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Bossa Nova Thriving in Rio

A Look at Rio's Club Scene' A Look at Rio's Club Scene'
Since migrating from Brazil to America’s jazz scene in the 60s, bossa nova has been one of my favorite styles. I bought my first bossa LP in 1962, "Jazz Samba," featuring tenor Stan Getz and guitarist Charlie Byrd playing compositions by innovators such as Antonio Carlos Jobim (pictured above) and Joao Gilberto. "Desafinado" was the big hit and the album skyrocketed to popularity, becoming one of the best sellers in jazz history.

This was followed in 1964 with the collaboration between Getz and Brazilian singer Astrud Gilberto on "Getz/Gilberto," which featured Jobim’s legendary "Girl From Ipanema," voted 64s best jazz performance.

From that time on bossa nova’s popularity was established, and today top musicians include bossa songs regularly in their repertoire. Vocalists Diana Krall and Tierney Sutton, along with guitarists John Pizzarelli, for example, feature bossa nova compositions in recent releases.

Still performing today, Sergio Mendes emerged in the 60s with his group Brazil 66, performing pop versions of bossa with a lineup of eight musicians and singers, further pushing the popularity of the music. In fact, a celebration of the group’s 40th anniversary is slated this year.

This style, pioneered by Jobim and Gilberto, evolved from the traditional Brazilian samba. In the late 50s, it is said, when the two heard "cool jazz" from the U.S., they adapted it to the gentler samba rhythm, syncopated on the guitar.

This new music romantic, reflective, relaxed projected Rio’s laid back beach life style. To illustrate: Listen to the singer longingly lament in "Girl from Ipanema,"...each day when she walks to the sea, she looks straight ahead but not at me." Or in "Corcovado," the vocalist passionately exults: "When finding you I knew what is happiness." This is music from the heart, not the intellect.

Today Jobim is considered a near saint in Rio. His nickname is Tom (pronounced "Tone"), and, hear this, Rio’s airport is named the Tom Jobim International Airport. (How about having a Charlie Parker Airport in Kansas City?) Today the best place in Rio to hear bossa nova and to explore everything bossa nova is on a two-block stretch on Rua de Morais, a short walk up from Ipanema Beach. We were in Rio for two days before boarding a cruise ship, and we wanted to check out the bossa spots. We consulted travel guides and asked the concierge, so my wife and I knew where we were going.

First stop, Vinicius, a restaurant and club named for Jobim’s close friend and fellow musician, Vinicius de Morais. (The street also takes his name.) He's the one who wrote the lyrics for "Girl From Ipanema."

We decided to have dinner before the music. Nothing fancy, the dining room is on ground level with the club venue upstairs. The traditional Brazilian food was good, but looking out across the street we saw a flood light on the wall of a bar, Garota de Ipanema. The beam lit up a mural-sized painting of sheet music for the lyrics and score of "Girl From Ipanema" written large for all to see. Our waiter said that the young Jobim and Morais, sitting at an outside table, were inspired to compose the song as they observed a beautiful, bikini-clad girl walk by each day. Sipping their drinks, they probably sighed "a-a-ah!"

At 9:30, the first show started. Vinicius features local singers and musicians. Andre Goncalves, vocalist/guitarist, got his groove going immediately and had us swaying in our seats with his soft, dreamy bossa style. We loved the songs but many were new to me, but my ears did perk up on "One Note Samba."

Midway during the set, he brought on singer Andrea Montezuma. Her voice was beautiful in the husky Astrud Gilberto-style. And, of course, she did sing that Ipanema song everyone was waiting for. The crowd was mostly "cariocas" (the nickname for Rio residents), along with a bevy of tourists.

After the set, I cornered the very affable Goncalves who spoke English well. He says he plays two times a week at Vinicius. On Fridays he appears with Montezuma; on Sundays he performs alone. Others fill out the week's schedule. On weekends, the club brings in big names for 11 p.m. shows.

Mostly Goncalves concentrates on the classics. "At Vinicius," he says, "they ask us to play only bossa nova, but sometimes I play different composers such as Ivan Lins, Caetano Velosa and Djavan." He says the music of those three "is a very good example of MPB (Music Popular Brasileira), a contemporary type still very much influenced by the samba. Gilberto Gil and Chico Buarque are popular in this genre. Goncalves defines MFB as a "combination between a strong harmony, a sweet melody and an unforgettable poem."

With bossa nova, the old songs and artists are still the most popular. "It’s impossible [for the young] to break this wall put up by the old," he says. "It sometimes seems that there will never be a chance for a new Tom Jobim." Goncalves loves the genre. He sums up his feelings: "Bossa nova is not only a music style, because it represents our way of life, feelings and is a very special way to compose about love."

Two blocks up the street is Toca do Vinicius where one can find practically every bossa recording in existence. As well, the store is a museum, containing bossa nova memorabilia from over the years books, sheet music, artefacts that detail the history of the music. For aficionados, it is certainly a place to browse for half an hour and maybe pickup a hard-to-get recording.

Another night club was recommended to us, La Mistura Fina, which schedules bossa nova along with jazz and MPB. As with Vinicius, there is a ground floor restaurant with a showroom on the top. The night we were there a fine neo-bop pianist was playing in the bar opposite the dining room.

Upstairs we went to a show featuring popular singer-guitarist Jorge Simas and his Quinta. He led a large group consisting of a clarinetist, mandolin player and two percussionists. Simas played guitar and sang pleasantly in typical bossa nova manner, but the group on occasion revved things up and really jammed with the horn, guitars and percussion going all out bossa R and B or samba rock, you might say. Simas brought in others to sing along with him. The audience loved it. All together a good show.

The next morning, it was time to board ship. It was bye, bye Brazil where bossa nova still thrives.

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