by Marilyn Lester
Brazilians are legendary in their spontaneity, warmth and passion for two things: soccer and music. In this latter department, the Café Carlyle might well be in downtown Rio de Janeiro: with John Pizzarelli (vocals/guitar) and Daniel Jobim (vocals), the Café was infused with bossa nova music and alive with Brazilian happy.
Pizzarelli is the son of guitar legend Bucky, and Jobim is the grandson of Brazilian national treasure, Antônio Carlos Jobim (better known as “Tom,” one of the major musical forces of the 20th century). The two have paired for a delightful evening of Jobim senior’s standards, with a few American songbook numbers and two new compositions in the mix.
Bossa nova (colloquial for new trend), was developed in the 1950/60s by Tom Jobim, and a handful of others, based on the Afro-Brazilian samba. It has two-measure syncopated patterns, so overall the rhythm “sways.” Harmonically, bossa has a lot in common with jazz music, which is why it sounds so good when applied to a number such as the set’s opener, “Fascinating Rhythm,” the standard penned by George (music) and Ira (words) Gershwin. To the “sway,” Pizzarelli added some improvisational jazz riffs and accomplished scat singing. Two Tom Jobim classics followed, “Aqua de Beber,” and “So Danco Samba,” both with lyrics by musician and diplomat, Vinicius de Moraes, a frequent Jobim collaborator.
Bossa nova also transformed the Brazilian singing style from brassy and pseudo-operatic to a subtle, smoky and often breathy style, who João Gilberto, another bossa pioneer, managed to reduce to a near-whisper. Pizzarelli is a good singer, not a great one – guitar is his strength, after all – so the bossa style suits him well. And what he may lack in tonal voice quality he makes up for with accomplished musicality, excellent phrasing and sure delivery in confident Portuguese.
Daniel Jobim, like his grandfather, plays piano and composes, as well as sings. Born into it, his voice has the perfect quality to convey the bossa message of laid back coolness. Jobim is the perfect sidekick to Pizzarelli, bringing just the right balance of participation to the stage. The chemistry between the two is easy and comfortable – two cats hanging around and noodling, and doing it very well. “Waters of March” fully demonstrated this camaraderie. Tom Jobim wrote lyrics for this song n both English and Portuguese; it was voted the all-time best Brazilian song in a poll of more than 200 Brazilian journalists, musicians and other artists.
Bossa nova is at heart essentially a folk music, made for the guitar (usually performed on a nylon-string classical instrument). Although Tom Jobim often arranged with lush strings, the essentials of the genre are in the rhythm section: piano (which is often the stylistic bridge between bossa and jazz), and percussion, with a distinct bossa style of continuous eighths on the high-hat and “rim clicks” in a clave pattern. Brazilian sidemen Helio Alvez on piano and Duduka DaFonseca on drums, along with brother Martin Pizzarelli on bass, provided perfect backup for the two singers – clearly assertive without being overpowering.
Tom Jobim’s music was much championed by American musicians early on, including sax man Stan Getz, pianist Oscar Peterson and the legends of the Great American Songbook, Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra. This combination of talent, along with the inherent brilliance of Jobim’s music, helped propel songs such as “The Girl From Ipanema” (lyrics by Moraes), “Wave,” “Desafinado” (lyrics by Gene Lees), and “One Note Samba” to the top of the international charts. These Pizzarelli-Jobim-delivered crowd-pleasers did not disappoint.
Nor did the other non-Jobim songs arranged with a bossa beat, including Cole Porter’s “I Concentrate on You,” Paul McCartney’s “My Valentine,” and “Canto Casual” with words and music by John Pizzarelli and Jessica Molaskey. For a closer, the encore number was “Ela é Carioca” which loosely translated means “She’s from Rio” (lyrics by Moraes) – a fitting end to an evening of music and the style of music born in Rio.
There are times when all the elements of a performance come together to make perfection. In this case, accomplished side men, polished singers, exquisite musicality, humor, relaxed banter, story-telling, impeccable pacing, and superb musical compositions, fused into a sublime evening of entertainment. Everyone on stage seemed to be having one heck of a good time. The mood was infectious. The warmth of Rio on Madison made facing the Arctic chill of New York a little easier and a lot happier., eleme
*Photos: Sandi Durell
John Pizzarelli Strictly Bossa Nova, featuring Daniel Jobim, March 18-29 at the Café Carlyle in the Carlyle Hotel, 35 East 76th St., New York, NY. Tuesday through Friday at 8:45 pm. Saturday at 8:45 and 10:45 pm. 212-744-1600 or www.thecarlyle.com
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