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Fevereiro de 1999 - em inglês

Touchstones of Excellence



An acknowledged master of her craft and one in the full flush of her career, Joyce has crowned her achievements with the release of Astronauta-Songs of Elis.

by Bruce Gilman


The last few years have seen so much new work, so much development in musical technology, and so many fresh stylistic approaches, that there has been of late a disposition to ignore, as something out of date and wholly superseded, the work of a singer whose originality and temperament affected all it preceded. Elis Regina was a singer who could stamp a song's meaning with her own personality, bringing to it an additional dimension and lending it "authenticity." Her voice, a combination of sensuality, artistic precision, and volcanic emotional power, made sound and image virtually inseparable. From the very beginning of her career, Regina's remarkable rhythmic security and distinctive vocal styling attracted songwriters, one of whom was Joyce.


Anyone who has penetrated the imagery of Joyce's lyrics can understand why Elis recorded it. Joyce writes poetry, but poetry in a musical context where words acquire a particular resonance and reinforcement by the counterpoint or juxtaposition of her musical accompaniment. She has an uncanny ability to draw the listener into the special world of her imagination. Like all great musicians, Joyce has the capacity to communicate, instantly captivating and involving her listeners in the musical moment.


The very personal way she expresses herself combines a distinctive vocal timbre and subtle sense of timing with the ability to set and sustain a mood. What emerges with great clarity from any listening to Joyce's music is her profound instinct for the melodic arc of a song. An acknowledged master of her craft and one in the full flush of her career, Joyce has crowned her achievements with the release of Astronauta-Songs of Elis on Blue Jackel Records.

With this latest challenge Joyce has embraced a celebrated repertoire she is passionate about. Each tune is a profound marriage of words, melody, and harmony that arrives with a subjective dimension already built in. Besides two Joyce compositions, the repertoire includes works, by Jobim, Gilberto Gil, Nélson Cavaquinho, Baden Powell, Edu Lobo, and Milton Nascimento among others. Joyce's voice, with its haunting purity and subtle use of tonal inflection, holds each song up to the light where it gleams anew, as if it were being sung for the first time.


It takes a fertile imagination to conceive of such an approach to a recording and a truly great artist to keep the results from degenerating into just another gimmick. And it is testimony to her great artistry that Joyce's approach to the Songs of Elis is fully responsive to its special demands. The unusually consistent artistic level that prevails throughout this project (in addition to Joyce's music, voice, and guitar playing), is due to the exceptional accompaniment provided by the fine musicians who appear with her and who give us some idea of the respect fellow performers have for her. This group plays ecstatically, marking these performances among Joyce's very best.


Renee Rosnes on piano never gets in Joyce's way with the superfluous or superficial. Sh e has the technique and the imagination to complement rather than complicate. The other pianist on the date, Mulgrew Miller, is a familiar enough figure in musical circles to eliminate the necessity for formalities. Suffice it to say that what he plays on piano has an almost frightening logic. Tenor sax man Joe Lovano demonstrates remarkably creative freedom within the forms, impeccable control, and his infallible intonation. Romero Lubambo on guitar has influenced nearly every guitar player for at least the last decade, and as always, his playing on this date is magnificent.


Rodolfo Stroeter, as producer, creates the perfect setting for Joyce's voice. As bass player, he is a technical marvel, accomplishing his infinitely fine musical embroidery by means of understatement. He is strong and direct without ever spilling over into aggressiveness. Tutti Moreno, a massively accomplished drummer with an unflagging rhythmic acuity, maintains the project's momentum with eloquent, yet powerful dynamism. And percussionist Guello, is simply the epitome of taste married to a superb technique.


Joyce's achievements on Astronauta should be praised for their scope and ambition, but Jack O'Neil of Blue Jackel Records must also be applauded for his acumen. In a business where there is little margin for error and few are willing to risk, O'Neil's Blue Jackel Records has done more to enhance appreciation and awareness of Brazilian music than any other label in North America. Artists whose works may never have reached our ears have come to us from Blue Jackel beautifully packaged, well promoted, and with copious liner notes in English.


At the end of 1998, the top-ten lists of most Brazilian music reviewers here in the United States reflected this exactly. I had the great pleasure of speaking with Joyce when she was in New York in January on an abbreviated tour. Our conversation touched on Astronauta, Elis, the past, and Joyce's current projects. I found her enthusiasm, wit, and warmth refreshing.




Brazzil — You've always had this close connection with jazz musicians, and I was wondering if you see yourself more as a player than a composer or a singer?


Joyce — It's probably more of a musician than just composer, or just singer, or just a player. The musician stands in the middle with the composing and singing and playing being different forms of expression for the musician. But, I think, all of those. Three at a time.


Brazzil — How did you actually get started in music?


Joyce — Well, I have this brother who used to be a guitar player when he was younger. He's thirteen years older than me. And I grew up listening to good music because he had all these great records at home. That really was the start for me. Seeing him play with other people and bring his musician friends home and hearing the new recordings that he was always buying, was great encouragement for me.


Brazzil — Who did you hear when you were growing up?


Joyce — When I was a kid I listened to Ella Fitzgerald a lot, right? So, that was one. And next Miles Davis-forever, always. And, of course, Thelonious Monk too. My brother and my cousin who lived in our house had wonderful tastes in jazz.


Brazzil — You were listening to my favorites.


Joyce — (Laughs) Oh, okay. And in Brazilian music, I grew up listening to the bossa nova, which appeared when I was around nine or ten years old. I grew up listening to this great music, to João Gilberto, to Jobim, and to a wonderful Brazilian singer, the late Sylvia Telles. She was really a great singer. I grew up listening to those people and also to samba music because samba is the music of my city. It's the music from Rio, and it also made a big impression on me as a child.


Brazzil — And today who do you listen to?


Joyce — Today, I listen to a bit of everything. I listen to Ravel's music, that I love very much and directly related to Ravel I could say Bill Evans. I listen to different types of music. I have a huge collection of records. I still like to listen to the old bossa nova records more and more because I think everything's there.


Brazzil — And as you became more involved with the music scene, did you participate in a lot of the MPB festivals?


Joyce — I did, in the beginning, yes. Not later because the record companies took over, and then it wasn't that fair any longer. But in the beginning I did, and it was very nice. That's how I met everybody. That's when I made all my friends who are still friends today. So, that was initially really nice.


Brazzil — Today you're playing MCB instead of MPB? What specifically is that?


Joyce — Creative Music of Brazil is something that has no defined borders as long as it's creative. It's very funny because I just made this label up during an interview like this one I'm giving to you now. I was promoting my book... Actually, it wasn't my book, it was after my book. I was doing a concert in Rio. We were promoting the release of Ilha Brasil (Blue Note/World Pacific, 1996), and somebody from the Brazilian newspaper Jornal do Brasil, asked me about MPB. Everybody is very upset because MPB used to be a way of referring to good Brazilian music, and now everything is MPB. Whether it's country music or axé-music from Bahia, or whatever it is, people call it MPB. So, there are a lot of people who are a bit upset. Musicians especially are upset about that. And so I just said, "No, I don't do MPB any more; I do MCB." I started to use this label, and people really liked the idea, the concept. Now there are a lot of people saying, "Oh, I play MCB" (laughs). I think this is great because it fits. We are creative people. I was explaining it the other day to another journalist who was asking me about the TV program that I have going on now, Cantos do Rio. He asked me what kind of music I was going to promote on the program. I told him, "Creative music, no matter what it was. It could be samba, it could be music from the Northeast, it could be instrumental music. Whatever, bossa nova, everything. If it's creative, it's okay." MCB is a good label because it doesn't label at all. It can be used in several segments without getting stuck in any. It's creative, and that's it.


Brazzil — Is Cantos do Rio an ongoing TV series?


Joyce — It's a monthly feature, a one-hour show divided into three parts. Cantos do Rio means both Songs of Rio and Rio Corners. It's all related to the city, to the people who live and make music in Rio. We never tape anything in studio. It's all outside. We go to museums, to theaters, to nightclubs, to places where the music is being played or where the musicians live. We relate the music to the places. We went to Hermeto's house, for instance. Right now we have six programs already taped. One was already aired, the first one. The series started in January, and it's great. I'm very happy. I've had great response from the press. Everybody loved it, wonderful reviews. In the first program, we had, on air, Época de Ouro, the choro group that Paulinho da Viola's father plays in. We went to his house and taped a big story on choro music and the roots of choro music, and they played. It was lovely. It was beautiful. The second part of each show is a musical encounter. We call it sarau (soirée) because it's a very intimate setting. People who don't usually play together meet and recall old tunes and play and improvise. For the second part of the first show, we had a Brazilian pop artist named Paulinho Moska singing the music of the fifties, like samba-canção that sort of...


Brazzil — No kidding? That surprises me.


Joyce — Yeah, yeah, it was surprising for everybody, and he did it beautifully. Yes!


Brazzil — You wouldn't think he had a background in...


Joyce — But he does. He does. He knows a lot of those songs. He played together with the Brazilian guitar player Maurício Carrilho. Maurício is very specialized in this sort of music and in choro music too. That was a very nice thing. For the third part we went to the favela (shantytown) in Madureira, Serrinha, to see the jongo. Jongo is a very traditional African dance that came to Brazil. It's only practiced by a single community in the city, that lives in this place in the hills of Serrinha. It was a beautiful thing. That was the first program. The next one will feature Hermeto Pascoal and the Jobim family. There's a lot of great stuff coming up.


Brazzil — Sounds incredible.


Joyce — Oh yeah. And it's very easy to do, you know, because all those people are friends. They've all known me for a long time, so it's very easy to play with them and do interviews and all that. It's really fun.


Brazzil — Joyce, you mentioned your book. Can you tell me about it?


Joyce — It's called Fotografei Você na Minha Rolleyflex. The title comes from the song "Desafinado." It's a kind of bossa nova and beyond, with a collection of essays about people and memories. But it's not about me. I'm the observer, the one who's telling the stories. I talk a lot about how I met musicians and composers, how I saw them. I don't know if you've read the book But Beautiful. It's a lovely book written by an English guy about jazz artists. At a certain point in the book he says, "I'm talking about them not as they were, but as they appeared to me." I used this as an epigraph for my book because I talk about Jobim, about Vinícius de Moraes, about Milton Nascimento, about all those people, primarily about when I met them. Most of the stories take place, more or less, in the late sixties, early seventies.


Brazzil — What led you to start writing?


Joyce — Well, I did graduate in journalism, but then I dropped it for the music. I started making records, and I started going on the road and working in music. Just dropped it. I was twenty-one years old when I graduated.


Brazzil — And at that time what kind of songs were you writing?


Joyce — My very first songs, like the ones that I recorded on my first album 1968, were very much bossa nova oriented. That was the beginning of my career. It's very funny to return thirty years later to something that I thought I would never do again. And because of this book that I wrote, I was invited to write a weekly column in a newspaper in Rio.


Brazzil — Yeah, you did a piece on the passing of pianist Michel Petruccianni, no?


Joyce — Oh, yes. Did you see this?


Brazzil — I did. It was a sensitive piece. Joyce, you mentioned Vinícius. How did you meet him?


Joyce — Well, you know, I met him at the very beginning of my career. He wrote the liner notes for my very first album. That was 1968, and we became very, very close friends. And later, in 1975, he invited me to tour with him, to replace Toquinho. He played with Toquinho most of the time, but Toquinho couldn't make one tour, so Vinícius asked me to replace him as the guitar player. Vinícius usually toured with a singer too, so I was going to replace both Toquinho and the singer. And that was the beginning of a two-year experience working as a side-musician for him. It was very nice. I really enjoyed it. He was an adorable, wonderful person to work with. We toured Europe and South America.


Brazzil — Learn any lessons?


Joyce — Many, many, but most of them related to life more than music. He was someone who really enjoyed life in every aspect. Seize the day, that sort of thing. He had been a diplomat and was a man of the world. He had traveled a lot. And as I told you, we made these tours in Europe and South America. It was incredible, amazing because every city we went to, there were friends waiting for him. He knew the best restaurants, the best places to go, the right spots, where you could hear music, everything. He knew everything and everybody.


Brazzil — Wasn't there an album of yours nominated for the Prêmio Sharp that was connected to Vinícius?


Joyce — That was 1988 with Negro Demais no Coração, the Vinícius de Moraes album that I did. I was nominated both for best album of the year and best singer. I received this award in 1994, but that was for best song in a television sound track. It was something that I did with Edu Lobo for a children's show called Rá-Tim-Bum on TV Cultura, São Paulo. Believe it or not the tune is called "Sexy Sílvia" and is about a snake in a cartoon.


Brazzil — Your tune "Mistérios" has been covered by many artists.


Joyce — Thank you, yeah, that has been covered a lot.


Brazzil — Have you heard Wallace Roney's version? He also titled the CD after the tune.


Joyce — Yes, yes, I've heard it. I know, I was very glad about it. It's beautiful. It's a beautiful recording.


Brazzil — Years ago Milton recorded "Mistérios" on Clube da Esquina #2. What was your connection with the Clube da Esquina musicians at that time?


Joyce — This is something that I also talk about in my book. MPB was a bit segmented in the late sixties and early seventies. There were different groups of very creative people, the generation right after the bossa nova. And this generation was absolutely brilliant, in all aspects. You had people who were the second generation of the bossa nova, like Edu Lobo, Dori Caymmi, and Francis Hime, and even Chico Buarque as a part of this group; although Chico was also related to the samba. And in the samba generation we had people like Paulinho da Viola and Elton Medeiros. And there were the guys from Bahia like Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil who were doing it more in a pop environment.

And then the guys from Minas, Milton in the front and all his disciples like Toninho (Horta) and Beto Guedes, Lô Borges and all the others. It was interesting because none of these groups got along very well with each other. Later they all became very good friends. But at the very beginning, you know, sibling rivalry was happening. It was interesting because I was friends with all those people, and I used to play in all their groups. But, I think, musically I belonged a little more to the second generation of bossa nova like Edu and Dori, those guys. I think my music was more into their field. But at the beginning, for instance, Milton was a part of this group too, before he started to compose more "Beatleish" music, which was a different point of view for the same developments of post-bossa nova music. So anyway, I was in the middle of all that when Milton covered my music, and I was very, very happy. Also, I participated on some of his earlier albums doing backing vocals. His recordings were big feasts. Whenever he recorded, he called all of his friends. Everybody would go there and sing and play-huge records with big casts.


Brazzil — Speaking of siblings, would you comment on the tune "Clareana" from your Revendo Amigos album?


Joyce — It was a very unpretentious tune, really just a lullaby that I had written for my daughters. There were two then, one named Clara and the other named Ana. So, I wrote this, and yeah, it was a smash at a song festival and a huge, huge hit nationally when it came out. I didn't expect that. It's amazing, because it's been almost twenty years now, and when I finished the concert at S.O.B.'s, there was one table with like nine or ten Brazilians (laughs) who started screaming, "Clareana!" "Clareana!" And I had to do it.


Brazzil — On the new album you covered "Essa Mulher," which also appears on Revendo Amigos. That harmony with Wanda Sá on Revendo just knocks me out. Are there any plans to work with Wanda again in the future?


Joyce — Oh yes, she's coming to Japan with me in July. She'll be my guest at the Blue Note. We're doing one week at the Blue Note, Tokyo, and two or three at Blue Note, Osaka. And talking about this tune, it has just been recorded by David Sanchez—you know, the tenor player from Puerto Rico. He's been nominated for a Grammy with this album, so I'm very happy because I think that the jazz musicians around here are beginning to discover my music. And it's great.


Brazzil — On Astronauta you also repeat the words Essa Mulher at the end of "Samba Pra Elis."


Joyce — It's a quote. We're just quoting because Elis Regina recorded this tune beautifully, and it was like a trademark for her.


Brazzil — You're kidding?


Joyce — Yeah, you don't know that?


Brazzil — No, no, everyone knows Billie Holiday had "Strange Fruit" and Ella Fitzgerald had "A-Tisket, A-Tasket," but I was wondering if Elis had a signature tune.


Joyce — She had many signature tunes, and this was one of them. And I happen to have written it! So, that was great. That was the title tune of her 1979 album Essa Mulher on Warner Brothers. It's one of her best, and best selling albums. This one is my favorite Elis album, and it's not because of my tune. It's the whole thing. I think it's a very, very nice album.


Brazzil — When you were young, you listened to a lot of Ella Fitzgerald. Would you have liked her to record one of your tunes?


Joyce — Oh, yes. She was one of my favorites. Definitely.


Brazzil — How would you compare her with Billie Holiday?


Joyce — Well, this is very difficult. I think, Billie Holiday is what we call "diseuse" in French. Diseuse is a person who speaks the lyrics, not only sings, but speaks the lyrics. Billie understood the full meaning of the lyrics, and she had this quality, which I think was really amazing. It was emotion all the time. Ella had a different quality. Ella was perfection as the instrumental voice. She was a trumpet. She was a flute. She was really beautiful. I have been listening to her music since I was a child. So, she did influence me very much.


Brazzil — When you said in the liner notes that all human pain and sweetness is in the voice of Elis Regina...


Joyce — We can say that about Billie, right?


Brazzil — Yeah, and with Elis, the way she always seemed to get inside a song, to enmesh herself in the lyrics.


Joyce — Absolutely.


Brazzil — When I hear other people record tunes that Elis recorded, it's sometimes hard for me to disentangle it from the memory of Elis's version.


Joyce — Sure. I understand that.


Brazzil — Were you worried about that at all?


Joyce — No, I never thought about this because it's a musician's approach all the time. So, it's not just the way I sing those songs, but the way I arrange them, the way I play them, the way I changed some harmonies, the people who are playing, the interplay happening between them and between myself. So, I think it was much more than just that. And besides I felt very at ease because vocally I wasn't influenced by Elis at all. We were contemporaries. She was only three years older than me.


Brazzil — Was it a challenge to bring out your own voice in tunes that really had Elis's stamp on them like "Upa, Neguinho" and "Águas de Março"?


Joyce — You know, I already sang those songs. They were already part of my usual song list, so they were already mine too. I was really having fun choosing songs for the CD based upon my own taste. There are a lot of songs that were important in her career, in her way, the way she sang, and that were made famous by her. And some of those songs, I really didn't feel like singing very much. Actually, what I did was single out those that I feel passionate about, the ones that really give me pleasure. I like everything that is there, and everything is there for a reason. It's all music that I like very much. I wouldn't skip one track.


Brazzil — If you could have included one more tune, which would it have been?


Joyce — I would have included "Atrás da Porta" (Chico Buarque). Lovely tune.


Brazzil — You usually write the compositions for your recordings. Was it unusual for you to have just two of your tunes on Astronauta?


Joyce — A little bit, yes. But also it was fun, you know, because I really like to take other people's songs and make my own arrangements and make them my own a little bit.


Brazzil — How did the concept for Astronauta come about?


Joyce — The whole story is that I was about to make a new album, and the general idea of the new album was to have exactly this blend of American and Brazilian musicians, but there was nothing decided yet about repertoire or anything. It was already a co-production between the Japanese company Omagatoki and Blue Jackel, and I invited Rodolfo Stroeter to produce it and to help me with the choice of songs. He is a great producer and has a label in Brazil that deals directly with Blue Jackel.


Brazzil — Pau Brasil.


Joyce — Exactly. So, being able to put all those people together was a very nice coincidence.


Brazzil — There seems to be a lot of homage recordings lately, like Ivan Lins doing Noel Rosa and Eliane Elias doing Jobim. Did the commercial aspect play into the choice of material?


Joyce — Yeah, that happens too, but I think it's more an "end-of-the-century syndrome." I think people are beginning to miss the century, the great things that happened in this century. I did a Jobim album myself, for instance, but that was 1987 and he was still alive. He wrote the liner notes for the album. That's when he turned sixty, and we paid tribute to him. It's very nice when you pay tribute to somebody who's still there, you know? There's a Brazilian song that says, "Give me the flowers in life." It's nice to give the flowers in life. And I had the chance to do this with Jobim. He wrote beautiful liner notes for the album. It was very nice. That was before this "end-of-the-century syndrome."


Brazzil — That's a very good explanation, but I've seen so much of it lately. And I was starting to...


Joyce — Yeah, but it's not only in Brazil. You can see that also in American music. For instance, Etta James did this beautiful record of Billie Holiday, and Tony Bennett did Frank Sinatra. And you always see people doing each other's music. It's a lot like that, I think.


Brazzil — There is great chemistry among the Brazilian and American players on the new CD. Were there a lot of rehearsals?


Joyce — (Laughs) Isn't that amazing. You know what? When musicians are good, no, not good, but great like those I got for this recording, you don't have to rehearse too much. I just came with charts and everybody played, and that was it. We did it in three days. It was actually very easy to do because the music was good, the musicians were great, the studio was great, the sound engineer was great. So, that made things very easy.


Brazzil — Was there one tune that was harder to record than others?


Joyce — I can't say so. They all went easily. Everybody understood the meaning and how we wanted it and how the thing was supposed to roll. And it really did.


Brazzil — So you enjoyed collaborating with the North American jazz musicians?


Joyce — Very much. Very much. And what I enjoyed the most was the situation, the environment that was created. Because although we recorded in New York with American jazz musicians, I felt like we were hosting them. We had invited them to come to our house, and they were really guests who presented their best. But it was our house, and the food that was being served was our food. That's what I loved about it, especially having a Brazilian rhythm section. I think it was the most important element because we never lost the pace, you know? We never lost the meaning of what we wanted to do.


Brazzil — Guello's cuíca on, "Samba Pra Elis" is unbelievable, sounds just like a human voice.


Joyce — Yeah, that was very lucky because we got the perfect notes to respond to Lovano's playing and to the harmony, to the chords that were being played. That was really nice. Yeah, I really enjoyed that.


Brazzil — Is he a regular member of your group?


Joyce — No, no, not really. He plays more with Zizi Possi. He's a regular member of her band.


Brazzil — She did a piece for just voice and cuícas. Was that him?


Joyce — I don't know. She used to play with Marcos Suzano. Guello replaced Suzano in her band. But anyway, he is regular with her, so it's always kind of hard to get him. We were just able to have him for the recording.


Brazzil — When did you first meet Elis?


Joyce — I met her at the very beginning of my career. I was nineteen years old and she was already big, very famous. She became famous very early. I was taken to her house. I showed her a few songs, and she liked them. She said maybe she would record them, but she didn't. It took her two years to record a song of mine for the first time. It's called "Copacabana Velha de Guerra." It's on her album called Elis em Pleno Verão (1970), the album where she launches Tim Maia. Yeah, so that's the first song of mine that she recorded. But we became friends, quite close for awhile. Then she moved to São Paulo in the mid-seventies. I was still in Rio, so we couldn't see each other that much, but we always kept in contact.


Brazzil — What is your most memorable image of Elis?


Joyce — Oh, there are many. There are many. What can I say. When I think of her, I see a very feminine woman and one very, very concentrated on her family. She was very involved with being a mother. She was always concerned about her house and loved that sort of thing too. She was not only into her career. Although she was a great career woman and a huge star, she didn't want to miss this other part of her life. She wanted to be perfect in everything and really wanted to take care of her kids and of her home and was very much into all of those things.


Brazzil — Joyce, I know your fans on the West Coast were hoping you would come out and...


Joyce — Yes, and so was I. We were supposed to make a longer tour this time, but the dates didn't match, and it was kind of complicated, so we decided to save the West Coast for later.


Brazzil — I know San Francisco was looking forward to having you.


Joyce — Yes, and me too. That is a city that I just adore, so I am looking forward to playing there. Hopefully, around June or July I'll be able to play the West Coast.


Brazzil — Thank you very much for taking your time. It was a pleasure.


Joyce — You're very welcome.


Brazzil — I know San Francisco was looking forward to having you.


Joyce — Yes, and me too. That is a city that I just adore, so I am looking forward to playing there. Hopefully, around June or July I'll be able to play the West Coast.


Brazzil — Thank you very much for taking your time. It was a pleasure.


Joyce — You're very welcome.


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