Dinner last night with Denise Dummont, her husband Matthew, Miho Hatori and Mauro. Denise is the daughter of Humberto Teixeira, co-writer of “Asa Branca” and many other songs. I did a translation of “Asa Branca” and sang it on Mauro’s new Forro in the Dark CD, hence the connection. Matthew is related to Darwin, and just turned in his new book about the efforts to turn back the clock in teaching evolution in Pennsylvania. His previous book was about a trip to the Tennessee town where the Scopes trial was held.
Teixeira was that Brazilian phenomenon — the composer of popular songs who was also an intellectual, a power in the law (he established song copyrights) and politics — not the way Bruce Springsteen might be a power in politics…but as if Jerry Brown or Anne Richards were writers of great popular songs. Vinicius de Morais (co-writer of a lot of the famous Jobim songs) was another of these men — a songwriter, poet, intellectual and ambassador to France. Gilberto Gil, now Minister of Culture, continues the tradition.
In Brazil the popular song is considered an art form — not just the harmonically complex jewels that are the classic bossa nova tunes, but, as in Humberto’s case, the Baião — a folksy regional style from the northeast — cowboy music, really. It’s as if Hank Williams were accorded the artistic merit he deserves, by both the popular audiences and the academy. Here, up north, there is a clear separation between songs written by “composers” (Schumann, Gershwin, Verdi, Berio, Virgil Thompson) and those “churned out” by songwriters (Hank, Berry, etc.) The former are fit for the finest theaters and concert halls and all the philanthropic and state support that goes along with that, while the latter are relegated to dingy bars and former Polish meeting halls with sticky floors…and no state or other support whatsoever.
Here in the U.S. jazz is seen as fit for government support — at least for support at Lincoln Center and government-sponsored world tours. Send Duke Ellington out on a world tour as a representative of American culture, along with action painters and abstract art. Odd that jazz was supported when it was no longer a popular medium. Wonder if rock and rap will someday be officially sponsored?
Anyway — the story I was told was that Humberto was playing in the Rio clubs but not getting anywhere till a friend told him about this singer in town from the Northeast who was a great charismatic performer — Luiz Gonzaga….and the rest is history. Gonzaga became Humberto’s vehicle — he advised him to adopt the look of the northeastern cowboys and outlaws and the first song he wrote for him was “Asa Branca”. A classic. These guys became an unlikely team — the sophisticate (who could write “country” songs) and the singer who could deliver them. Not to call her “country”, but maybe a bit like Burt Bacharach and Dionne Warwick.
and Humberto, the Doctor of Baião