Post-bossa star Lins beats path to the 'Burgh
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Brazil may be part of Latin America, but it's that Portuguese-speaking country where they samba instead of salsa. Brazil's culture doesn't always translate to the rest of Latin America, and vice-versa.
After winning a Latin Grammy in 2005, Brazilian Ivan Lins found himself performing more in Latin American countries.
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That's why Ivan Lins' 2005 Best Album Latin Grammy for his live CD "Cantado Historias" meant a lot to the 61-year-old songwriter, singer and pianist -- a star in his native land for more than 35 years.
"Because this is a Latin Grammy, it opened a door for Latin America," Lins says by phone from Miami, a stop on his month-long U.S. tour that will bring him and his band to the Manchester Craftsmen's Guild tonight through Sunday.
"Despite us being Brazilian and living in Brazil, Latin America was never a great market for me. I used to perform much more in Japan and the United States and Europe, but not very often in Latin America. And suddenly, after this Latin Grammy, I have started to perform a lot in Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, Venezuela, Colombia, Mexico, anywhere."
As for the U.S., Lins got his biggest break in 1980 when producer Quincy Jones and George Benson included Lins' "Dinorah, Dinorah" and "Love Dance" on Benson's "Give Me the Night." More recordings of Lins' lush, emotional, rhythmically charged material came in a flood, by Ella Fitzgerald, Barbara Streisand, flutist Herbie Mann, trumpeter Terence Blanchard and others who appreciated Lins' hip, unexpected chord changes and soaring sense of melody.
Lins forged a strong link to Pittsburgh when he met Pittsburgh trombonist Jay Ashby in New York in the early '90s, where Ashby was performing with his then-wife Kenia -- a singer from Rio who still lives and performs in Pittsburgh.
Ashby is a producer and engineer at the Manchester Craftsmen's Guild, the musical arm of Bidwell Training Center/Manchester Craftsmen's Guild.
"He invited me to go to Pittsburgh, and I met [Bidwell/MCG founder] Bill Strickland, and Marty [Jay's brother, who heads MCG Jazz], and I became a great friend of Bill Strickland and the MCG. I got very impressed with all that he did there. And I told him that one day I would like to try something similar in Brazil."
Lins has returned four times for performance weekends at the Manchester Craftsmen's Guild. He recorded a CD there, "Live at MCG." He also dueted with Kenia on three tunes from her Lins tribute CD, "Project: Ivan Lins."
"But the first time I was visiting," he recalls," people started to talk about Pittsburgh, and they said, 'Oh, Henry Mancini is from here, George Benson is from here, Billy May is from here.' And I said, "Hey, my heroes are from Pittsburgh!' And then -- the piece de resistance -- they said 'Stephen Foster is from Pittsburgh.' He was the very first influence I had."
That was in 1947 when Lins was 2. He moved from Rio to Boston for three years, where his father, an engineer in the Brazilian Navy, was posted.
"I remember clearly my parents playing piano, playing Stephen Foster songs for me. I was totally crazy about music, and they used to use music to calm me because I was a very speedy child, I was terrible. "
Walt Disney film music also colored Lins' musical palette (he sings a little of "Someday My Prince Will Come" on the MCG live CD), and then jazz.
"I'm totally influenced by jazz," he explains. Lins first was drawn to big-band music when he was 11 and playing trumpet in his military school band. His father still traveled to the states, and brought him records by Billy May (one of Sinatra's key arrangers), Les Elgar, Woody Herman and Duke Ellington, to name a few.
When he was 15, his tastes moved beyond dance music to small-combo jazz, including Gerry Mulligan, Miles Davis, Bill Evans and Bobby Timmons.
"I invited to my house friends who used to listen to jazz too. And we created a club of listeners. I wasn't playing anything. Just a listener. A fanatic listener."
Lins and his friends typified a trend in Brazil at the start of the '60s -- the young middle-class was listening hard to American jazz, especially cool jazz. Two of his countrymen -- composer Antonio Carlos Jobim and guitarist Joao Gilberto -- alchemized a blend of Brazilian samba and American jazz into a "new way" or "bossa nova."
The bossa-era group that most captivated Lins was the Tamba Trio, an instrumental outfit led by pianist Luiz Eca, whose tune "The Dolphin" would become a jazz standard through recordings by Stan Getz and others. Lins saw them on TV in 1963 and took up piano.
"In two years, learning by ear, just by ear, I start to play in my neighborhood, at parties, some shows in schools and everywhere, because bossa nova was a boom in the whole country. Everybody was going to see any kind of bossa nova. And so I got my audience as a pianist."
But it was Lins' songwriting that made him famous. His first hit was "Madalena," performed by the late goddess of Brazilian pop, Elis Regina in 1970. From there, Lins began studying theory and composition, honing his craft. Like others of his generation who were creating the post-bossa music the Brazilians call MPB, Lins was also influenced by rock -- at one time he consciously tried singing like David Clayton Thomas of Blood, Sweat and Tears.
Starting in the mid-'70s, he had a string of hits, most written with the Brazilian lyricist Vitor Martins. This was during a military dictatorship, and several Lins/Martins tunes became anthems of dissent.
Lins has taken his place as one bright bromeliad in an extravagant flowering of songwriters from Brazil -- a severely abbreviated list would include Jobim, Gilberto Gil, Milton Nascimento, Caetano Veloso, Joao Bosco, Edu Lobo, Guinga and Djavan.
Despite a diversity of styles, they all have something that stamps their music as Brazilian.
"I think that comes from the rhythm. The Brazilian rhythms that came from Africa. Yes, there was censorship, but they let them [slaves and their descendants] play their music and develop their music, in certain spaces. And this kind of music started to blend with the European music that was played by the society in general. And this kind of behavior, this freedom and this facility of blending things, became a habit.
"That's why Brazilian music is so rich. Here we have German music mixed with black music, with African and Japanese, French, Lebanese, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish, and Moorish. It's really a cultural thing. Brazilians love to create new things."
First Published February 15, 2007 12:00 am