Duduka Da Fonseca: The Guy From Ipanema

R.J. DeLuke By

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The 1950s into the early 1960s was a special period in Brazil, the land of beautiful beaches, picturesque mountains and the home of a warm, inviting and sensuous music called samba that was developed during those years. It was also a time when bossa nova, another sumptuous musical style, was spawned. The music invades the senses on many levels and in the early 1960s it invaded the United States, thanks to the likes of Antonio Carlos Jobim, Joao Gilberto and his then-wife Astrud Gilberto, among others.

One young man from Ipanema, in the southern region of Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, was taking it all in. An artist in the making, he was captivated by not only the music, but the spirit of the times. In the early '60s, at age 13, he started teaching himself to play the drums. He played along with jazz records and the samba musicians he saw on television shows. Eventually, he became one of the sweetest and strongest drummers representing that music on the scene. He remains that, to this day. The first-rate musician also cooks like hell on straight-ahead jazz material.

"I was born in a time that was a very good time," says Duduka Da Fonseca, now 61. "Brazil was having a cultural revolution. Bossa nova was created in the '50s. We had a president that most of the people loved. And Brazil for the first time was world champion in soccer. That's a big thing in Brazil. In 1958, Brazil won, in Sweden, a first world championship. It was a fantastic time. It was so romantic, so beautiful, the sense of pride of the people. It's pretty amazing in the '50s and '60s, all over the world ... Art Blakey, Wes Montgomery, John Coltrane and Miles Davis. Pretty amazing, how beautiful."

Da Fonseca says the music of that period "serves to help every musician, and everyone that plays now. All that music that was created a long time ago by Miles, by Coltrane, by Monk-all those great geniuses. Antonio Carlos Jobim and Joao Gilberto. It still helps the musicians these days. It's a platform you can learn from and try to do your own thing, learning from it."

Da Fonseca mastered the drums learning that music. His career in Brazil and the U.S., where he landed in 1975, includes playing with Jobim, Astrud Gilberto, flautist Herbie Mann, trumpeter Claudio Roditi, pianist JoAnne Brackeen, bassist Eddie Gomez, guitarist John Scofield, trumpeter Tom Harrell,saxophonists Joe Lovano and Gerry Mulligan, pianist Dom Salvador, bassist Rufus Reid, pianist Kenny Barron, and many more. The drummer works in many styles of music, but one of his goals is to keep alive and vibrant the jazz samba music and the compositions of the greats from that era, so many of which he has played with and befriended over many years.

To that end, this year saw the release of a new album from his splendid quintet, Samba Jazz-Jazz Samba (Anzic, 2012), that presents the music with beauty and verve. It's the second such effort by the band-Samba Jazz in Black & White (ZOHO Music) was done in 2006- and is equally outstanding. The quintet-in addition to Da Fonseca, including Helio Alves on piano, Anat Cohen on saxophones and clarinet, Guilherme Monteiro on guitar and Leonardo Cioglia on bass-excels at this blissful music.

Duduka Da Fonseca-Samba Jazz"While bossa nova focused on the beautiful melodies, lyrics and a gentle approach, samba jazz was based on jazz improvisation with an open approach. It was, and still is, very common to play classic hits of bossa nova with a samba jazz approach," explains Da Fonseca. "Bossa nova came from samba ... it's just a subtle way to play samba ... a very soft way to play samba. But the rhythm of bossa nova is samba. It's parallel. In the late '50s, when bossa nova was created by Joao Gilberto and Antonio Carlos Jobim, and many other young composers that never got the recognition that they should have; parallel to that, all those musicians-the rhythm section and the horn players that were playing on the bossa nova great albums-they were playing also what we call samba jazz. It was created the same time that bossa nova was created."

"Those musicians that were part of the great bossa nova albums, they loved to listen to [pianists] Horace Silver and Thelonious Monk, and to Art Blakey and the The Jazz Messengers. They loved to listen to jazz. Like the Blue Note label. [Saxophonist] Wayne Shorter, Miles. That's how samba jazz was created. The rhythm is samba, but incorporated with jazz improvisation."

Da Fonseca notes the importance of the two seminal American albums that led to the bossa nova craze coming north to the U.S., Jazz Samba (Verve, 1962) by guitarist Charlie Byrd, and Getz/Gilberto (Verve, 1964) by saxophonist Stan Getz with the smoky, sensual vocals by Astrud Gilberto, containing the huge hit, "Girl From Ipanema."

The Getz album "is a beautiful album to this day. It's a great album. It's a perfect mixture of the bossa nova rhythms with jazz improvisation. It was very important to promote and launch bossa nova," he says. "I heard that this classic album, when it was released by Verve, they didn't think it would be very successful. It stayed for a year on the shelves waiting to be released. The somebody, for tax purposes, said, 'Let's release this one.'" It won Grammy Awards for Album of the Year, Best Jazz Instrumental Album-Individual or Group, and Best Engineered Album, Non-Classical.

"Astrud, the singer that sang 'The Girl from Ipanema' ... Stan Getz was the one who had the idea (to use her), because Joao Gilberto didn't speak English. Astrud Gilberto was married to Joao Gilberto. Stan Getz had the idea to call her because she already spoke very good English. But she never sang in her life, professionally. So she went to record and it was a big hit. She never signed any contract, so she never made a dime with that. I know that, because I worked with her for several years in the '80s, so I know a lot of things that went down. But on the other hand, if it wasn't for that, I believe she would never have been as successful as she was. If it wasn't for that recording."

The new Da Fonseca CD presents jazz sambas except for saxophonist Ornette Coleman's "Blues Connotation," which was brought in by Cohen, who does an arrangement of it in her own band, and "The Peacocks," by pianist Jimmy Rowles, whom Da Fonseca met in the 1970s at the famed piano bar Bradley's in New York City (now nonexistent). Others are by his friends, Alfredo Cardim ("O Guarana"), Raul Mascarenhas ("Sabor Carioca") and Dom Salvador ("Depois da Chuva"), Haroldo Mauro Jr. ("Obsinado"), Toninho Horta ("Dona Olympia"), and Rique Pantoia ("Melancia"), as well as one Da Fonseca original ("Flying Over Rio").

"Whenever I can, I record their songs," the drummer says of his amigos. "Because those are songs I used to play when I was back in Brazil; songs that I love to play. I think they should be heard."

The quartet has been together since 2002. Cohen was a student at Berklee College of Music, as was bassist Cioglia, who introduced the young lady from Tel Aviv to Da Fonseca. "We started playing and I loved the way she played. She's so lyrical and plays so beautiful that I had the idea to form a quintet. One of the great things about Anat, she's from Israel, but she went to Brazil many times and she speaks fluent Portuguese. Also, she played with the masters of a kind of music we have in Brazil called choro. It's classic Brazilian music that came before samba. It came in the late 19th century. She is a master. She played with the guys, downtown in Rio, this music. In my opinion, she can play Brazilian music with no accent. She is really something."

Cohen up to her usual high standards on the disk, adding great sound and feeling that blends seamlessly with the samba tapestry woven by these marvelous musicians. Alves, a longtime colleague of Da Fonseca, feels he music like breathing and sparkles. Monteiro's guitar lines are remarkable and Cioglia's bass lines help the drums inject vitality into the compositions. The music is packed with emotion, beauty, excitement, and intensity. The band is so tight it gives the illusion of being effortless. The effort given is as joyous as it is expert, coming through the heart of the leader.

The album was recorded at Avatar Studio in New York City and engineered by the renowned James Farber, a big plus for the project, says Da Fonseca. "It was a pleasure, because when you are in a studio and you have a good sound engineer and a good studio, and you go hear what he did in the booth. You hear that beautiful sound coming out. You don't hear any harsh things coming from the instruments-the guitar, the piano, or piercing cymbals. That encourages you, inspires you, to play better. When you hear a good sound coming out as a reference, it's a big inspiration to make you try to play better. It's not stressful ... Working with people like James, it inspires. So he becomes one of the musicians, because he helped inspire us to play better."

His musical standards were being formed early. As a youngster, he listened to the sound being played on records in his home and seen on TV-those of Jobim, Gilberto, Dori Caymmi, Luiz Bonfa, Louis Armstrong, Nat "King" Cole, Frank Sinatra, Ray Charles and others. Ipanema itself wasn't yet the "in" place to be. The beaches weren't crowded. But, between the famous song and the government building a tunnel through the mountains, making passage between the northern and southern zones much easier, it grew in popularity. "We don't have many beaches in the north zone. It's not particularly pretty. But the south, with Ipanema, Leblon and Copacabana, is very beautiful. It's astonishing. You have the mountains and the sea next to each other. That makes it so unique. It's a beautiful place."

"I was very lucky because at that time they had so many shows of bossa nova and of jazz instrumental Brazilian music (on TV). I was raised watching my idols at the time playing live. I was listening to albums. I was introduced at a very early age to jazz albums. I started to listen to Art Blakey, Elvin Jones and Miles with Tony Williams, at an early age right after I started playing. That's how I learned, playing along with the albums of great American jazz musicians and great Brazilian jazz musicians. Watching the great Brazilian jazz musicians playing live. I never studied. I never had a formal education.
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