Sunday, October 30, 2011

Antonio Carlos Jobim – ‘Call me, Tom’

© -Steven A. Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved

“The authentic Negro samba in Brazil is very primitive. They use maybe ten percussion instruments and four or five singers. They shout and the music is very hot and wonderful.

"But bossa nova is cool and contained. It tells the story, trying to be simple and serious and lyrical. Joao [Gilberto] and I felt that Brazilian music had been too much a storm on the sea, and we wanted to calm it down for the recording studio.

You could call bossa nova a clean, washed samba, without loss of the momentum. We don't want to lose important things. We have the problem of how to write and not lose the swing."
- Antonio Carlos Jobim

I have always enjoyed the beautiful music of Antonio Carlos Jobim, but I didn’t know much about him.

That all changed when I began subscribing in the early 1990’s to the JazzLetter written and published by the eminent Jazz writer, Gene Lees.

For his publication, Gene wrote a serial essay about his long-standing friendship and working relationship with Jobim, the latter involving Lees’ assumption of the very complicated and complex responsibility of translating the lyrics to Jobim’s songs from Brazilian/Portuguese into English.

The Jobim JazzLetter essay has since been published in book form in Gene Lees, Singers and the Song II [New York: Oxford University Press, 1998,] in a chapter entitled Um Abra├žo no Tom.

In subsequent issues of the JazzLetter, Gene would note the re-issuance of Jobim’s music on compact disc, all of which were joyous occasions for me since I had almost none of the original LP’s.

In the event that, like me, JazzProfiles readers have an interest in better familiarizing themselves with Jobim’s music, the editorial staff has collected some of these recordings and now presents them on the site along with their cover art and inserts notes.

ANTONIO CARLOS JOBIM: Verve Jazz Masters 13 [314 516 409-2]

© -Gene Lees, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

 “The first Jobim tune I ever heard was "Desafinado". Dizzy Gillespie performed it at the Sutherland Lounge in Chicago in the winter of 1961-62, when Lalo Schifrin was playing piano with the group. Later, at my apartment, Lalo played the tune again on my piano, showing me the chord changes. Though he is from Argentina, he had lived in Brazil and was well aware of a new music that had emerged in Rio de Janeiro.

Soon after that I heard an imported album by Joao Gilberto, whom many people consider the father of the bossa nova (it really means nothing more than new thing), and this only intensified my interest in this remarkable, swinging, subtle, lyrical music, particularly the tunes of one Antonio Carlos Jobim.

When early in 1962 an opportunity came to me to spend six months in Latin America, including Brazil, I seized it, partly because I had long felt that we in North America knew far too little about the millions of people we share the Western Hemisphere with. In that regard, things haven't changed much. But part of the reason I wanted to go was to find out about this new music, this bossa nova.

And so in May or thereabouts, which is our spring but their autumn, I was in Rio de Janeiro. A music publisher had given me the telephone number of Joao Gilberto. He spoke no English and turned over the telephone to his wife, Astrud, who spoke it at least a little. She gave me Jobim's phone number, I called, and he invited me that evening to his home a short distance from the sea at Ipanema, a long, curved sand beach which is one of the glories of that city.

When I entered the small house, Joao Gilberto was sitting on a sofa surrounded by a vocal quartet called the Carioca Boys. He was playing guitar and, with them singing harmony, rehearsing a song by Jobim called "So Dance Samba". By now I had made a study of Jobim's tunes, and I understood a lot of the Portuguese lyrics. He and I went to the kitchen and he poured Scotch for both of us. I remember standing by the refrigerator with him when he said, "I'm crazy, but he" - indicating Joao in the other room - "is more crazy."

Most of our conversation was in French, however. Jobim spoke little English then and I little Portuguese. His ancestry is French, hence the name.

I told him I believed many of his songs could be translated into English, and I thought I knew how to do it. He encouraged me to try, and before I left Brazil, I had written English lyrics for 'Corcovado" and "Desafinado', which became known respectively as "Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars" and "Off Key".

When Jobim came to New York for a Carnegie Hall concert, I introduced him to Gerry Mulligan, whose music - by the testimony of both Antonio and Joao - was an important influence in the development of bossa nova. Jobim told me:

'The authentic Negro samba in Brazil is very primitive. They use maybe ten percussion instruments and four or five singers. They shout and the music is very hot and wonderful.

"But bossa nova is cool and contained. It tells the story, trying to be simple and serious and lyrical. Joao and I felt that Brazilian music had been too much a storm on the sea, and we wanted to calm it down for the recording studio. You could call bossa nova a clean, washed samba, without loss of the momentum. We don't want to lose important things. We have the problem of how to write and not lose the swing."

They didn't lose it. And they influenced American jazz almost as deeply as American jazz had influenced them

 As the years went on, Jobim continued to develop. The samba is by no means the only rhythm indigenous to Brazil. Africa's influence runs very deep, particularly in the north, and the musical folklore is very rich. In later years Jobim reflected in his music this varied musical tradition; the bossa nova years were behind him. Increasingly his songs reflected his interest in the ecology of the planet and its disruption. "We are building a desert, my friend," he said to me once in Los Angeles.

Corcovado (Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars) This is one of the first Jobim songs I heard. I attempted to retain not only the meaning of the original but the fatalistic feeling common to Brazilian songs, which I believe derives from Portuguese fado and ultimately from the Arabic doctrine, kismet. Corcovado is the name of the mountain on which the enormous statue of Christ the Redeemer stands with outstretched arms, as if embracing the city of Rio de Janeiro. The word means hunchback, which is what the early settlers called the mountain.

So Danco Samba This is the song I heard Joao Gilberto singing on Jobim's sofa on the night I met the two of them. Joao sang so softly (but so perfectly!) that one could barely hear him a few feet away. He developed a style of almost vibrato-less singing that reminded me at once of the French singer Henri Salvador (who, Jo5o told me, had influenced him) and Chet Baker. The song is about a little guy who says he has had his fill of the twist, calypso, and cha-cha. "From now on," he says, "I only dance samba," which is what the title means. This record, with Stan Getz, was made soon after the Brazilian contingent arrived in New York.

Desafinado (Off Key) The song was sort of the anthem of bossa nova, for it humorously addresses the older school of singers and musicians of Brazil who objected to the bossa nova movement - much as older musicians and critics excoriated bebop in the United States. There's a joke built into the harmony of this song, a flatted fifth on the second chord - a harmonic usage that was part of bebop. The conservatives of Brazil said that bossa nova songs had crooked melodies. But the song became an international hit.

0 Grande Amor This is one of the less known of Jobim's early tunes. It was included in one of the Stan Getz sessions with Joao Gilberto. It retains its wistful beauty these three decades after the record was made.

Insensatez (How Insensitive) The opening chord sequence is that of Chopin's "E-minor Prelude', and some of us have occasionally teased Antonio about this. Gerry Mulligan went so far with the joke as to record the "E-Minor Prelude" as a samba.

Infitil Paisagern (Useless Landscape) Aside from the fact that I find this brooding song one of Jobim's best, I wanted to include it for his accompaniment of Elis Regina. Though he plays piano on many of his recordings, they do not give you an idea of how well he actually does play it. I have a tape of him and Gerry Mulligan made some time in the late Sixties. Jobim sounds rather like Bill Evans on the tape. The accompaniment on this record gives a hint of the scope of his playing.”

Gene Lees June 1993

ANTONIO CARLOS JOBIM – Urubu [Warner Brothers 2928-2]

© -Bob Blumenthal, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

"Bossa is a hunch?" Antonio Carlos Jobim offered, searching for the proper English equivalent to the Portuguese, when I met the great composer in New York in 1987. For a moment, he seemed at an impasse; but, as it turned out, he had the image of a hunchback in mind (Corcovado, the mountain that inspired one of Jobim’s masterpieces, means the hunchback). "The 'bossa' in bossa nova does not simply mean 'boss' in the English slang sense," he continued. "It is also a protuberance, a swelling in the head, an increase of brain matter. In Brazil, we say that a guy has bossa for something, as in 'John has bossa for music' - a flair, a gift, what you might call soul. Bossa nova was the new flair, our new wave."

By the time we spoke, on the 25th anniversary of the Carnegie Hall concert that first brought Jobim, Joao Gilberto and other leading Brazilian musicians to the United States, the wave was no longer new. Jobim, however, still had the gift, and he remained at the crest of what had become the venerable bossa nova movement, which he had initially set in motion.

Antonio Carlos Brasileiro de Almeida Jobim was born on January 25, 1927 in the Tijuca section of Rio de Janeiro, though his family later moved to the neighboring lpanema district that he would make so famous. He inherited verbal skills from his father, a diplomat who wrote poetry and died when Jobim was eight. It was his stepfather who saw to it that the 12-year-old youngster applied himself to music. Jobim began on the piano, received instruction (including lessons in composition and harmony) from the German teacher Hans Joachim Koellreutter, and also become proficient on the guitar and harmonica. He originally planned to study architecture, but quit after one year and began working as a nightclub pianist. His ability to write out popular melodies by ear earned him work as a copyist for radio and recording studios. where he also served as pianist on numerous recordings.

While Jobim was writing music during this period, his compositions remained something of a personal secret until he had ascended to the position of arranger and producer for Odeon, one of Brazil's largest record companies. The individual who Jobim. credited with launching his career as a composer was Vinicius De Moraes, an Oxford-educated poet who, like Jobim's father, had also enjoyed an extensive diplomatic career. It was De Moraes's idea to create a Brazilian version of the Orpheus legend, which began life as an acclaimed stage production in 1956 before Marcel Camus filmed De Moraes's script - Black Orpheus - to international acclaim and an Oscar three years later.

By that time, Jobim, (who was already known to friends by his nickname Tom) had made another pivotal acquaintance - the singer Joao Gilberto. An artist with a quietly smoldering delivery, whose near-whispered phrases expressed torrents of emotion, Gilberto was the ideal artist to interpret the subtler, less extroverted brand of samba that Jobim had been writing. The pair first collaborated in 1958, and over the next three years produced three albums of bossa nova featuring 13 Jobim originals, as well as other works by Jobim's contemporary, Carlos Lyra, and songs by the older and influential composers Ary Barroso and Dorival Caymmi. These became substantial if controversial hits in Brazil, and enjoyed further success in the United States after Stan Getz and Charlie Byrd recorded the popular Jazz Samba album in 1962.

The combined status of being both an innovator and successful export created problems for Jobim in his native country; and the scars were still visible when we met in 1987. "My contemporaries and I learned a lot from the Brazilian composers who came before us, " he insisted. "People like Pixinguinha, Ary Barroso and Dorival Caymmi left a rastro, a track of beauty for us to follow. When bossa nova first appeared in Brazil, though, it had so many adversaries, so many puristas full of animosity. Yet the U.S. loved us. We received so many no's in Brazil, and so many yes's [in the States]. With hindsight, I can see that the more the U.S. said yes, the more Brazil said no."

In Jobim's mind, the purists were particularly incensed by a common misunderstanding. "Our affinity for jazz was part of the problem, and it has come to dominate many people's thinking about our music. Instead of going into history as a branch of samba, which it is, bossa nova is viewed by the world as a branch of jazz. "Of course," he added, "anything that swings today is called jazz, the term has become so encompassing. And the only countries that really swing in their music are the U.S., Cuba and Brazil."

Jobim's jazz connections were only emphasized after he recorded The Wonderful World Of Antonio Carlos Jobim and A Certain Mr. Jobim for Warner Bros. in the mid'60s, then created the trilogy Wave, Tide and Stone Flower with Creed Taylor, the producer of Stan Getz's bossa nova hits. These latter albums, released on A&M and Taylor's own CTI label, minimized vocals and featured such musicians as Ron Carter, Joe Farrell, Urbie Green and Hubert Laws. Recorded in the studio of Rudy
Van Gelder, the preeminent jazz engineer, they form a distinct interlude of Jobim's discography.

The album simply titled Jobim, which the composer and his preferred arranger Claus Ogerman recorded for MCA in 1972, and the present Urubu from three years later, are also of a piece. They contain some of Jobim's most complex and uncompromising music, are sung primarily in Portuguese (Jobim does include a second, English language version of the famous "Waters Of March") and have replaced the often frothy instrumentals of his earlier collections with brooding orchestral works of symphonic weight. Perhaps they reflect a desire to confront his homeland, particularly after the experience Jobim and his fellow musicians encountered with the military dictatorship that arose in Brazil in the years after bossa nova's initial popularity

"The government put all of us in jail in 1970 - me, Gilberto Gil, Vinicius De Moraes, Caetano Veloso, Carlos Lyra - the whole gang was detained," he emphasized during our interview. "They were scrutinizing all of our lyrics. 'Who is Maria?' they would demand, as if popular music was a code. Sergio Mendes sent us a telegram in slang when his son was born, and the government took that as proof that we were sending secret messages. I am not a protest writer, although "Favela' [a song about Rio's slums, heard on The Wonderful World] was considered a little subversive."

One can also detect Jobim's growing concern with ecology on the material chosen for Urubu - the album's very title is the name of the turkey vulture that graced the original cover. Sea and sky had long played a central role in Jobim's songs, arid now a passion to preserve this natural world became more directly expressed. Both nature and Brazil are instantly evoked by the berimbau introduction to "Boto," the song of the beached porpoise that, in its musicality, quickly soars to the heights where vultures fly. The texture of this performance is breathtaking-in the shadowing of Jobim's vocal by Miucha, and in the precise spotting of double reeds, flute, Fender Rhodes piano and whistles by Ogerman. Note the quite different evocation of the sky, as the singer looks through an airplane window, on "Angela." Ogerman's strings and Joao Palma's jazz-inflected drums create a more optimistic atmosphere.

A gentler, almost childlike mood pervades " Correnteza," as a harp dispenses the raindrops that coalesce in the current of Jobim's lyric. His narrative here, beginning with indifference and ending in hope, is typical of the emotional range encompassed by so much of his music. The masterpiece of the four vocal tracks, however, is "Ligia," where Jobim supplied both words and music. The melodic line is one of his best, a basic phrase developed through unexpected modulation and tension-building repetition; and the lyrics, with their parade of negatives, their local references and their alternation of humor and foreboding, reveal the complex emotions at the center of Jobim's psyche. Ogerman's arrangement, of course, illuminates.

The instrumental tracks are far from the carefree interludes that appear in Jobim's other Warner Bros. albums. They reveal the composer's more serious side, and are treated with the appropriate respect in Ogerman's orchestrations. ‘Saudade Do Brasil', traces a descending pattern with its melody, which Ogerman gives to the strings after cellos and English horn set the introduction. There is a moment of jubilation from the flute before the theme is repeated (by voices, with brass support the third time around); then the melodic axis is spun, and the performance moves through development to a recapitulation in smaller orchestral units. "Valse" is by Jobim's son Paulo, an architect and a painter as well as a musician. It features an oboe theme that seems to echo the preceding track, as well as a dramatic crescendo for violin and piano. Waltz tempo also figures in "Arquitetura De Morar," a piece constructed in segments featuring discrete combinations of woodwinds and strings. Ogerman's ability to suggest an accordion in his blend of instruments (just before the echoing pattern and the second theme in the strings) is especially noteworthy. "0 Homem' is brief but turbulent, featuring passionate low string melodies and a final heroic summation.

When Jobim died on December 8, 1994, American radio treated the event flippantly by randomly asking people if they could sing the words to "The Girl From Ipanema" - evidence of the misperception of Jobim as merely a writer of catchy, disposable melodies. Whoever produced that radio segment, clearly, had never heard Urubu.

 -Bob Blumenthal, 1995


© -Stan Cronyn, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“It had begun like the World Soft Championships. The songs, mostly by Antonio Carlos Jobim. Tender melodies. Tender like a two-day, lobster-red Rio sunburn, so tender they'd scream agony if handled rough. Slap one his fragile songs on the back with a couple of trumpets? Like washing crystal in a cement mixer.

Seemed like the whole idea was to out-hush each other. Decibels treated like daggers. The arranger tiptoeing about, eliminating some percussion here, ticks there, ridding every song of clicks, bings, bips, all things sharp.  Doing it with fervor matched only by Her Majesty's Silkworms.

And Sinatra makes a joke about all this. "I haven't sung so soft since I had the laryngitis.'

Singing so soft, if he sang any softer he'd have to be lying on his back.

Hours earlier, Sinatra & Co. moved into Studio One. Nobody much around except a couple of Rent-a-Cops. Sinatra there half an hour early, as never before. He begins running down the melody of the new songs. Softly whistling, smoothing away wrinkles.

The booth begins to fill up with gold cuff-links, Revlon red take nails, Countess Mara ties.

Outside, through double-glass windows, musicians with black fiddle cases wander warily in, chatting about the weather in Boston, the governor in Berkeley, anything but pizzicato.

Along the studio walls, the wanderings of miscellaneous Brazilian yachting caps and silver mustaches.

And then, casually, at eight, exactly eight, Sinatra looks over at the conductor and "Well let's try one, huh?"

At first, it does not groove right. This is not ring-a-ding-ding. Sinatra mother-hens the session closely: "Let's have an 'A,' huh?" as he snaps the orchestra.

The "A" passes quickly around the infield: piano to strings to reeds.

They run through the song once. Then ... pause. Long. Long. Like standing there while the Judge opens up the verdict envelope. The arranger-conductor, not made of asbestos, sensitive in his position, there between Jobim and Sinatra, looking over at Sinatra, worrying "Tempo?"

"No, it's a good tempo. It's the only way you can do it. You have to hang with it." Sinatra's assurance: there is only one tempo for this song; any other tempo would be wrong. Have been, are, and forever shall be wrong.

One more exploration of the song, to catch more wrinkles. Sinatra himself, at a rough spot in the bridge, stops cold. Long. Long. Sinatra looks around. Long. Long. He points to himself as the culprit. "That was an old Chesterfield that just came up on me. Around 1947, it felt like."

You feel for anybody who will blow it on the next take. It begins. The long, long. About a minute and a half in, then the trombonist braaacks a note. Braaack. That obvious. He can't look over at some other trombonist; he's the on/y trombonist. So he sits there, a blutch-colored felt hat sagged across the bell of his horn, hung there to keep it Soft. Poor Trombone Player knows: his music said B and it came out F and Jesus was it wrong.

Sinatra looks over. "Don't sweat it," he says.

The trombonist tries a joke back: "If I blow any softer, it'll hafta come out the back of my neck."

Next to Jobim perches Jobim's personal drummer, a Brazilian who can look simultaneously alert and stoned. Flew in to Hollywood specially for this, but not from Rio. From Chicago, figure that out. "Soft, son, hold it down." A bronze-colored sofa pillow slumps back against his bass drum.

This drummer, named Dom-Um Romao, looking like he should be selling weird rugs in Arab doorways. Looking like a tricky one, Martha. Between takes, the way he keeps the tips of his fingers warm under his armpits. His arms crossed that way, the fuzzy goatee, looking like a road company Buddhist.

In contrast, the Conductor, a German. Claus Ogerman, speaking always Germanic phrasing. "Yes the introduction, I will slow down each time the fourth beat." There in his blue cardigan sweater, fully buttoned. So starched even his sweaters have creases.

The buzzing continues, with grey-temple producer Sonny Burke conferring on last-minute scoring changes, standing by with vats of oil lest troubled waters rise. To the side, Jobim's goateed producer, Ray Gilbert, soothing softly in Portuguese.

On the next number, Jobim will sing duet with Sinatra. "Tone" as Sinatra calls him, bends in close to his microphone. His hair undressed, finger combed. His jaw moving with precision, moving to each new vowel, his lips moving like yours do when you write a check for over $1000.

This slight and tousled boy-man, speaking softly while about him rushes a world too fast. Antonio, troubled not by the clamor in the world. Troubled more by the whisperings from his heart.

The song's last note. Keep quiet until the cymbal stops ringing. Dead quiet. Only Sinatra, a born peeker, can't wait. He liked that take. He bends over, peeking into the control booth, unwilling to wait for the endless cymbal overhang to end. Peeking in at the engineers, as if daring them to reveal any Electronic Irreverence’s.

They reveal none.

"That," says Sinatra, "should be the record."

During playback, Sinatra leans on the conductor's vacant podium. The only parts of him you see just popped white cuffs and worry lines in his brow. He's Worry personified, like he's in the last reel of "The Greatest Birth Ever Given."

Around him circle the rest. The circle, too, listens to the playback.

Grown men do not cry. They instead put on faces gauged to be intent. They too listen hard, as if half way through someone whispers buried treasure clues.

It's over. Sinatra walks away. "Next tune," he says.

Around him, the circle. Half -stammering, half-silent, because they can't think up a phrase of praise that's truly the topper.

Except for Jobim.

He walks up to Sinatra. A peculiar walk, like he's got gum on one sole. He puts his arm around Sinatra. He hugs Sinatra. Both men smile. Jobim turns out to look at the circle around them. His face alight, proud of his singer. His face triumphant. As if to say, and all along, you thought he was Italian.”



© -Norman Gimbel, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

 “Home for Antonio Carlos Jobim is Rio - the Rio of blue waters and bluer skies, of black coffee and green growing things, of Sugarloaf Mountain and lpanema, of his wife and children. To Jobim, Rio is a place of peace and pleasurable leisure, a place without pressures. Understandably, it is not easy for him to leave it, and when he does so, it is always with a purpose. He once told me that he leaves home only to see that his songs are properly recorded. "The first recording of a song," he said, "is the seed from which the song will grow. I come here to plant seeds."

The seeds in this package are ten sensitive jazz inventions by the composer-pianist-guitarist who made the world aware of the lilting, languorous rhythms of Brazil with such songs as The Girl from lpanema, One Note Samba, and Desafinado. These songs are representative of the Bossa Nova, a music which has influenced countless musicians, composers and listeners; this man has written songs which could conceivably replace coffee as Brazil's leading export. The Girl from lpanema, One Note Samba, and Desafinado -  a hard act to follow, but Jobim has done it. Under the sympathetic, empathetic direction of Claus Ogerman, his frequent arranger-and-conductor, he now delivers a collection of new jazz sounds and songs that will be heard to long time. The numbers are all in the best Jobim, faultlessly performed by a top-flight cast, with results uniformly excellent and exciting.

Jobim has planted the seeds and flown back down to Rio. What remains for us is the reaping of the harvest.”

© -George Frazier IV, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“Jobim's music is basically an offshoot of traditional Brazilian forms and its introduction to this country has produced popular hits as well as some imposingly successful jazz albums. On this LP, Jobim plays piano or guitar on all numbers except Antigua, on which he plays harpsichord for the first time on records. His one vocal- Lamento -is in Portuguese and is characterized by a unique and plaintive lyrical quality. Incidentally, Jobim wrote Lamento with Vinicius de Morass, who is considered, with Jobim, the co-founder of Bossa Nova.

The inspiration for these songs comes from everyday life (The Red Blouse, Dialogo, for example) and, with one exception, the songs are all Brazil-oriented. The exception is Mojave, a number spawned when Jobim had his first view of our Mojave Desert.

Claus Ogerman is a personal and professional friend of Jobim's. Among the musicians Ogerman leads are Domum Romao and Claudio Slon, two of Brazil's best young drummers, Ron Carter, Miles Davis's bassist; and Bobby Rosengarden whose percussion displays on the Tonight Show have brought him considerable renown. The two trombonists are Jimmy Cleveland and Urbie Green; Green's solos are heard on almost every track. The orchestration is diverse and imaginative. Dialogo, for example, is a duet between Green's trombone and Romeo Perique's bass flute. And one must single out again the percussionists for their aptitude and experience. Claudio Sion, the driving force in this album, has worked with Walter Wanderley, who recorded Summer Samba; Domum Rombo was with Astrud Gilberto; Bobby Rosengarden, though North American, has made the percussion aspect of Brazilian music a personal hobby and has become one of this country's leading authorities on it.

I find Jobim's treatment of his material inventive and almost incredibly versatile. Robert Benchley once said of Larry Hart's lyrics that there were unmistakable signs that Hart had given the matter some thought. Jobim has given what you hear here an awful lot of thought.”

TERRA BRASILIS [Warner Bros. 2-3409] Antonio Carlos Jobim

© -Bob Blumenthal, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“There is an air of completeness to Terra Brasilis, a sense of summation that makes it perhaps the single most effective album survey of Antonio Carlos Jobim's music. The cover painting on the original release provided an aerial view of Brazil; and the program, which includes many of Jobim's great compositions, offers an overview as well. This recap hardly signaled the end of his career-he would perform for 15 more years, often in an ensemble rich in family connections-and was hardly the last Jobim retrospective in which he would participate. Later surveys of his music, however, tended to occur in all-star concert settings where Jobim's primary responsibility was to serve as gracious host. Here he returns to the inspiring company of his preferred arranger, Claus Ogerman, and takes full responsibility for the repertoire.

Given the magnitude of his output, no ordinary album could be comprehensive. Listeners must refer to his earlier Warner Bros. recordings for such essential pieces as "Agua De Beber," "Useless Landscape," "A Felicidade," "Photograph," "Zingaro," "Boto," "Ligia" and others. Even then, we would still be missing "Chega De Saudade," "How Insensitive," "Meditations," "Once I Loved" and "Waters Of March." What we do get speaks volumes to Jobim's achievement, as both a composer and (more and more as time progressed) a lyricist.

The mix of Portuguese and English on this album is only fitting, for Jobim was a significant musical force in both his home country and the United States. In Brazil, he enjoyed collaborations with several talented lyricists, including Vinicius De Moraes (the most profound of his partners) and Newton Mendonca. (the most clever, to judge from such efforts as "Desafinado" and "One Note Samba"). Yet Jobim also wrote his own Portuguese lyrics, including "Dreamer" and "Triste" early on and such later efforts as "Ligia" and "Falando De Amor." The verbal content of these songs, like their melodic complements, is sophisticated and frequently profound, setting Jobim's music apart from the more ephemeral efforts that tend to define popular music.

Much of the beauty in the originals was threatened with loss in translation, particularly in the early days when American publishers slapped what Jobim described as "banana-and-coffee lyrics" onto his music. Gene Lees, the most successful of Jobim's English-language collaborators, has described in a three-part tribute published in the March, April and May issues of his Jazzletter, the challenges of translating such Jobim masterpieces as "Desafinado" and "Corcovado." Lees readily admits that differences in idiom and rhyme scheme present significant challenges. "I took your picture with my trusty Rolleiflex/But all that I developed is a complex" is superior work on his part; but the idea behind the original (which says "All that developed was your ingratitude") is even better.

Over time, Jobim would translate many of his own works, gaining in the process a keener appreciation of English than most native speakers. "I enjoy writing in English," he told me during a 1987 interview, "because it has already incorporated so many other sources. It is a very well-stolen language." Yet he did not rely on such borrowings, saying of his intricate "Waters Of March" that "I avoided all English words derived from Latin when I translated that. It is eminently an Anglo-Saxon lyric, lots of one syllable words."

Given the monolingual bent of American culture, which even today has barely been dented, Jobim's art could not have taken hold in the United States without English. Astrud Gilberto popularized many of his songs with English versions, not to mention Frank Sinatra, who recorded seven of the titles on this collection. So we owe thanks to Lees, who captured much of the original poetry in "Desafinado," "Quiet Nights Of Quiet Stars" ("Corcovado"), "Dreamer," "This Happy Madness" and "Someone To Light Up My Life" (heard here in an instrumental version). On his own, Jobim might indulge in the jocular ribaldry of "Two Kites" or the deeper eloquence of "Triste," both of which are equally effective in their way.

Jobim the composer presented fewer problems, although he could stymie even the greatest singers. Sinatra recorded but did not release "Desafinado," intimidated perhaps by the sophistication of its harmonic scheme; and Sinatra should have taken a pass on "Wave" - Jobim does, presenting it here as an instrumental - since the melody traverses an expanse that only Sarah Vaughan and precious few others could successfully navigate. As a rule, though, Jobim worked with simple materials, employing subtle modulations to create profound effects. I once heard Clare Fischer, in a lecture to conservatory students on how to make tired musical effects interesting, cite Jobim's "Meditations" as a primary example. ("He dressed up the familiar interval of a sixth," Fischer explained, "with a major seventh below and a third in between.") Musicians could identify numerous other examples, yet such extensive analysis might detract from the deep feeling that Jobim evokes so consistently, and that is impossible to teach. Just listen to the instrumental "Marina," where the introduction, poised for happiness, is followed by a piano theme of glowing melancholy. Jobim can break our hearts with three notes, as he does in "Marina," then mend them with the high intelligence of his forms and the faultlessness of his craft.

He was lucky to have found such a responsive partner in Claus Ogerman, whose work with Jobim was never overblown or less than eloquent. So many of Ogerman's ideas here enhance the material. His use of a female chorus on "Canta Mais" creates yet another environment for the music, deepening the harmonies and extending the prayer-like atmosphere. The flute lines on "Olha Maria" are conversational, responding to the piano's theme with new and more complex thoughts. His arrangement on "Dindi" is both steadier and more expansive than the one Nelson Riddle provided for The Wonderful World Of Antonio Carlos Jobim 14 years earlier, just as the composer's vocal reveals a more confident command of English. Brief orchestra] asides extend the off-key joke that is "Desafinado" and chuckle at the extended come-on of "Two Kites." Most important, all of these touches blend into unified interpretations, as if the ensemble was the wave on which this buoyant music rides.

The program also gives Jobim the opportunity to display his performing skills. His preference for underplaying as a pianist led many to dismiss his instrumental work, which could be quite compelling. The solo piano track here, "Estrada Do Sol," shows us both his vulnerability and his strength, and works some subtle jazz harmonies into the turnaround, while his half-chorus of piano on "Triste" finds him swinging in a typically subtle manner. His scat lines are more expansive on "One Note Samba" and "The Girl From lpanema" two of the better performances of these familiar tunes. Both are sung in Portuguese, and both hold the lyrics in reserve. The unison flute/scat line on "One Note Samba" was introduced when Jobim recorded the tune with Herbie Mann and became a fixture in later performances (it is also heard on Sinatra's 1969 version); while "Ipanema," with its bracing orchestration and key change, is a particularly generous take of a war-horse that Jobim often tweaked in later performances by interpolating "Take The 'A' Train."

Jobim's reading of lyrics is moving even if we don't understand the language. Try "Modinha," or the overlooked gem "Voce Vai Ver" (where he is joined by his daughter Ana). He could be less than serious, as his lyrics to "Two Kites" demonstrate. (Note also, in this regard, the way he and Ogerman have recast this instrumental version of "Someone To Light Up My Life" as a hustle.) At the same time, flirtatious humor never stopped Jobim from bearing down and communicating directly. He pulls it off here with "This Happy Madness," which he used to punctuate the album. His vocal, accompanied only by his piano, would be hard to follow; and the affirmative message, the celebration of love (even if mad), casts a positive ray of light at the end of a program that also contains its share of saudade.

The compact disc was made for a collection like Terra Brasilis, which in its original release had to be programmed over four sides of vinyl. Now we can immerse ourselves in this exceptional Jobim collection from beginning to end, without interruption. I urge you to do just that, and suggest that you not do it alone.”

Bob Blumenthal, 1995

The Wonderful World of Antonio Carlos Jobim [Warner Bros. 9362-46315-2]

© -Stan Cronyn, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“Antonio Carlos Jobim. A Slight, unvarnished young man, look deceptively young for so much fame, so much talent. The author of many works, all uniquely his, including “One Note Samba” and “The Girl from Ipanema.”

And with this album he introduces a dozen more uniquities.

He sits at his microphone, his hair undressed, finger-combed. His right leg crossed over his left to support his guitar. His lyrics, translated into English by Academy Award writer Ray Gilbert, are new, unfamiliar sounds for him to interpret. His voice, audible in the studio only to the microphone. He pronounces carefully, moving his jaw precisely for each vowel.

“Nelson, could it be a little bit slower? I have a lot of words to say.”

Beside him, the arranger conducts his orchestra. Riddle, looking dour, an exacting artist, imperceptibly relaxes the beat. With a patience born of years of elite and taxing assignments, Riddle controls the sprawling rows of musicians before him. The room has quiet about it, the quiet that settles only when a great and respected fellow musician concentrates on his art.

“Nelson, that is beautiful, that is beautiful. Could I speak something to the clarinets?”

Jobim meets the reed section. He quietly lines out a rhythmic pattern, nudging one sixteenth-note to greater prominence. The clarinets bend across their music stands closer to Jobim, as if he were whispering the combination of his vault.

He moves back to the microphones, to his cigarette. He inhales, and his cheeks pull in hollow. His face a question mark as he unhurriedly re-reads his score. He examines each measure as if it were the final stroke on the Mona Lisa. Unhurried, while the less musical world sits by at $15 a minute and waits, while Jobim studies his score. Jobim, like a meticulous customs guard who isn’t about to be hurried in his item-by-item checking.

He is ready again.

He begins to play his guitar.

His brown hair tumbles over, weed his forehead.  He slows the beat, delighting in his suspenseful rhythms. The same kicks as mortals get from a double-quick Sousa march.

He sings. His eyes peer out over his music stand, seeing the beaches of Brazil, the soft girls, the pale winds. His eyes, as if unaccustomed to the bright studio day, blink frequently.

The first chorus is complete. Jobim smiles slightly at the corners of his mouth as he presses the fingering of his newborn into the frets.”

Stan Cornyn

With the help of the champion graphics team at CerraJazz LTD, we put together the following video tribute to “Tom.”

In an effort to avoid the hassle of copyright issues – to say that the music of Antonio Carlos Jobim is heavily “copyright protected” would be an gross understatement – the editorial staff at JazzProfiles thought it might be appropriate to feature music played in a style close to Tom’s heart – the bossa nova.

So it turned to pianist Benny Green performing fellow pianist’s Clare Fisher’s bossa nova Pensativa as the audio track for the video on which he is joined by Christian McBride on bass and Victor Lewis on drums.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Jeri Southern

© -  Steven A. Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

The contributions that Orrin Keepnews and Gene Lees have made to Jazz over the past fifty years are immense and go well beyond anything that can be described in this brief introduction.  Orrin’s work in recording and reissuing the music and Gene’s in writing about it have made the world of Jazz a far richer place because they devoted so much of their talent and creative genius to it.

Teaming up to develop and describe this retrospective of Jeri Southern’s early recordings at Decca is certainly an indication of the respect and admiration that Orrin and Gene have for this member of the Jazz family, a female vocalist who was not accorded enough of either in her lifetime.

When the likes of Orrin Keepnews and Gene Lees have so much praise to offer about the song stylings of Jeri Southern, the least I can do is to listen to them and to recommend that you do so as well.

© -  Copyright protected; all rights reserved.

The Very Thought of You: The Decca Years, 1951-1957 [Decca GRP – 671]

“Here is a good clear look at one of the very best singers to emerge from the Pop/Jazz/Show-tune musical world that flourished in the mid-century years. By now this era can seem incredibly long ago and far away, but at its strongest it still retains all of its power to charm us and move us - and to demonstrate that, in the best of hands, this area of popular music is a true art form.

It has been my pleasure to work on this project with Kathryn King - a long-time friend with a solid track record of her own as a record producer, who has the considerable added incentive of being the daughter of the artist who is heard here in retrospect. Jeri Southern began her significant recording career with the half-dozen years at Decca from which this CD is drawn, As we picked our way through an extensive body of music, finding that our individual lists of preferred songs were looking remarkably similar, it did seem best to follow chronology in a general way, but without being excessive about it. As a result, tempo and instrumentation and the emotional content of these songs have led to a program that seems to pretty much set is own pace.

I knew Jeri Southern hardly at all; I only met her after she had ended her singing career. But I first heard her a long time ago, and have been fascinated over the years by what I consider to be a striking example of one of the major show-business paradoxes. This woman, a warm-voiced, sensitive, intelligent interpreter of the wonderful repertoire that a lot of us insist on capitalizing as The Great American Song Book, had all the qualities that I associate with two closely allied, important and consistently undervalued fields: being a jazz singer and being what for want of a better name is often called a cabaret singer. In Jeri's case this included the helpful fact that she was an excellent musician [among some attributes that in my view she shares with Carmen McRae is that she may well have been her own best accompanist]. But like so many of the best qualified female singers of the pre-rock days of the Fifties and early Sixties, she was typecast into a ‘pop vocalist’ category and as a result suffered through deliberate (although presumably quite well-intentioned) efforts to make her sound like everyone else and concentrate on the kind of lower-level Tin Pan Alley music that only a song-plugger or a music publisher could love.

The only two women I can think of who entirely fought their way through that mess and emerged as universally acknowledged major artists were obviously very strong, very tough, and supported by even tougher friends and associates. Ella Fitzgerald, who of course had Norman Granz as her all-American blocking back; and the totally indomitable Peggy Lee [who was a good friend of Jeri’s and, I’m inclined to suspect, would have been her role model if Ms. Southern had by nature been a more hard-shelled personality]. But that was not the way it worked out for Jeri; it should realty not be surprising to learn that her relatively early retreat from the show biz battlefront was basically the result of her being - to apply a phrase usually used to describe a jazz musician whose work goes sailing way over the heads of his audience – “too hip for the room.”

Way back when I first heard this voice, I was in Chicago visiting a World War II army buddy - it couldn’t have been past the very beginning of the Fifties, maybe earlier. He and his wife insisted on my listening to the laidback late night disc jockey who was The Man of the moment, Dave Garroway, soon to become one of the very first of the star night time (and subsequently early morning) casual television hosts. But all that lay ahead. What Garroway was doing at that particular time was shouting the praises of a great young locally-based singer by the name of Jeri Southern.

I became a fan at first hearing, then admittedly cooled off as her career seemed to be going in directions that I didn’t care for – you’ll note that we have not included one of her most popular recordings, a folksong tear-jerker called "Scarlet Ribbons.” Consequently, it took me much too long to become aware of some important factors. One was that her voice remained a great instrument, and another that she was singing a very high percentage of the right kind of songs -  merely note in passing that the writers represented here include Rodgers and Hart [four times], Cafe Porter [twice], Jerome Kerr [two more] and Kurt Weill.

It also seems apparent that she was doing battle energetically and in two ways against the kind of arrangements that were all too often in deadly vogue in those days. For one, in a period when a singer’s worth seemed to be measured by the size of the accompanying orchestra, she nevertheless succeeded fairly often in working on records in much the same setting as she would appear in clubs: backed only by a rhythm section, which on five of these numbers is led by guitarist/arranger Dave Barbour [long and closely a collaborator with Peggy Lee). It’s a formula that at times even allows her to be the piano player -  check out the Southern solos on Ray Noble's I HADN'T ANYONE ‘TILL YOU and her own I DON T KNOW WHERE TO TURN. And secondly, even when the writing behind her was lush and potentially overbearing, someone -- perhaps the artist herself, or a properly- motivated manager or other colleague  - often was able to keep the background writing under control. Or, when necessary, she seems to have been able simply to overcome it. I refer to my own listening notes on possibly my personal favorite in this collection, the magnificent Kurt Weill/Ira Gershwin MY SHIP. It was a specific and private comment, not intended for publication, but it now strikes me as quiet generally applicable to this compilation, and indeed as a summation of the artistry of Jeri Southern. “The strings are a matter of taste  I wrote, "but it is such a great performance of a great song.”

-         0rrin Keepnews

Remembering Jeri – Gene Lees

"Once upon a time, America was blessed with any number of small nightclubs that featured excellent singers singing excellent songs, and even the' big record companies were interested in recording them. Some of the best of them played piano, ranging from the competent to the excellent, Most of them were women, and there was a glamour about them, superb singers such as Betty Bennett, Irene Kral, Ethel Ennis, Marge Dodson, Lurlean Hunter, Audrey Morris, Shirley Horn, and even regional singers, such as Kiz Harp of Dallas. Many of them are forgotten now; Shirley Horn alone has enjoyed a resurgence.

They were sometimes called jazz singers, although they were no such thing, or torch singers a term I found demeaning, not to mention horrendously inaccurate. Male singers were with equal condescension from an ignorant lay press called crooners.

The songs they sang were drawn from that superb classic repertoire that grew up in the United States between roughly 1920 and the 1950s, and had any of us been equipped with foresight, we’d have known that the era was ending, doomed by “How Much is that Doggie in the Window?” and “Papa Loves Mambo” and “Music Music Music “even before the rise of Bill Haley and His Comets, Elvis Presley, arid the Rolling Stones.

Of all these singers, one of the greatest was Jeri Southern, born Genevieve Lillian Hering near Royal, Nebraska on August 5, 1926, the baby in a family of two boys and three girls. Her grandfather had come from Germany in 1868, and in 1879 built a water-powered mill on Verdigris Creek. His sons and grandsons, including Jeri’s father, worked there. I am indebted to Jeri’s sister, Helen Meuwissen), for this information about Jeri’s early life.

“She could play the piano by ear when she was three, Helen said. She started studying at six. I don t think she ever quit taking lessons. (I car confirm this Jeri was doing some formal study of piano to the end of her life.) She went to Notre Dame Academy in Omaha, and always credited the nuns there for her background. She took voice lessons in Omaha with Harry Cooper. It was her desire to be a classical singer.”

Jeri also studied classical piano in Omaha with a much beloved teacher, Karl Tunberg. But her ambitions in the classical world evaporated one evening when she walked into a nightclub and heard a pianist playing jazz. She loved this music, and the experience changed her life. After high school graduation, she moved to Chicago.

She started playing standards in clubs, and got more experience as a pianist in local Chicago big bands. Eventually, as her reputation grew, she was advised that she could make more money if she would sing, a standard casting for women pianists in those days: women were not supposed to be instrumentalists, they were supposed to sing, or, just maybe, play the harp. So she did start to sing, and accompanied herself at the piano. She abandoned her trained operatic voice and began singing in her speaking voice, which had a smoky sound, with a very soft enunciation and a haunting intimacy. And her career took off.

Her greatest popularity was in the 1950s. The first of her records I heard was YOU BETTER GO NOW, the oldest track on this CD. I was blown away by it: the simplicity, the exquisite lack of affectation or mannerism. She recorded it for Decca in late 1951, just after she turned 25. She then turned out a series of superb performances for Decca, through to the Rodgers and Hart gems she recorded November 26, 1957: YOU'RE NEARER and NOBODY’S HEART. I met Jeri probably two years later, in 1959. She eventually left Decca and went on to record for other labels.

Unlike many performers, her stage career represented a great struggle for Jeri. First, she was extremely shy. I remember her telling me during our Chicago friendship that the first time she arrived at a nightclub and saw her name on the marquee, it terrified her. She deeply felt the responsibility of drawing and pleasing an audience – she was intimidated by the look of expectation in their eyes.

There are performers who passionately crave the audience. They will climb over footlights, climb over the tables, do anything to claim the audience’s attention and, I suppose, love – or the illusion of love. Jeri wasn’t like that. She simply loved the music. The music was everything, She was almost too much a musician, and certainty a perfectionist. Her philosophy of performing was the diametrical opposite of Carmen McRae's, who not only wouldn't do a song the same way twice, but probably couldn’t remember how she did it the last time. Jeri worked on interpretation until she got it ‘right,' which is to say the way she wanted it. She would then stick with her chosen interpretation. She was also disinterested in scat singing. I have noticed an interesting thing about those with the harmonic and instrumental skills to scat-sing - they often don’t and won’t do it. Nat Cole was a classic example of this fidelity to the original melody; so was Jeri.

As her reputation grew, her handlers – the managers, agents, publicists, record company executives - set out to make her into a pop star. Certainty with her Germanic beauty, she had the basic material for it. They dressed her in fancy gowns.  They took her away from her beloved piano and stood her in front of a microphone with some else to play for her. Nothing could have been more diabolically designed to send her fleeing from the spotlight.  And so, like Jo Stafford [and for the record, Greta Garbo, Doris Day, and others], she simply quit. She walked away from the business and the discomfort it brought her.

But the musicianship was always there, and she took to teaching. She wrote a textbook, Interpreting Popular Music at the Keyboard.   She enjoyed composing, and over the years wrote pop songs with various partners [one of which, I Don’t Know Where to Turn is included here], and even ventured into other genres like orchestrating film scores and writing classical songs.

I used to drop by to visit her every once in a white at her apartment in Hollywood. Illustrating some point in a discussion of this song or that, she would go to the piano and play and sing for me. She simply got better throughout her life, and during these occasional private performances, I could only shake my head and think what the world was missing. Her piano playing in those last years was remarkable. It had grown richer harmonically, and the tone had evolved into a dark golden sound.

She was working on a book of piano arrangements of songs by her friend Peggy Lee, also a friend of mine. One sunny afternoon a few years age, I telephoned Peggy. How re you doing? I began.

‘I’m very sad,’ she said. ‘Jeri Southern died this morning.’

As I learned later, she succumbed to double pneumonia. The date was August 4, 1991. The next day, August 5, she would have turned sixty-five.

Once she told me that during those Chicago years, she considered me her closest friend in the world. It is an honor I will not forget. I truly loved Jeri, not only the singer but the person inside who through music so diffidently allowed us glimpses into her all-too-sensitive soul.”

-         Gene Lees

Jeri Southern at Home

"Jeri Southern was essentially an intensely private person whose talent for music thrust her into a public career. Since Gene Lees and Orrin Keepnews have done such a fine job of describing my mother's public life, I thought it would be of interest to her still devoted audience to learn something of her private life. as I knew it.

My mothers life was unusual in a number of respects, not the least of which was the fact that a great deal happened to her at a very early age. She started performing as a pianist while still in her teens, moved from Nebraska to Chicago, developed a following there, married, signed a record deal, had a baby, and had her first great commercial success as a recording artist, all by the time she was 25. At 36 she retired from her public career. For the next 30 years her time was as much taken up with music as it had been before, but as a teacher, a writer and a composer - she never went back to performing.

Shortly after recording YOU BETTER GO NOW, my mother moved from Chicago to Los Angeles, where she lived for the rest of her life. Taking the title of one of the songs she recorded perhaps a little too closely to heart ( Married I Can Always Get"), she married four times; three of her husbands were musicians, one a radio der5onatity. My earliest memories are from the house we had in Malibu, a wonderful place right on the water, where she and I would take daily "walks' with our hyperactive Irish Setter. The intellectual pursuits, the preoccupation, the pleasures my mother enjoyed at the Malibu house were the ones she carried with her throughout her Life – she loved reading, exploring the whole dimension of the mind, summoning the restorative powers of the sun, and most of all, playing the piano. 

She always practiced classical pieces, although she never performed them. Some of her favorite things to play were Beethoven sonatas, Grieg’s Holberg SuiteDebussy’s Images, and in later years the Brahms Intermezzi.  She would also compose and improvise at the piano. Because she suffered from what could only be described as a crippling case of performance anxiety, she hated to be observed while she played, and only really enjoyed herself when she thought that no one was listening. So it was that I got in the habit of sneaking

She had the most exquisite command of  harmony, so that when she played a tune, she would basically use it as a launching pad for an extended improvisation which often went very far afield harmonically.  Sometimes, as I sat surreptitiously listening  to these explorations of  hers, I would be certain she could never figure out how to get back to  the original key of the  piece, but she always did, and in the most spectacular way, with subtle and elegant voice leading and chord progressions that were simply stunning. For a period of years she also studied guitar with a fuzzy-voiced Italian whose greatest contribution to our lives, notwithstanding the guitar lessons was probably the killer spaghetti sauce recipe she induced him, after much cajoling, to surrender.

When she was at home she spent a lot of time reading. She was fascinated by the work of Carl Jung, whose ideas became an essential part of her world view. She was also very taken with Gurdjieff, and even got interested in numerology toward the end of her life. She found it exciting to contemplate both the innumerable possibilities of inner space, so to speak, and the complexities of the physical world.

Another pursuit of her life at home was listening to the work of other singers. Her perfectionism made her a tough audience, but there were a few to whom she would return again and again. As one can immediately discern from listening to her recordings, she felt that the most important criterion for a great singer was a reverence for and communication of the lyric. She was not swayed by technical brilliance; the only singer with astonishing vocal technique whose work she enjoyed was Mel Torme, and that was because he delivers a lyric so well. She also loved Frank Sinatra, Nat Cole, Tony Bennett, Peggy Lee, Lucy Reed, Jackie and Roy, and the Hi-Los.

Music was really the playing field for her entire life. And with a few important exceptions, all of her most important relationships were with musicians, with whom she could share her opinions, her discoveries, her delights. Though she lived in Hollywood most of her adult life, she was not involved in that world. To say that she was reticent socially would be a mammoth understatement.

She hated parties and social gatherings, and had the same small circle of friends the day she died that she’d had for decades before. But for those of us who were privileged to be close to her, she had that rarest of gifts - acceptance. She was a loving, supportive, non-judgmental friend and mother. She loved her family and, in an important part of her mind and heart, she never really left Nebraska.

I still miss her so much, but it fulfills the dream of a Lifetime to be able to put this package together, to remind the world of what a wonderful singer she was."

- Kathryn King