The Quiet Knight

Farewell, João Gilberto,
Master of the Silent Music

João is gone. His passing, on July 6, hit the final chords for Bossa Nova as Brazil’s national musical expression. The precision of his nylon-string playing and subtleness of the nearly mute overtones of his voice challenged traditions and forged a place of his own.
When he, his lifelong musical partner Antonio Carlos ‘Tom’ Jobim and others, took the New York Carnegie Hall stage, in 1962, for a historic concert, it marked the moment when a quiet artistic revolution in Brazil got introduced to the world. It was an instant hit.

Bossa Nova became the very sound of the Portuguese-speaking South American nation, Jobim and João as its top ambassadors. The jazz-tinged but unmistakenly Brazilian melodies of one, seamlessly merged with the syncopated guitar beat and well-timed phrasing of the other.
João was the ultimate perfectionist, and a fiery idiosyncratic performer, whose increasingly rarer appearances would convey an almost cult-like devotion from his audience. Declining physical and mental health though led him to spend his last years alone in his apartment in Rio.
Which was fitting for an artist whose rise coincided with Brazil’s quick urbanization. His art spoke to an ascendant intellectual and politically engaged middle class, even though neither Bossa nor João were integral to the social unrest of the 1960s.
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João Gilberto, a Brazilian treasure, has elevated popular music to a sophisticated art form, capable of expressing the entire soul of a nation. Despite the current president’s refusal to call this a time for mourning, his voice and guitar will forever be the beating heart of Brazil. R.I.P.

Waters of March

A Fine Day to Salute
Hurricane Elis Regina

‘If she were still alive, Brazilian music wouldn’t be in such a bad shape.’ That’s guitar player Nathan Marques about Elis Regina, likely Brazil’s greatest singer, who’d be 72 this Friday. She died at 36 of an accidental overdose, and the country’s rich musical tradition still mourns her loss.
Most survivors of Brazil’s golden generation of songwriters and musicians, from the 1960s on, would endorse her guitarist’s stinging comment. Besides being impossibly gifted as an artist, Elis is also missed for her uncanny scouting talents, as many a career was either launched or enhanced by her renditions.
Her rise from anonymity to national stardom was meteoric. At 20, with Vinicius de Moraes and Edu Lobo‘s Arrastão, she won the TV Excelsior Festival de Música, the first of a series of festivals that took the country by storm, and revealed a new batch of interpreters that would dominate Brazilian music for years to come.
She then co-hosted with Jair Rodrigues O Fino da Bossa, and turned it into the most important music program on TV at the time. She seemed born to star in the medium, a crucial part of the young nation’s cultural integration, even as it also served well the military dictatorship that ruled Brazil between 1964 and 85.
In many cases, hers were the first recordings of composers who’d go on to become national treasuries, like Milton Nascimento, Ivan Lins, Beto Guedes, and João Bosco, beside others. Or she added considerable wattage to the work of contemporaries, like Lobo, Chico Buarque, Caetano Veloso, and Gilberto Gil, by recording their songs.

WHEN BRAZILIAN MUSIC MATTERED
Even though they all wrote lyrics, she also helped usher an entire new lineage of lyricists. Fernando Brant, Ronaldo Bastos, Aldir Blanc, and Victor Martins, to name but few, had their urban poetry-infused words first played on the radio and performed on TV by her, in a country whose majority by now were living in big cities.
By the 1970s, Brazilian music, or MPB, had several streams of high quality output, and composers of talent to boot. As Bossa Nova entered its second decade, and Tropicália, its own maturity phase, even artists identified with purer musical idioms, such as samba and Chorinho, were registering on vinyl their arguably best work.
Thus as Tom Jobim, João Gilberto, Baden Powell, and so many others were consolidating the then most famous representative of the country’s music, Veloso, Gil, Tom Zé, and Os Mutantes, plus Buarque, Paulinho da Viola, Nascimento, and Bosco were hard at work rewriting popular music to a younger audience.
MOOD SWINGER & ADVOCATE
One of the most remarkable facts about Elis Regina’s trajectory was that she was developing her sophisticated interpretative touch while at the vanguard of all these currents. Credit must be also given to husband and partner Cesar Camargo Mariano, who contributed (more)
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