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Liner Notes from "
Walter Wanderley Samba Swing!" CD

(reprinted here in their entirety with permission)

by Irwin Chusid

 

"Walter Wanderley's fiendishly bouncy Jetsons space-party sound brings to mind visions of poolside conspiratorial conferences of Swiss bankers in girlwatcher shades and émigré Nazis clutching piña coladas while disposing of ill-gotten gold bullion amidst tanga-clad chocolate babes."

--Stewart Swezey, Exotica: Ports of Pleasure and Dancing in the Isles

 

"I find that most Brazilian men are rather, well--aggressive, but not 'aggressively' so," observed veteran percussionist Bobby Rosengarden. "They're not, like, 'Get the hell out of the way.' There's a gentleness to them. And the music is gentle."

Walter Wanderley was a gentleman, and one of Brazil's tastiest musical exports. The organist-pianist-composer-arranger-bandleader was one of the foremost avatars of Brazil's "New Swing," which swept the Bossa Nova and Samba onto American dance floors in the mid-1960s.

The native Brazilian became a resident of the US in 1966 and lived in San Francisco until his death of cancer on September 4, 1986, at age 55. Keyboard magazine, in a January 1987 eulogy, paid tribute to Wanderley as "a bossa nova master sometimes referred to as the Brazilian Jimmy Smith." Samba Swing! represents the first album-length reissue of his work on compact disc.

Wanderley was exceedingly popular in Brazil by the time American audiences "discovered" the keyboardist in 1966. "Summer Samba (So Nice)," with its perky Hammond B-3, established Wanderley's recognizable sound in the US; it spent a month in Billboard's Top 40 during Autumn of that year (peaking at #26). Rain Forest, the album which spawned the single, reached #22 in November, lingering on the charts for 41 weeks. It quietly went platinum in 1970.

"Summer Samba" almost immediately earned recurrent rotation on Easy Listening radio stations and mood-music networks. Like Percy Faith's "Theme For A Summer Place," Wanderley's recording is a sonic oasis that instantly evokes relaxation at a sunny hideaway. His tunes also evoke gaiety and lounge-lizardry, South American-style. What Joseph Lanza, in his gimlet-eyed spin on spirits, The Cocktail (St. Martin's Press), wrote about cocktail music in general, could easily apply to Wanderley's jet-set serenades: Like the pit-pit-patter of imitation rain, [Wanderley's] Bacardi bossa novas and sloe gin sonatas should complement the staccato of cash registers, clinking glasses, sputtering bar faucets, whirring blenders, and the cocktail shaker's transcendent cadences--all supported by an air-conditioner backwash.

Oddly enough, the band nearly sabotaged their shot at US stardom. Claudio Slon, who played drums for Wanderley in Brazil and came to the States with him in 1965, recalled (in a telephone interview from his Scottsdale, AZ, home): "When we finished the Rain Forest album with [producer] Creed Taylor, we sat down and heard the whole thing, and each of us liked a different song. Creed said that the first single would be 'Summer Samba.' We really disagreed. We said, 'This is not our best song--it's just lame, it's the same melody over and over again.' And Creed said, 'Listen, I think I understand this market a little more than you guys.' So we said, 'Do whatever you want, but we know our music.' We later talked among ourselves, and said, 'Man, this gringo guy, he may be good at producing jazz records, but he doesn't understand our music.'

"So the single came out, and from the first day, it was played non-stop all over the place. We arrived in Los Angeles a week after the recording. They'd released the single quickly, and as we turned the dial of the car radio, every other station was playing our song. We respected Creed more after that. We figured, maybe they do know and we don't."

 

* * *

 

Brazil is South America's largest country, covering nearly half the continent. You want coffee? Got plenty. Ditto sugar cane, oranges, cocoa, soybeans, and more poverty than you can shake a stick at. Actually, in Brazil, the only time they shake sticks at poor people is when they're dancing, especially during the pre-Lenten Carnival festivities in Rio de Janeiro.

Brazilian dance music is a mixture of neo-African strains preserved by slaves, fused with the light European classical music of colonial aristocrats. The Samba evolved from this milieu, pre-dated by the Congo-Angolan-derived lundu, the modinha (a folk song form evolved from Italian arias), and the maxixe (Brazilian versions of the polka, tango and habanera). According to Peter Manuel's Popular Music of the Non-Western World (Oxford University Press): "The samba comprises a choral melody with instrumental accompaniment. The vocal part generally consists of verses sung by a solo [voice], alternating with refrains rendered, generally in unison, by a chorus... The texts occasionally deal with contemporary topical or socio-political events; more often, they concern unrequited love, Carnival, or the samba itself."

The film Black Orpheus (Orfeo Negro), with its Epic Records soundtrack by guitarist Luis Bonfa and Antonio Carlos Jobim, brought commercial Brazilian music to a fairly widespread US audience in 1959. Especially popular was the melody "Manha de Carnival," which--with English lyrics--gained popularity as "A Day In The Life Of A Fool."

"The soundtrack to Black Orpheus was my tutoring device," revealed Bobby Rosengarden, who played and recorded with Wanderley. "I learned all the Brazilian shit from that. When I saw that movie, it changed my life." However, it was Stan Getz and Astrud Gilberto's 1964 recording of "The Girl From Ipanema" that truly infused the mainstream with samba and bossa nova beats. Paradoxically, it became a nuisance to one of its progenitors. "Getz really learned to hate that thing," Rosengarden recalled. "Stan was a wonderful player. He liked the money, but he cursed the fact that he had to play the same tune all the time."

Brazilian music further seasoned the US cultural stew over the next few years. The Black Orpheus soundtrack was reissued in 1964 on Fontana Records. Sergio Mendes and Brazil '66 arrived on these shores two years later with their eponymous debut album, which included the then-impossible-to-avoid "Mas Que Nada." In 1966, Francis Lai scored the soundtrack to the French film, A Man and a Woman, with its lilting, seductive title track, music by Baden Powell, and vocalist Pierre Barouh's Jobimesque crooning. The album peaked at #10 on US charts.

 

* * *

 

A distinctive component of Brazilian music is playful percussion. Rosengarden, a perennial Wanderley sideman, referred to his percussive arsenal as "toys."

"On some of Walter's recordings, I did play drums," said Rosengarden in a telephone interview from his winter home in Florida. "But mostly I played 'toys': the bandero, the cuica, and the Agogos--which are two little tuned cowbells. "The cuica," he explained, "sounds like somebody being goosed--a little 'whoop' sound. It's a drum with a tunable head; you can tighten it. There's a wooden stick in the middle of the top of the head, and a little nipple. The stick is tied to that head. You hold the drum under your arm and, with a damp cloth in your hand, pull quickly on the stick. It looks very indecent, but it creates a rhythmic sound that's very musical. It's very prominent on Brazilian records.

"The bandero is a Brazilian tambourine, another of the toys. And of course, there's the police whistle, which is used during Carnival." Rosengarden and his wife visited Brazil several times and, in his words, "fell in love with the music." This is how he originally got the American gig with Wanderley. "The record company called me," he explained, "because in those days I was the only gringo that could play Brazilian music."

 

* * *

 

Walter Jose Wanderley Mendoza was born in Recife, Brazil, on May 12, 1932, but moved to São Paulo at age 15. He reportedly learned to play organ from his aunt, and also studied harmony at the prestigious Lyceu de Artes. He recorded over 15 albums in Brazil, having started performing and recording professionally at a young age--around 18. He gained notoriety by working with the top names in Brazilian modern music, including João Gilberto, for whom he did arrangements, and Antonio Carlos Jobim, whose tunes he recorded. He racked up a string of hits throughout Latin America and France, including "Desafinado," "Song of the Jet," and the original instrumental version of "The Girl From Ipanema." Through record sales and his numerous TV appearances, Wanderley became a household name and spawned countless imitators in his homeland. His first US album, Rain Forest (Verve Records), included a hand-scrawled rave from big fan Tony Bennett: "If you like Ella, Duke, Count, and Sinatra...you'll love Walter Wanderley's music." The album was romantic; it was exotic; it was recorded in--New Jersey! The exact location: Englewood Cliffs, at the studios of jazz engineer Rudy Van Gelder (who, over the years, recorded Coltrane, Monk, Miles, Mose, and countless other jazz legends). Accompanying Wanderley were such stalwart sessioneers as guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli, trombonist Urbie Green, and drummers Rosengarden and Dom Um Romao.

Wanderley's Hammond B-3 was filtered through a Leslie speaker cabinet. Claudio Slon remembered, "When we recorded in Brazil, he always used a trumpet in unison. And he would have the trumpet recorded with the bell next to the Leslie, so the sound would mix in a way that he liked." Slon also noted that, "Walter had a very different way of using the volume pedal, pushing up the pedal in a combination of ways that was unique. It would give a real swing when he played."

The second Verve album, A Certain Smile A Certain Sadness, brought Wanderley together with Astrud Gilberto. As the above-cited Swezey noted, "Wanderley's polyester/tropical sound found its bittersweet poetic peak in combination with angelic singer Astrud Gilberto." Wanderley apparently recognized the value of a having dazzling singer on the bandstand. Besides recording with Gilberto, when he played New York in 1967 the group was fronted by songstress Talya Ferro, whom one local reviewer described as "a cafe-au-lait looker with the miniest of miniskirts." The same reviewer typed Ferro as "a singer in the vein of Astrud Gilberto," and another complimented her "excellent showmanship."

Wanderley's third album for Verve was Chegança (pronounced shey-GÄN-za, meaning "The Great Arrival"). It was from the above three albums of US recordings that tracks were chosen for this collection.

"When we did Chegança," recalled Slon, "we took over. We said to Creed, 'We're going to play more aggressive.' And Creed said, 'But it's not you.' We said, 'Yeah, but we make money, we're in down beat, and we were mentioned in Billboard.' And he said, 'Well, I can't tell my artists how to play, so do whatever you want.' It was a good album, but I think it sold about two copies--one to my mother. It wasn't what people wanted to hear from Walter."

Wanderley later recorded albums for Phillips and A&M. In addition, with the success of "Summer Samba," many of his original Brazilian recordings were reissued in the States.

Chuck Briefer, in the liner notes to A Certain Smile..., drew a definitive portrait of Wanderley's music: "deep, rich harmonies, laced with an intricate filigree of syncopated rhythms. But the explosion never comes, and occasionally a tune ends in mid-air...unresolved, still questioning. Cool, sin; innocent, não. ... It's a tease, in a way, and it keeps you coming back for more."

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Irwin Chusid, who broadcasts on WFMU, has produced landmark reissues of the music of Raymond Scott and Esquivel. His book, Songs in the Key of Z: The Curious Universe of Outsider Music, will be published in May 2000 by A Cappella Books.



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