:: These reviews were originally published
:: in Daniella Thompson on Brazil.


Between Broadway and samba

Songbook reflects Billy Blanco’s
contrasting facets.

Daniella Thompson

5 March 2003

Pixinguinha, Billy Blanco & Ary Barroso

Tom Jobim’s first hit was not a song he wrote with Newton Mendonça or with Vinicius de Moraes. The year was 1954, the song was “Teresa da Praia,” and the partner was Billy Blanco (William Blanco de Abrunhosa Trindade) from Belém do Pará, three years Tom’s senior and like him a former architecture student.

In his book Tirando de Letra e Música (Editora Record, 2001), Billy reminisces about the birth of “Teresa da Praia”:

Tom and I met at Continental’s studio, where the recording of our Sinfonia do Rio de Janeiro was reaching its conclusion. Participants included the entire cast of the label, the Teatro Municipal orchestra, and our beloved maestro Radamés Gnatalli. Among the singers, Lúcio Alves and Dick Farney, at that time the blue-ribbon throats of Brazil, who will forever be remembered as singers and as friends. They asked Tom and me to write a song that the two could sing together, so that the evil tongues would know that they were never enemies, as well as to demonstrate that their timbres were different and neither imitated the other.

“Teresa da Praia” is a light-as-cotton-candy dialog between two young gallants who discover that they share the same girlfriend. It became Dick and Lúcio’s joint signature, and they recorded it again in 1972 and 1986. It’s one of fifteen songs in A Bossa de Billy Blanco, an almost wholly beguiling songbook produced by the composer’s son, Billy Blanco Jr., who also arranged twelve of the tracks. The disc is a showcase of Billy Blanco’s output over four decades, from the Tin Pan Alley-influenced songs of the mid-fifties, through samba-canção, bossa nova, and various shades of samba.

The composer sings five of the tunes, opening the album with a love song for his adopted city, composed for Rio’s 400th anniversary. Recorded in the past only by Wilson Simonal (1965) and by Blanco himself (1966), the present version of “Rio do Meu Amor” is a rhythmically thumping one, with Marcos Nimrichter’s piano, Zeca Assumpção’s bass, and Carlos Balla’s drums working overtime (Marco Trança assists on percussion, and this quartet performs in almost all the tracks).

The trio above, plus Célia Vaz on guitar, backs up Leila Pinheiro in the jazzy samba “A Banca do Distinto,” a tract against snobbery whose previous interpreters include Isaura Garcia, Elza Soares, Dóris Monteiro, Dolores Duran, and Elis Regina. Leila is her impeccable self, displaying an effortless mastery of phrasing and division.

“Esperança Perdida” is another collaboration with Jobim, a velvety torch song best known from João Gilberto’s 1970 recording in Mexico but also recorded by Lúcio Alves, João Donato, Tom Jobim, Jane Duboc, Leny Andrade, Rosa Passos, and the Morelenbaums with Ryuichi Sakamoto, among others. Here we get an extraordinarily dramatic interpretation from Ney Matogrosso, with an arrangement (and piano) by Leandro Braga, featuring Roberto Marques’ muted trombone.

“Teresa da Praia” provides the occasion for a sentimental tip of the hat to the songwriters, performed by their sons Paulo Jobim and Billy Jr. Neither possesses the vocal chords of Farney or Alves, but they make up for it with emotion. Emotion is also the hallmark of Blanco’s rendition of “Samba Triste,” co-authored with Baden Powell and recorded numerous times by the great guitarist. Reminisces Blanco:

Badinho, eighteen years old, very fresh, still smelling of ink, who drank only guaraná, shows me a samba, which in that year of 1957* was already bossa nova. And he asks me for lyrics.

– What name did you give the samba?

– “Samba Triste,” but it can change, if you want to make another theme for the lyrics.

– No, the name is beautiful!

So we worked on the basis of the title and completed the samba.

* Note: Baden was born in 1937 and thus was twenty in 1957.

“Samba Triste” received interpretations from Rosana Toledo, Elizeth Cardoso, the ever-present Lúcio Alves, Maysa, and Stan Getz. In A Bossa de Billy Blanco, Blanco is accompanied by Baden’s sons, Marcel (guitar) and Philippe (piano) Baden Powell.

Two from Pará: Billy & Leila Pinheiro
Photo: Beti Niemeyer

One of my favorite Billy Blanco songs is the mournful “Praça Mauá,” whose subject is the ugly square that fronts the port of Rio de Janeiro—a place of many beginnings and as many endings. Previously recorded by Dolores Duran, Isaura Garcia, and Leny Andrade, it is beautifully interpreted here by Lucinha Lins. A total change of pace is offered in the humorous samba “Estatutos da Gafieira,” a manual of proper behavior in a dance hall (Blanco would go on to write a similar manual for nightclubs, “Estatuto de Boite”). This song received many recordings by the likes of Dolores Duran, Inezita Barroso, Nara Leão, Blecaute, Luiz Eça, Jards Macalé, Isaura Garcia, and Raul de Barros, and here it's performed by Blanco, who knows how to impart the proper tongue-in-cheek tone:

Subir na parede, dançar de pé no ar,
Debruçar-se na bebida sem querer pagar,
Abusar da umbigada de maneira folgazã,
Prejudicando hoje o bom crioulo de amanhã,
Será distintamente censurado;
Se balançar o corpo,
Vai pra mão do delegado

Pery Ribeiro, a singer’s singer, steps in to lend the moving “Encontro com a Saudade” his expert interpretation, which gains additional emotional force from Leo Gandelman’s soulful sax solos. About the birth of this song in 1960, Blanco wrote:

One night when we had a gathering at the house of Nilo Queirós—Air Force officer and a good student of Luiz Bonfá and later of Baden—my friend Nilão showed me a samba that was begging for lyrics, so beautiful it was. The lyrics were written, also on the spot, on the page of a school exercise book belonging to one of his sons. We were going to give it to Elizeth [Cardoso], our friend. But one night Hebe Camargo appeared here, very artistically needy at that time, already neglected by composers. I brought her to my partner’s apartment, and she showed a great desire to record the song, which is what happened. With this recording—I’ll never forget this—Hebe reappeared on the musical scene like a phoenix.

Elizeth didn’t hold a grudge and recorded “Encontro com a Saudade” three years later. Other artists who have done so include Alaíde Costa, Baden Powell & Jimmy Pratt, Tito Madi, and Sebastião Tapajós. Elizeth also recorded “Viva Meu Samba,” which is by far Billy Blanco’s most famous creation and the recipient of more recordings than one can count here. Olivia Hime does it justice in the present songbook, nicely weaving her lyrical vocals with the swinging instrumentals.

“Mocinho Bonito,” a penetrating look at a ’50s gigolo, has had quite a few interesting interpretations, beginning with Dóris Monteiro’s in 1957 and ending with Dóris Monteiro & Léo Jaime’s in the 1997 Casa da Bossa. In comparison, the current execution by Erasmo Carlos sounds like a throwaway lacking in nuance. There’s nuance aplenty in Anna Lemgruber’s enchanting rendition of “Desencanto,” a composition from the mid-’90s that served as a theme for a TV Globo novela. Célia Vaz’s arrangement utilizes just two instruments—her guitar and Maurício Einhorn’s harmonica. And that’s all that's needed to work magic.

“Lágrima Flor,” memorably recorded in 1963 by Wilson Simonal, is a low point in this CD. My distaste can be chalked up to Billy Jr.’s poppish arrangement and vocals. His father does much better in “Piston de Gafieira,” another perennial favorite with numerous recordings and a prime example of the songwriter’s unique brand of sharp social observation mingled with disarming playfulness.

The samba “Olho de Fogo,” the only song never recorded until now, is a dispassionate social critique:

Olha o olho do mundo na guerra
O Brasil olha o seu futebol


Olha o teu ordenado encolhendo
Olha como é cruel fim de mês
Olha só quanta gente sofrendo
Pelo gol que o Flamengo não fez

The song ends with Lucinha Lins’ vocalese of the Tristeza não tem fim line from “A Felicidade.” What follows is the unfortunate inclusion of a samba-enredo called “O Boto Falou” whose refrain, proudly sung by five Blanco grandchildren, proclaims O verde é meu, Boto falou. It sounds politically correct until you pay attention to the lyrics and find a chauvinistic, anti-ecological diatribe denying that the Amazon forest is in a crisis. The “Boto” who tells foreign ecologists to butt out is not the mythic river dolphin but the notoriously corrupt politician and former governor of Amazonas Gilberto Mestrinho, popularly known as Boto Tucuxi.

One would gladly give up the rousing musical conclusion and the message that comes with it. Happily, there’s much in this album to compensate for the lapse.

Listen to Billy Blanco sing a selection of his songs.

Billy Blanco: A Bossa de Billy Blanco
(Biscoito Fino BF 529; 2003) 49:23 min.

01. Rio do Meu Amor (Billy Blanco)
      Billy Blanco
02. A Banca do Distinto (Billy Blanco)
      Leila Pinheiro
03. Esperança Perdida (Antonio Carlos Jobim/Billy Blanco)
      Ney Matogrosso
04. Teresa da Praia (Antonio Carlos Jobim/Billy Blanco)
      Paulo Jobim & Billy Blanco Jr.
05. Samba Triste (Baden Powell/Billy Blanco)
      Billy Blanco w/ Marcel & Philippe Baden Powell
06. Praça Mauá (Billy Blanco)
      Lucinha Lins
07. Estatutos da Gafieira (Billy Blanco)
      Billy Blanco
08. Encontro com a Saudade (Billy Blanco/Nilo Queirós)
      Pery Ribeiro
09. Viva Meu Samba (Billy Blanco)
      Olivia Hime
10. Mocinho Bonito (Billy Blanco)
      Erasmo Carlos
11. Desencanto (Billy Blanco/Sebastião Tapajós)
      Anna Lemgruber
12. Lágrima Flor (Billy Blanco)
      Billy Blanco Jr.
13. Piston de Gafieira (Billy Blanco)
      Billy Blanco
14. Olho de Fogo (Billy Blanco)
      Billy Blanco
15. O Boto Falou (Billy Blanco)
      Billy Blanco & grandchildren


Copyright © 2003–2014 Daniella Thompson. All rights reserved.