Trio Surdina

The history of a legendary musical group.

by Jorge Mello

7 August 2007


Fafá Lemos


Música em Surdina: the radio program that launched a trio

In the early 1950s, Rádio Nacional inaugurated several new programs, including Música em Surdina, Um Fio de Melodias, Obrigado Doutor, Dedos Mágicos, Edifício Balança Mas Não Cai, and Solistas da Rádio Nacional, among others. The program Música em Surdina (Music on the Quiet), produced and presented by Paulo Tapajós, could have been only one of the station’s excellent programs had not history conferred on it an importance that would be perceived only many years later.

The program began on Monday, 5 March 1951, airing every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 10:30 pm. This continued until Friday, 6 April, when its schedule became weekly. On that Friday, the newspaper A Noite published an extensive article comenting on the return of Garoto to Rádio Nacional and his participation in Música em Surdina.

Garoto, Fafá & Chiquinho on Rádio Nacional, 1951

Garoto (Aníbal Augusto Sardinha, 1915–1955), Fafá Lemos (Rafael Lemos Junior, 1921–2004), and Chiquinho do Acordeón (Romeu Seibel, 1928–1993) appeared together for the first time on Música em Surdina on Friday, 20 April 1951. Their second appearance occurred the following week. Then the program’s sschedule was changed to Monday at the same time, and the three musicians would not appear on it again until August, when they played twice, on the 6th and the 20th.

Garoto gave occasional solo performances on the program. On 4 June 1951, he played his compositions “Gracioso” and “Inspiração” on the guitar. A week later, on the 11th, he performed “Duas Contas” and “Estranho Amor,” also his. In July, he appeared every Monday, accompanying other artists. This programming clearly indicates that Música em Surdina was not exclusively available to the trio of Garoto, Fafá, and Chiquinho. However, it was here that the three appeared together for the first time.

The trio, which wasn’t yet called Surdina, also appeared in other Rádio Nacional programs during 1951. These included Carroussel Musical (Tuesdays at 12:30 pm) on 31 July, 21 August, and 25 September; Show Lentheric on 1 and 5 October at 7 pm; and Gente que Brilha on 22 October at 8:30 pm.

Melhoral ad (courtesy of Propagandas Antigas)

The birth of Trio Surdina

The newspaper Diário da Noite announced on 11 July 1952: “Paulo Gracindo is the producer and presenter of the program Noite de Estrelas, which will premiere tomorrow, the 12th, at 8:35 pm on Rádio Nacional.” Another article, published in A Noite, informed that this program “airs on Saturdays at 8:35 pm under the sponsorship of Melhoral, being first presented in its entirety on Fridays to the spectators of Edifício Balança Mas Não Cai, following that program.”

Noite de Estrelas was, in fact, recorded on Fridays at 9 pm, taking advantage of the audience of Balança Mas Não Cai, which was presented live. This made the program, which aired on Saturday evenings, sound as if it were aired live. In the very first program, following a performance by the comedian Pagano Sobrinho, the unmistakable voice of Paulo Gracindo announced “The Three Musketeers of Bossa—Chiquinho, Garoto, and Fafá Lemos,” who played “Morena Boca de Ouro” by Ary Barroso and “Baião Caçula” by Mário Gennari Filho.

In the following program, on 19 July, there was a surprise: Paulo Gracindo announced the Trio em Surdina, consisting of Chiquinho on accordion, Fafá Lemos on violin, and... Bola Sete on guitar. With that lineup, the trio performed twice more on Noite de Estrelas. On 23 August, Paulo Gracindo reverted to announcing Fafá, Chiquinho, and Garoto, who were about to play “The Breeze and I,” without any mention of Trio em Surdina. A possible explanation for the unexpected switch is that Garoto may have been on a vacation and gone to São Paulo between 7 July and 5 August.

After the performance of 23 August, Fafá no longer appeared. He went to Argentina on vacation. Fafá apparently did not contemplate a brief absence, since he quit the Copacabana nightclub Rancinho do Posto Seis, where he was the principal attraction.

When Fafá returned, the still unnamed trio appeared on Saturday, 1 November 1952 at 10 pm on a Rádio Nacional program whose name is not known. Their next performance took place on 6 November, also at ten o’clock, in another program on the same station. On that occasion, Garoto, Fafá, and Chiquinho played “Czardas” by Vittorio Monti. According to Garoto, that performance was “a spectacle.”

On Saturday, 8 November 1952, the trio was called Trio em Surdina in a Rádio Nacional program, which marked the official birth of Trio Surdina in its classic formation.

First recordings

The final month of 1952 was one of intense activity for Trio Surdina. The group got its own program on Rádio Nacional, giving the first performance on Wednesday, 3 December at 10 pm. A week later, the schedul was expanded to include Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 6 pm. The final program of this series aired on Monday, 29 December.

In addition, Trio Surdina appeared on the popular César de Alencar program that aired Saturday, 6 December. Beyond its radio work, the trio began recording albums, as noted in Garoto’s diary:
  1. First recording of Trio Surdina at Musidisc at 6 pm on 5 December.
  2. Second recording of Trio Surdina on 12 December.
  3. Third recording of Trio Surdina on 16 December.
  4. Trio Surdina recording at 11 pm on 2 January 1953.
On 5 January 1953, Fafá Lemos left for the United States on a Braniff flight. Garoto and his wife Ceci, with Chiquinho and his wife Ada, went to the Galeão airport to see him off. He would return to Rio de Janeiro on 13 June 1954 for a brief period, departing again for the USA on 8 September.

It didn’t take long for the trio to garner accolades. On 26 November 1953, the musical critic and composer Claribalde Passos listed them among the best of the year in his column Discoteca, published in issue No. 951 of the magazine Carioca:
The Best of 1953:
Trio Surdina—best instrumental trio
Edú da Gaita—best instrumental soloist
Honorable mention—Garoto, Paschoal Melillo, Luiz Bonfá, and Waldir Azevedo

The albums released by Musidisc in 1953 enjoyed great commercial success, which accounted for the high rating given by Carioca magazine.

Detail from the back cover of the first Trio Surdina LP

Nilo Sérgio and Musidisc

Before 1952, Nilo Sérgio was known as an excellent singer who belonged to the regular casts of radios Nacional and Tupy, as well as having been a crooner of the Orquestra All Stars for a long time.

A summary of Nilo Sérgio’s career up to that point was provided by the music critic Sylvio Túlio Cardoso on 12 March 1953. Writing in his column O Globo nos Discos Populares, published in the newspaper O Globo, Cardoso wrote:

Nilo Sérgio.
Even before he began his singing career as the crooner of Zaccarias’ Orchestra at Rádio Nacional in 1943, Nilo Sérgio was an avid discophile. Following a series of recordings that he made with the Midnighters of Zaccarias during the [Second World] War, Nilo landed a solo recording contract at Continental. He went to the United States in 1947, appeared on the NBC show The Time, The Place and The Tune, toured California, and returned with an idea: to open a record store. Currently, Nilo is the owner of Lojinha de Discos and artistic director of the new record label specializing in LPs, Musidisc.

His biggest hit was “Trevo de Quatro Folhas” [I’m Looking Over a Four-Leaf Clover], and his best record from the artistic point of view was “Doce Tormento,” a samba of his authorship that was recorded at Todamérica. Nilo is a carioca, born on 16 June 1921, and has been married for a year.

Nilo Sérgio and Garoto had known each other since the mid-1940s, having worked for the same radio stations and with the All Stars orchestra. Together they wrote the lovely samba-canção “Você É Tormento,” which Nilo sang, accompanied by Radamés Gnattali (piano), Garoto (electric guitar), Chiquinho (accordion), Fafá Lemos (violin), and Pedro Vidal (contrabass) in a recording made on 19 June 1951 and released on Todamérica TA-5092-A.

Nilo Sérgio’s record store was located at Rua Senador Dantas 24-a. Under his artistic direction, Musidisc was an undoubted innovator in the Brazilian record market, which was dominated by 78-rpm discs. Musidisc represented modernity in recording technique and artistic conception, expressed in the content of its records and in the design of their sleeves. The Trio Surdina records, with their unusual lineup and advanced concept, helped turn Musidisc into a reference point.

The albums of Trio Surdina

  1. Trio Surdina (Musidisc M-007)
  2. Trio Surdina & Leo Peracchi: Ary Barroso (Musidisc M-008)
  3. Trio Surdina Interpreta Noel Rosa e Dorival Caymmi (Musidisc M-014)
  4. Trio Surdina (Musidisc M-017)

The 8-track LP Ary Barroso (Musidisc M-008), with Trio Surdina on one side and Leo Peracchi & Orquestra on the other, was released simultaneously with Trio Surdina (Musidisc M-007), as indicated in the following announcement, which appeared in the fifth section of the newspaper Correio da Manhã on 22 March 1953:

Trio Surdina consists of violinist Fafá Lemos, accordionist Chiquinho, and guitarist Garoto, all of Rádio Nacional. This excellente trio recorded for Musidisc—in addition to a side with Ary Barroso tunes—an interesting complete long-playing with the tunes “Tenderly,” “Relógio da Vovó,” “Duas Contas,” “Felicidade,” “Ninguém Me Ama,” “Na Madrugada,” “Nós Três,” and “Malaguenã.”

In his column Discoteca, which appeared in issue No. 917 of Carioca magazine on 2 May 1953, Claribalde Passos evaluated the first 10-inch LP of Trio Surdina (Musidisc M-007). Side A of this album includes “Ternamente” (Tenderly), a beguine by Jack Lawrence and Walter Gross; “O Relógio da Vovó,” a choro by Trio Surdina; “Duas Contas,” a samba by Garoto; and “Felicidade,” a beguine by Garoto and Haroldo Barbosa. The critic emphasized the good taste and technical refinement of the musicians, adding that the vocalist in the only sung track (“Duas Contas,”) was very pleasing.

Side B includes “Ninguém Me Ama,” a samba-canção by Antônio Maria and Fernando Lobo; “Na Madrugada,” a samba by Nilo Sérgio; “Nós Três,” a baião by Trio Surdina; and “Malaguenã” by Ernesto Lecuona. Again, the critic dwells on the group’s technical refinement and mentions that the whistling in the first two sambas reminds him of a memorable recording by Les Paul. He also heaps praise on the baião “Nós Três” for its rhythmic originality and melodic nuances. Concluding the review, Claribalde Passos wrote:

This is a release that make the Brazilian recording industry proud, embodying the beginning of a brilliant new era. A lovely artistic cover by the illustrator Rodolfo also adds value to the LP Trio Surdina.
Rating: excellent.
Artistic value: excellent.
Commercial value: promissing.
We effusively felicitate Nilo Sérgio’s record company.

The musical critic Paulo Medeiros reviewed the album in his column Ronda dos Discos, published in the newspaper Última Hora on 24 June 1953. To his mind, Trio Surdina was “the best of all the small instrumental combos organized in recent times,” adding that “It is difficult to encounter among our instumentalists three artists who fit so well together, who feel the tunes they execute with such equal emotion.” The review ended with this remark:

It’s a pity that Fafá Lemos is now in the United States, no doubt shining brilliantly but also far away from his two companions. This is because we would like to hear more recordings at this level, performed by Trio Surdina. Besides, days ago we were informed by Chiquinho and Garoto that it’s quite possible that they, too, would follow to the USA, in order to present the famous trio to the Americans.

About Trio Surdina’s third album, Claribalde Passos wrote in Discoteca (Carioca No. 939) on 3 October 1953:

Appraisal of the Week: We assess the LP Musidisc M-014 titled Trio Surdina interpreta Noel Rosa e Dorival Caymmi, released nationally last August. With elegant arrangements as well as prime executions, we have on side A “Nem Eu”; “O que É que a Baiana Tem?”; “O Mar”; and “Não Tem Solução”; all by Dorival Caymmi, the last one in partnership with Carlos Guinle. The first and last song offer excellent interventions by the vocal soloist. Among all of them, however, we prefer “O Mar.” Both artistically and technically, this execution consists of a small masterpiece on a national scale. The recordings are distinguished by their superior sound quality.

On side B, we have “Fita Amarela”; “Três Apitos”; “Conversa de Botequim”; and “Com que Roupa”; sambas by Noel. All of them with a vocal refrain, they embody creations of real merit. With each release, Trio Surdina is establishing itself triumphantly in the phonographic field. The samba “Com que Roupa” is, to our mind, the best of this bunch. Rating: Excellent.

The fourth and final album of Trio Surdina in its original formation was Musidisc M-017, about which O Jornal of Saturday 3 April 1954 had this to say:

Trio Surdina: Another LP with Fafá Lemos (violinist who is now in the USA), Chiquinho (accordion), and Garoto (guitar). A delectable disc to hear and dance to that can be programmed without fear! Only the technical part doesn’t appeal, being deficient in the pressing and the recording. But the artistic material is one of the best and compensates. These are three great instrumentalists whose worth is never hidden. The songs of this LP Musidisc M-017 are “Ay, Ay, Ay,” a song by O.P. Freire; “Vingança,” a samba by Lupicínio Rodrigues; “Amoroso,” a samba de Garoto and Luiz Bittencourt; and “Verlaine,” a fox by Charles Trenet on side A and “Canto Karabali,” a song by E. Lecuona; “Meu Coração,” a baião by Garoto; “Cow Cow Boogie”; a fox by Don Raye, G. de Paul, and B. Carter; and, finally, “Xodó,” a samba by J. Amorim and J.M. Abreu, on side B.

In O Globo, Sylvio Túlio Cardoso wrote:

Long Playings.
The fourth volume of Trio Surdina, composed of Fafá Lemos, violinist and singer; Chiquinho, accordionist; and Garoto, guitarist. Of all their discs, this is the weakest, both artistically and technically. Most of the numbers, principally those containing Fafá’s vocal passages, are badly recorded, and the pressing sounds quite rough, with a most disagreeable noise. A song by Ernesto Lecuona, “Canto Karabali,” is performed in a rather slow tempo, with Fafá executing the melodious theme on the violin, followed by Chiquinho’s solo in an echo chamber, accompanied by Fafá in pizzicato. The LP’s weakest tracks are “Meu Coração”; “Cow cow Boogie”; “Xodó”; and “Verlaine.” In the first, a baião in slow tempo, Garoto soloes in the style of ‘one string at a time.’ Fafá is very poorly recorded in the boogie by Don Raye and Charles [sic] De Paul, and in Lúcio Alves’ hit, “Xodó.” The melodious tune by Charles Trenet received a most conventional treatment by the performers.

The three most interesting tracks, in our opinion, are “Ay, Ay, Ay,” “Vingança,” and the best number of the LP, the chorinho “Amoroso.” In this piece, written by Garoto, we hear the great guitarist at his best expression, projecting in his solo a refined artistic taste and profound sensitivity. His style reveals various points of contact with Laurindo Almeida. Following the example of the various LPs recorded by the latter in the United States, we suggest that Musidisc also make a microgroove record of Garoto alone with his guitar, where he could exhibit with the required freedom his extensive artistic possibilities.

Trio Surdina in 1954

As mentioned earlier, Fafá Lemos left for the United States on 5 January 1953, leaving the recorded material that would be used in Trio Surdina’s four albums. During his stay in the USA, Fafá maintained an intense correspondence with journalists and music critics in Brazil. His brief return to Brazil was therefore amply covered by the press. He arrived on Sunday, 13 June 1954; waiting for him at Galeão airport was his friend Garoto. During the month of June, Garoto and Fafá took part in various reunions and parties, such as Garoto’s birthday, on the 29th of that month, celebrated at the home of Júlio de Moraes and Lia Torá at Urca. Among those present were Pixinguinha, Radamés Gnattali, and the banjo player Dermeval Neto (“Furinha”). Musical tributes to Fafá were offered by Garoto, Radamés, Billy Blanco, and Furinha at the Tijuca Tennis Club. The pianist Ribamar organized a party for him at the Copacabana nightclub Tudo Azul.

In July and August, Fafá Lemos recorded eight 78-rpm sides for RCA Victor. One of them, recorded on 5 August, was a waltz by Garoto called “Luar de Areal,” with the composer’s participation. Beginning in early August, with the return of Chiquinho from Argentina (he had gone there in June to accompany Carmélia Alves), the reunited Trio Surdina appeared twice on Rádio Nacional—in the program Noite de Estrelas on 12 August, and in Gente que Brilha on 30 August. A tribute to Trio Surdina was offered at the Clube da Ferradura on the 16th of that month, but Chiquinho did not show up. On 8 Setember, Fafá Lemos went back to the Unites States and would return only in 1956.

Note: the information above was extracted from Garoto’s diary.

Other Musidisc LPs with Trio Surdina

  • Festival No. 1 (M-020) with Orlando Silva, Roberto Luna, Típica D’Avilis, Trio Surdina, Rosaria Meireles, Nilo Sérgio, Leo Peracchi & Orchestra, Leal Brito
  • No Mundo do Baião, Vol. 1 (M-029) with Leal Brito & Orchestra, Três Marias, Trio Surdina, and others.
  • No Mundo do Bolero, Vol. 1 (M-033) with Trio Surdina, Djalma Ferreira, Elvira Rios, and others.
  • Canções de Natal (M-042) with Trio Surdina and Nilo Sérgio.
Série “DeLuxe”
  • Boleros Famosos, Vol. 1 (DL-1003)
  • Aquarela do Brasil (DL-1004)
  • Boleros Famosos, Vol. 2 (DL-1005)
  • Ouvindo Trio Surdina, Vol. 1 (DL-1006)
  • Ary Barroso, Dorival Caymmi, Noel Rosa (DL-1007)
  • Ouvindo Trio Surdina, Vol. 2 (DL-1009)
  • Ouvindo Trio Surdina, Vol. 3 (DL-1017)
In Ouvindo Trio Surdina, Vol. 3, the musicians making up the trio are Al Quincas (violin), Nestor Campos (guitar), and El Gaucho (accordion). Quincas’ tune “Você Não Gosta” is included in Ouvindo Trio Surdina, Vol. 2. Campos and Gaucho worked at Rádio Nacional and participated in a number of recordings with other artists. Each of the three also recorded a solo album at Musidisc:
  • El Gaucho: Ao Compasso do Baião (DL-1011)
  • Al Quincas: Cocktail para Dois (DL-1013)
  • Nestor Campos: Música da Noite, Vol. 1 (DL-1014)

The disc numbering in all the above releases suggests that they were recorded with this second formation of the trio. The characteristic guitar of Garoto can be found only in the four original albums. Two ways to resolve the question would be a research in the newspapers of 1955 and 1956 and a consultation with Nilo Sérgio’s son.

Translated from the Portuguese by Daniella Thompson.

Copyright © 2007–2013 Jorge Mello & Daniella Thompson. All rights reserved.