My initial inspiration for collecting records was a way for me to further explore my newest musical passion, Bossa Nova. Bossa is a strange musical genre because it means many things to many people. When I first started out I thought the essence of Bossa was Astrud Gilberto or even Charlie Byrd's "Jazz Samba," but the deeper I dug, the more I realized how much Bossa morphed according to international trends, producing strange and exciting hybrids like Sergio Mendes' Brazil '66/'77/'88 projects. What did happen was that "Bossa Nova" became a style into itself, something that jazz, pop, rock and even soul musicians could use for a song or two and then forget, like "Joe Carioca," pictured above.
"Joe" is the classic emblem of this Brazilian-American fusion, "Jose Carioca" aka "Joe Carioca" from the 1942 Disney movie "Saludos Amigos." Joe is Disney's version of a typical Brazilian. He's a bit crass and more Disney than he is Brazilian, but like the following songs, he's got just enough Brazilian flavor to make him exotic and palatable to American audiences. The following five songs are but a few of my favorite Bossa-tinged tunes by Gringo musicians from the 60s and 70s . . .
Chris Montez - Keep Talkin'
OK, so my first selection is from someone who would no doubt resent being labeled a gringo . . . the L.A. born Chicano singer, Chris Montez. Chris recorded several albums for A&M, home to Sergio Mendes who was regularly introducing Brazilian tunes to the American chart through his best-selling Brazil '66 albums. Chris recorded a very early version of Joao Donato's instrumental "Amazonas" with English lyrics called "Keep Talkin'." It's not confirmed, but it is possible that Joao was responsible for the song's inclusion and may have even been on the recording as he was in L.A. around that time. The song sounds a bit cutesy now, but I am a sucker for just about any Donato version and this one is no exception.
The Supremes - Precious Little Things
This is a nice little soul-bossa tune by post-Diana Supremes. The song was co-written by Smokey Robinson who also produced this album. The album is a delight as are all of the early post-Diana albums and this one has at least four other solid tunes. Once again Smokey's touch is magical as the lyrics and subtle instrumentation create a gentle and touching song set to a slightly tropical beat.
Jon Lucien - Satan
Jon Lucien is also no gringo, having been born in the British Virgin Islands, but he spent nearly all of his recording and performing career in the U.S. This song is off of his album Rashida, his best in my opinion. If I didn't know before hand I would have been absolutely convinced that this song was authentically South American as Jon is a dead wringer for Milton Nascimento style crooning/warbling. The instrumentation also nails the early 70s Brazilian studio vibe. A great song from a lesser known jazz vocalist.
Michael Franks - B'wana He No Home
Michael Franks is a gringo. I was initially embarrassed to like this, but now it's one of my favorite songs, again with no small part to Joao Donato guesting on piano (check out his outro vamp . . . so perfect). This is from Frank's third album and features a couple of tunes recorded down in Brazil with some local help. Evidently the lyrics to the song (listen closely cause they're funny/sleazy/interesting) refer to a time when Dan Hicks (of Dan Hicks and the Hot Licks) was staying at Franks' place while he was away . . .
Dee Dee Bridgewater - Night Moves
Dee Dee is another excellent jazz vocalist that turns this Michael Frank's song from his "Art of Tea" album into a bass-heavy Bossa Nova tune. The band is great on this tune and Dee Dee finds a middle-ground between sexy and sleazy, falling closer to the sexy side whereas the previous tune (above) falls on the sleazy side.
I could keep going for days with these kinds of songs and maybe I'll do another round sometime in the future. Keep in mind that all of these records (excepting the Jon Lucien) can be found in most dollar bins which is a nice reminder that great songs can be found on all kinds of records, expensive or cheap.