serenades of the 1930s, in addition to some rhythmic and harmonic daring from the 1920s.”

One of its tuneful glories, we would like to point out, is the lovely ode for soprano that opens Act III, “Ó Lua redonda” (“O Moon so round”), done in the form of an “invocation to the moon”; in style and in substance, it brought to mind an earlier set-piece, the “Song to the Moon,” from the late Romantic-period opera Rusalka, written by another, better-known European nationalist, Czech composer Antonín Dvořák.

Gabriella Pace as "The Girl from the Clouds" (YouTube)
Gabriella Pace as “The Girl from the Clouds” (YouTube)

You can judge for yourself how thoroughly delightful this number is — when heard in its proper theatrical context, of course — in the following YouTube excerpt from the 2009 Palácio das Artes production. The titular “Girl from the Clouds” is exquisitely sung by Gabriella Pace, winner of the 2010 Carlos Gomes Competition; the bug-eyed Soldier in the Queen’s Guard uniform is humorously played by tenor Flávio Leite, and the Westerly Wind is voiced by bass Homero Velho: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y5CJ81bkMAQ.

This same production was transferred to São Paulo’s Teatro Municipal in August 2011, with most of the original cast intact. William Pereira provided the direction and scenic design, with candy-colored sets by Rosa Magalhães and subtle lighting effects by Pedro Pederneiras. The work was arranged and conducted by Roberto Duarte, whose arduous task it was to organize and put order to Villa-Lobos’ chaotic material.

“Opportunities to familiarize oneself with Villa-Lobos’ operatic inclinations are exceedingly rare,” wrote reviewer Alexandre Freitas for the magazine Carta Capital’s online edition. “A large portion of his output is all-but unknown to the general public. For that reason, A Menina das Nuvens presents the perfect occasion to draw ever closer to Brazil’s main exponent of so-called classical music… In any form, it is a work that should be presented, performed, recorded, published and preserved as widely as possible.”

A “Forest” of Troubles

An amusing footnote to Villa-Lobos’ long musical career focuses on his Hollywood commission to write a music score for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s 1959 film adaptation of the old W. H. Hudson potboiler, Green Mansions.

Villa-Lobos & Audrey Hepburn (instantencore.com)
Villa-Lobos, Audrey Hepburn & friend (instantencore.com)

Directed by actor Mel Ferrer, the movie starred his talented wife, the delicate but miscast Audrey Hepburn (War and Peace, Breakfast at Tiffany’s), as Rima, the “bird-girl” of the Amazon, and the boyish Anthony Perkins, in his pre-Psycho period, as the blasé love-interest. The other denizens of the studio rain forest included such equally out-of-place extras as Lee J. Cobb, Sessue Hayakawa, Henry Silva, and Nehemiah Persoff.

With typical motion-picture logic, the film’s producers informed the master musician of their intention not to have him orchestrate his work — actually, a standard studio practice at the time, but which totally infuriated the usually unruffled Brazilian. MGM further compounded the offense by releasing the finished product with most of the music credited to composer Bronislau Kaper, a more-established movie veteran, who had previously scored the delightful Leslie Caron vehicle Lili (1953), in addition to other gems for the silver screen.

Not that Villa was so naïve about movie-making that Hollywood took unfair advantage of his ingenuousness, but his unfamiliarity with how things were done in filmdom astounded even a famed film composer of Miklos Rozsa’s repute:

“I met [Villa-Lobos] when he arrived in Hollywood, asked him whether he had yet seen the film and how much time they were allowing him to write the music. He was going to see the picture tomorrow, he said, and the music was already completed. They had sent him a script, he told me, translated into Portuguese, and he had followed that, just as if he had been writing a ballet or opera. I was dumbfounded; apparently nobody had bothered to explain the basic techniques to him. ‘But Maestro,’ I said, ‘what will happen if your music doesn’t match the picture exactly?’ Villa-Lobos was obviously talking to a complete idiot. ‘In that case, of course, they will adjust the picture,’ he replied. Well, they didn’t. They paid him his fee and sent him back to Brazil.”

For his part, the wily Villa took his own “advantage” of Hollywood’s callous disregard for his abilities by re-fashioning the completed score into a large-scale symphonic tone poem for soprano, male chorus, and expanded orchestra. He christened it A Floresta do Amazonas, or “Forest of the Amazon,” a title that recalled, and paid belated tribute to, his earlier wanderings into the rain forest region.

Four love songs written expressly for the film, but never incorporated into the final cut had their concert premieres at New Jersey’s Palisades Park on July 12, 1959. Madame Dora Vasconcelos, the former Consul-General of Brazil in New York and a voracious musical dilettante, provided the lyrics for the unused numbers.

Audrey with Anthony Perkins in Green Mansions
Audrey Hepburn with Anthony Perkins in MGM’s Green Mansions

The richly exotic treatment of this colorful orchestral epic was everything one could expect from so fiercely independent and astute a musical artist as Villa-Lobos; it was, simply put, a classic case of Hollywood’s loss and the concert hall’s gain.*

The work (along with the four additional love songs) was committed to posterity in 1959 by United Artists Records, with the difficult soprano part taken by the legendary Bidu Sayão, who came out of her early retirement as a special favor to the conductor of the recording sessions: her most esteemed friend and admirer, the gravely-ill composer.

There have been several complete recordings of Forest of the Amazon, including a highly recommended 1995 version with the Moscow Radio Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Villa-Lobos expert Alfred Heller, and starring American prima donna Renée Fleming who brought Rima the bird girl to vivid life.

Postlude: The Villa-Lobos Legacy

Heitor Villa-Lobos eventually succumbed to the bladder cancer that had been temporarily halted by the operation he had undergone a decade earlier. He passed away on November 17, 1959.

Four months before his death, however, Villa-Lobos received the prestigious Carlos Gomes Medal as part of the festivities commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of the opening of the Teatro Municipal in Rio de Janeiro.

One could make the argument that this award was a rather dubious honor, what with his having produced no operatic masterwork of any lasting renown. On the contrary, he had done more for Brazilian music education, and for Brazilian social awareness of music’s beneficial properties and potential, than any other national celebrity before or after him.

“He enriched the lives of various generations of students and guided the musical direction of an untold number of future artists,” went an official New York University document from 1959 dedicated to the composer’s work. “A vibrant personality, gifted with an infectious and communicative enthusiasm, his reputation has expanded throughout the known world as a brilliant creator of modern music.”

A more appropriate postscript might have included his equally infectious — and frequently sly — sense of humor:

“Artists live with God – but give their little finger to Satan. I sleep with the angels and dream of the devil.”

— Heitor Villa-Lobos

Villa-Lobos at the piano
Maestro Villa-Lobos at the piano

Although not the prophesied savior of the Brazilian national opera, Villa-Lobos was without doubt the most famous and highly regarded native-born classical musician in memory.

Who would have thought that another citizen of the state of Rio, the pert and petite Bidu Sayão, would become, as a result of championing Villa-Lobos’ works and following Toscanini’s baton beat, the person most linked in the minds of the theater-going public with the very best that Brazil had to offer in operatic circles; and the country’s foremost international proponent of the Italian, French — and Brazilian — repertoires. ☼

Copyright © 2014 by Josmar F. Lopes

* The movie Green Mansions was not the composer’s first attempt at a film score, since, as we already know, Villa-Lobos had begun his long association with the cinema during the silent-movie era, as part of the music-band at the Odeon Theatre in Rio. He was later commissioned by the Vargas administration to provide the music for a patriotic picture, O Descobrimento do Brasil (“The Discovery of Brazil,” 1936-38), which was transformed by Villa into a four-movement concert suite of themes of the same name.