Category Archives: Brazilian music

A Conversation With Sergio Mendes (TIDAL Magazine)

What a pleasure to interview Sergio Mendes, one of my musical heroes since I was a kid. The article appears in TIDAL Magazine, the highly readable online publication of the TIDAL streaming service (owned by Jay-Z).

Here’s one bit that didn’t make the final piece:

“Mas Que Nada” – Sergio’s signature song since Brasil ’66, a song that became the first-ever worldwide hit in Portuguese. The title means, approximately, “Yeah, right,” sarcastically, in Brazilian Portuguese. Sergio recalled when he heard the song for the first time:

“It was in Bottles Bar (the legendary Rio jazz hangout that witnessed the birth of Bossa Nova), maybe ’61 or ’62.  This young kid, Jorge Ben, came in with his guitar and started playing it. It was so different from the very melodic stuff Jobim would do, a different vibe. But a great chant! When I play it in Japan, the Japanese sing along with it – it’s like the national anthem!”

I asked if he had any idea the song could become such an enormous worldwide hit in its original language. “Never!” he said. “When I first heard my record of it on the radio [in 1966], I called Herb [Alpert, his producer at A&M Records]. He said, “Sergio I think we’ve got a big hit here!” 


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Filed under Antonio Carlos Jobim, Bossa Nova, Brazilian music, Cannonball Adderley, Frank Sinatra, Guinga, Herb Alpert, Hermeto Pascoal, Joao Donato, Milton Nascimento, Moacir Santos, Quincy Jones, Sergio Mendes, Stevie Wonder

How vibes player Erik Charlston nabbed a role in Spielberg’s upcoming West Side Story film

Erik Charlston in a typical day at the office.

New York vibraphonist/percussionist Erik Charlston is one of the busiest session musicians in New York, playing everything from Latin jazz to Broadway shows to opera. His latest album with his JazzBrasil group is inspired by the great Brazilian composer Hermeto Pascoal. But, despite all his musical genre-hopping, it’s Charlston‘s ability to dance a mean mambo that might lead to his most visible role yet: a part in Steven Spielberg’s upcoming remake of West Side Story. Read my article from the December DownBeat here.

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Filed under Brazilian music, Erik Charlston, Hermeto Pascoal

An Array of New Brazilian Sounds (DownBeat “Beyond” column, Oct 2019)

Delia Fischer, Rio-based singer-songwriter/pianist

Six albums of Brazilian jazz and música popular brasileira illustrate more than the country’s musical diversity: They demonstrate how Brazil’s best songwriters and musicians—marinated in older forms like samba, choro, and bossa nova—are finding new ways to use that heritage to create fresh pop, rock and jazz.  Read about Delia Fischer, Marcos Valle, Banda Black Rio, Antonio Adolfo, and two others here.

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Filed under Antonio Adolfo, Banda Black Rio, Brazilian music, Delia Fischer, Guilherme Pimenta, John Finbury, Marcos Valle

João Gilberto, the Voice of Bossa Nova, Dies at 88 (DownBeat)

“Look at the wind tearing out the trees’ hair … .”

“But trees don’t have hair, João,” said the psychologist.

“And some people have no poetry in their souls,” he replied.

For my DownBeat obit on the genius João Gilberto, I spoke with Eliane Elias and the legendary Wanda Sá.

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Filed under Bossa Nova, Brazilian music, Chris McNulty, Downbeat, Joao Gilberto, Music Writing and Clips, Stan Getz, Uncategorized

A Memory of Egberto Gismonti at Brazil’s MIMO Festival in 2014

Egberto Gismonti at MIMO Paraty - 2014

Lately I’ve been listening to Egberto Gismonti, one of Brazil’s greatest composers, as I’m working on a piece for DownBeat about a new tribute album to him by virtuoso clarinetist Eddie Daniels. It reminded me of a night in 2014 when I saw Gismonti give a thrilling SRO performance in a church in Paraty, Brazil, as part of the MIMO Festival.  I never got around to posting the article I wrote about that night for DownBeat: here it is.

After the concert, I was invited to go to dinner with him and a group of MIMO staff. He told me about a concert he had given some years earlier attended by his mother and aunt, in which he chose not to play a famous song of his called “Palhaço” (which translates as “Pagliaccio” or “Clown”). As he took his bows, some audience members demanded the song, a fan favorite, repeatedly yelling, “Palhaço, Palhaço!”  His mother and aunt, apparently unfamiliar with the song, took umbrage. Later they told him,  “How can they be so disrespectful! You played so beautifully!” The video below starts slowly, but hang on.


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Filed under Brazilian music, Egberto Gismonti, MIMO Festival

A Night at the Blue Note, Rio with Antonio Adolfo and Bossa Nova legend Carlos Lyra


Antonio Adolfo performs at The Blue Note in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on Nov. 11. (Photo: Alexandre Moreira)

Although he may look more like a professor or kindly physician, Antonio Adolfo is, in reality, a killer pianist/arranger and master of samba jazz. In early November, the beginning of summer in Brazil, I went to the beautiful new Blue Note in Rio de Janeiro to get my samba fix.  Adolfo led a septet that features some of the finest jazz musicians in Brazil. And then he introduced his guest, one of the great Bossa Nova singer/songwriters, Carlos Lyra. My story in DownBeat.

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Filed under Antonio Adolfo, Bossa Nova, Brazilian music, Carlos Lyra

Brazil’s MIMO Festival Brings the World to Rio de Janeiro

Didier Lockwood Trio at Igreja da Candalaria, Rio

Didier Lockwood Trio at Igreja da Candalaria, Rio (photo by Beto Figueiroa, MIMO Festival)

Last week’s MIMO Festival-Rio was a musical bazaar including MPB (Brazilian pop), Afro-pop, Portuguese pop, jazz, salsa, and unclassifiable music from around the world. And it ended with a samba explosion to make traditional Brazilian music fans smile. Here’s my review in @DownBeatMag.

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Filed under Brazilian music, Criolo, Didier Lockwood, MIMO Festival

“Another Thing (Outra Coisa)” – Anat Cohen w/Marcello Gonçalves

One of the most acclaimed clarinetists in jazz, Israeli-born Anat Cohen has somehow also managed to become one of the world’s foremost practitioners of Brazilian jazz. If you’d like to expand your appreciation of Brazilian music beyond the usual Bossa Novas, dig this hauntingly beautiful video. Then read my profile of her from the July 2017 DownBeat.

Anat and me
With Anat Cohen, May 2017




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Filed under Anat Cohen, Brazilian music, Marcello Goncalves, Moacir Santos

More of My Talk With Brazilian Pianist/Singer Eliane Elias (DownBeat, June 2017)

Eliane, 098_v3-V4_F-copy“My first great love was jazz,” Eliane Elias told me recently. “At age 10 and 11, I used to spend hours and hours transcribing my mother’s jazz records; [by contrast,] the samba and bossa nova were just part of the DNA of the culture.” Her new album, Dance of Time, celebrates the 100th anniversary of the first samba recording. DownBeat published a short version of the Q&A in its June issue. Below is a longer one.

Eliane Elias Returns to Sao Paulo and the Samba

Samba is in Eliane Elias’ blood, but it was not the Brazilian singer-pianist’s first love. A piano prodigy in her native São Paulo, she was copping Red Garland licks as a jazz-besotted 12-year-old. Jazz always came first.

It still does. “My first great love was jazz,” she said recently. “At age 10 and 11, I used to spend hours and hours transcribing my mother’s jazz records; [by contrast,] the samba and Bossa Nova were just part of the DNA of the culture.”

For most of her career, including more than two dozen albums, her focus was on her spectacular, straight-ahead jazz piano style. In 2015, however, she returned to Brazil to record for the first time since she emigrated to New York in 1981. The result was 2015’s Grammy-winning Made in Brazil. For her latest album, Dance of Time, which commemorates the 100th anniversary of the first samba recording (“Pelo Telefone”), she once again chose to record in Brazil. The album includes a mix of samba classics (“Copacabana,” “O Pato,” “Sambou, Sambou”), original ballads, and standards.

In São Paulo, Elias had help from an enormously talented rhythm section including guitarist Marcus Teixeira, electric bassist Marcelo Mariano, and drummer Edu Ribeiro. Also on hand were some distinguished collaborators: two of her mentors, the Brazilian singer-songwriter-guitarist Toquinho and pianist Amilton Godoy, a founding member of the Zimbo Trio; singer/guitarist João Bosco; Mark Kibble of Take 6, who contributes lush vocal harmonies on three tracks; vibes player Mike Mainieri; and Randy Brecker (Elias’ ex-husband), who plays flugelhorn on a reharmonized version of “Speak Low.”  Her current husband and regular acoustic bassist, Marc Johnson, co-produced the set.

Do you think of yourself these days as a pianist who happens to sing, or do you give both equal weight?

Eliane Elias: I feel I am a pianist first, although I’ve been singing for a long time, and it’s an integral part of what I do.  But the piano – that’s my instrument. It’s like the continuation of my body, my soul.

How do you balance singing and playing?  

Maybe 15 years ago I wasn’t as comfortable doing it as now. But I have gotten to a place where I love singing and playing. In fact, when I’m playing Brazilian things and doing all the syncopation, just the piano alone – with lots of offbeats in the left hand and improvising with the right – already that’s like two people. And then you add the voice, and it’s like, wow, OK!” [laughs].

It does sometimes seem like there are three of you when you’re singing and playing.

[Laughs] I shouldn’t say so, but you’re not too far off.

Why did you decide to record Dance of Time in Brazil?

I wanted to celebrate the samba, but I also wanted to celebrate these great Brazilian musicians who were so important in my life.

Is the rhythm section one that you couldn’t duplicate outside of Brazil?

Frankly, yes.

The current album dispenses with the strings you used on your last album. Why?

Traditionally, I haven’t recorded with strings. This time, the harmonies and the tempos were different. As I was writing the arrangements, I felt we had to focus on the samba rhythms of my left hand – they had to be front and center.  There were a few ballads where strings might have been nice, though. On [the ballad] “Little Paradise,” I thought about having Johnny Mandel write the strings. He wanted to work with me, and I was so honored. It didn’t happen, unfortunately, for logistical reasons. But when I recorded the song, there’s a moment that I sing, “A melody comes back to me / that we heard before,” and, at that moment, I quote a melody that was written by Johnny. But let’s not say which one it is – let people figure it out!

The final song on the album, “Not to Cry (Pra Nao Chorar),” a duet with Toquinho, is especially touching.

When Toquinho was in the studio with me, I reminded him that he had started a song back in 1978. I played a little of it, and he said, “Oh my, I forgot!” At the time he had called the song “Eliane,” but it was unfinished. The lyrics [in Portuguese] are all about our story – how he and I used to tour together in the 1970s with [the great Brazilian poet, lyricist and entertainer] Vinicius de Moraes, and how now he looks at photographs of that time and tries not to cry. So we finished it together. The lyrics he wrote are so beautiful they made me cry.

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Filed under Brazilian music, Eliane Elias

Brazilian singer Clara Moreno, daughter of Joyce, re-imagines a jazz samba classic

clara-morenoClara Moreno is the daughter of the Bossa Nova stars Joyce Moreno (universally known in Brazil as just Joyce) and bandleader/composer Nelson Angelo. More to the point, she is a terrific samba singer. Her 7th album, Samba Esquema Novo (De Novo) (translation: “New Style Samba—Again”) on the U.K.’s Far Out Records, re-imagines a seminal 1963 album (Samba Esquema Novo) by the influential singer-songwriter Jorge Ben. He’s the guy who wrote the international hit “Mas Que Nada” (see Clara’s version below). If all this sounds a bit esoteric to you, I guarantee the rhythm will get you where you live. Here’s a “Players” profile I did about Clara from the November 2016 issue of DownBeat.  You can find the album here.

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Filed under Bossa Nova, Brazilian music, Clara Moreno, Jorge Ben

Two giants of Brazilian music, Veloso & Gil, celebrate 50-year friendship in Brooklyn

April 20, 2016 Brooklyn, NY ;  Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil in concert - Two Friends, One Century of Music at BAM's Howard Gilman Opera House on 4/20/2016. Photo ; Rahav Segev/ / BAM

April 20, 2016 Brooklyn, NY ; Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil in concert – Two Friends, One Century of Music at BAM’s Howard Gilman Opera House on 4/20/2016.
(Photo: Rahav Segev/ / BAM)

The two legends of Brazilian popular music are something akin to poets laureate in Brazil. On April 20-21, they brought their world tour to the Brooklyn Academy of Music.  My review from DownBeat (April 2016).

Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil Celebrate 50-Year Friendship in Brooklyn

When the curtain rose, revealing the two un-prepossessing, silver-haired gentlemen seated center-stage and already strumming their acoustic guitars, the audience, a roughly equal mix of Americans and Brazilians spanning all age groups, shouted in recognition, not unlike the way one might greet old friends at a class reunion.

In Brazil, they are known by the single names “Caetano” and “Gil.” Beyond pop stars, Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil, who have been friends since they met in 1963, are something akin to poets laureate in Brazil. This was the second night (April 21) of their two-night New York stand at the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s (BAM) Gilman Opera House, the latest stop on a joint world tour in which they played 44 concerts in 21 countries and 35 cities, including U.S. stops in Los Angeles, Oakland, and Miami. The BAM concerts had been sold out for weeks.

The legendary Bahia natives, both 73, played 30 songs over two hours, making the ornate, high-domed opera house as intimate as their own living rooms. Over the course of the evening, they covered much of their 50-year careers in a show entitled, “Dois Amigos, Um Século de Música (Two Friends, A Century of Music).”

For much of that era, their careers have intertwined. Leaders of Tropicália, a late-1960s movement that was both musical and political, each man has reflected and influenced the course of Brazilian society ever since. They began with sambas and bossa nova, then influenced by Dylan, The Beatles and Jimi Hendrix, among others, their music became impressionistic, sometimes even psychedelic. Their songs were often spiked with social commentary and rebellion against both the repressive authoritarian regime that ruled Brazil and the moral strictures of the country’s buttoned-up Catholic culture. It landed them in jail for a short time, followed by political exile in England, where they continued to write and record. When they were finally permitted to return to Brazil in 1972, they were bigger than ever.

Caetano’s style is hard to describe and has no real analogue in America; imagine a cross between Dylan, Jacques Brel and Pablo Neruda, and you’d be roughly in the right ballpark. His lyrics are by turns political, sensual, and metaphysical. Gil’s music is both traditional and modern, combining regional, folkloric and urban styles of Brazil with American blues, pop, rock and roll, and later pan-African and Caribbean motifs. Caetano is more the sweet-voiced intellectual, Gil the earthy, multi-cultural, spiritual heart of Brazil. Their styles complement and reinforce each other.

Although Brazil is currently in political turmoil once again, the artists offered no commentary on the pending impeachment of the current left-leaning president, Dilma Rousseff, preferring instead to let their songs do the talking.

Throughout the evening they alternated duets with solo performances, during which the other sat at rapt attention; sometimes Gil would tap out the rhythm to a Caetano song lightly on his guitar. They began with a duet of Gil’s “Back in Bahia,” one of his first hit singles upon returning from exile, the original electric boogie refined down to an appealing acoustic blues.

The first half of the evening emphasized Caetano’s songbook, including “Sampa,” (a nickname for Sao Paulo) and “Tropicália,” the song that gave the movement its name. On Caetano’s “Coração Vagabundo (Vagabond Heart),” one of his biggest hits, the audience seemed thrilled to hear Gil’s voice singing the first verse instead of Caetano’s more delicate tenor. By the end of “Terra (Earth),” one of Caetano’s most transcendent songs (inspired by the first photos of the earth from space), he led an audience sing-along on the final chorus, which translates roughly to “Earth, earth / However distant / The wandering navigator / Who could ever forget you?”

For the delightful, slightly naughty Ary Barroso samba “É Luxo Só,” a male appreciation of a Brazilian girl dancing the samba (and one of the few selections not written by the artists), Caetano put down his guitar, stood up and shimmied, over Gil’s samba guitar intro, much to the audience’s delight. Caetano’s London exile song, “Nine Out of Ten,” was sung in English; he also sang moving love songs in Italian and Spanish.

On the Gil masterpiece, “Eu Vim Da Bahia (I Came From Bahia),” Gil and Caetano traded verses over Gil’s subtle, brilliant guitar accompaniment. On this tune and others, Gil truly was a one-man samba band. Other highlights of the Gil songbook were his hits, “Expresso 2222” (named after a train), “Andar Com Fe (Walk With Faith)” and the haunting, virtuosic “Tres Palavras (Three Words).”

For an encore, the pair sang a duet of Caetano’s “Desde Que O Samba E Samba (From Samba Comes Samba),” one of the loveliest songs ever to come out of Brazil. Four more encores followed. The final one was Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds,” with its refrain, “Don’t worry about a thing / ’Cause every little thing is gonna be alright,” inspiring many audience members to sing along. The soothing message, perhaps an oblique reference to the current political tumult in both Brazil and America, echoed over the crowd like a benediction.
An album of essentially the same concert, also titled Dois Amigos, Um Século de Música, was released in the U.S. in April by Nonesuch.


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Filed under Brazilian music, Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gil, Music Writing and Clips

Bossa Nova Pioneer Carlos Lyra Returns to the U.S. After 50 Years

Carlos Lyra at Birdland, NYC, May 29, 2015 (photo: Jack Vartoogian)

Brazilian popular music is so rich as to constitute a parallel universe to the American Songbook.  And in that universe, no songwriters shine more brightly than Carlos Lyra and Marcos Valle, both of whom appeared at last week’s “BossaBrasil” festival at Birdland. Lyra was making a triumphant return to the U.S. stage after an absence of 50 years.  My review is now posted at

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Filed under Bossa Nova, Brazilian music, Carlos Lyra, Marcos Valle, Music Writing and Clips

At 80, Bossa Nova Pioneer João Donato Is Not Slowing Down


Joao Donato performing in Tiradentes, Brazil, October 2014

Bossa Nova icon João Donato played and wrote with everybody, from Jobim to Gilberto to Chet Baker and Tito Puente. And at 80, he’s not slowing down. This was one of my all-time favorite interviews. To see why, see the article.

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Filed under Bossa Nova, Brazilian music, Downbeat, Jazz, Joao Donato, Music Writing and Clips

Luciana Souza and Romero Lubambo at NYC’s Jazz Standard – my review in Jazz Times

Luciana and Romero

Luciana Souza & Romero Lubambo (photo: Atael Weissman)

RT @jazztimes: Luciana Souza and Romero Lubambo at NYC’s Jazz Standard – my review in Jazz Times

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Filed under Bossa Nova, Brazilian music, Jazz, Jazz Times, Luciana Souza, Music Writing and Clips