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Friday, August 9, 2013

Who's the Boss of your Nova?

In a slight departure from my recent missives, I thought I'd take a detour south...

I've mentioned in passing that, musically-speaking, I'm all over the map. If you were to peruse my Pandora stations, you'd find everything from Prokofiev to Peter Frampton, from The Specials to Sash!, and from Devo to Phillips, Craig & Dean. One station that gets a great deal of play is simply titled, Sergio Mendes and Brasil 66.

This ain't Green Day

So how, you may ask, did I come to know and like Sergio Mendes and Brasil 66? In 1966 I was still in single digits. You might think it's unlikely that a young American kid would be exposed to - much less enjoy - a popular ensemble from Brasil. Actually, I didn't hear SM&B 66 until around 1970 when I moved to England. My dad was quite musically eclectic in his own right and it was riding along some motorway in the UK where I first heard the piano, the bossa nova beats and the dulcet voices of Lani Hall, Bibi Vogel, and later, Janis Hansen.

I was hooked.

SM&B 66 performing their first US Hit Mas que Nada

In 1970, for all I knew, Bossa Nova was just some guy from Italy saying he liked your Chevy. Today, through the power of Google and Wikipedia it's easy to discover that in Portuguese bossa nova literally means "new trend" and that it's a lyrical fusion of samba and jazz. In Brasil, the word bossa is old-fashioned slang for something that is done with particular charm, natural flair or innate ability. And while the exact origin of the term bossa nova remains uncertain, it's clear that the style of music that charmed us as a new trend in the late 1960s continues to influence our musical landscape today.

After Mas que Nada (translated "but that [is] nothing") was released, Sergio and his band, recording under Herb Alpert's A&M label, covered a number of Burt Bacharach and Beatles tunes including The Look of Love, The Fool on the Hill, Norwegian Wood, and Scarborough Fair, among others. The application of their bossa nova style to what we referred to back then as popular or easy listening definitely gave the hits of the day a new trend.

Lennon and McCartney can write, but Lani Hall can sing!

As I fell down the 80's rabbit hole listening to The Police, The Cars and Duran Duran, I gradually forgot above Sergio Mendes. The 80's was a decade that started with me living in northern California so I did not forsake jazz completely. Listening to the smooth jazz of KBLX and attending some incredible concerts with the likes of Miles Davis, Hiroshima, and Jean Luc Ponty, I was definitely bipolar musically.

One of the most beautiful songs I have ever heard is Renaissance by Ponty, from his 1976 album Aurora.

Check out the piano solo by a 22-year-old Patrice Rushen...magic!

But as the years unfolded and our boys grew, Sergio crept back into my musical lexicon. Our sons followed their old man into a love affair with the beautiful game, football. Not the violent, gridiron variety, but the artistic, graceful - original - version. Nike co-opted the term Joga Bonito - roughly translated as play beautifully - in a mid-2000's ad campaign (You may have to click the embedded video to watch it on YouTube).

A Joga Bonito compilation guessed it: Sergio Mendes

If you read the details of the music behind the video above, you'll notice that it's the same Sergio Mendes that recorded Mas que Nada in 1966. But forty years later, he recorded it again with the Black Eyed Peas. And now, in 2013 - nearly fifty years after their breakout hit in the USA - you can even LIKE Sergio Mendes and Brasil 66 on their own Facebook page!

That's staying power.

Don't get me wrong, there were and are many, many more bossa nova stars; a lot more than I've ever heard of. But if you've listened to Stan Getz, Astrud Gilberto, Charlie Bird, and Antonio Carlos Jobim to name a few, you're in tune with the bossa nova beat.

Bossa nova is a style as deep and wide as any in modern music. I could go on for days but I'll leave you with a couple of my bossa favorites.

Sergio Mendes and Brasil 66 - Ye-Me-Le

Tom Jobim & Toquinho - Wave

Joga Bonito my friends.


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