I’m currently on a Brazilian music kick; specifically the bossa and MPB of giants like Caetano, Jobim and both Gilbertos. While devouring every syncopated beat within earshot, I realized Brazil has produced hella good guitarists. In the spirit of my recent list of cellists, I thought, why not acknowledge my favorite Brazilian guitarists?
Some sing; some don’t. Some only play acoustic; some double on electric. However, each finds that pocket between classical, jazz and pop only Brazilians seems to hit with any integrity. Enjoy, and as always, feel free to post your own favorites in the comments!
How could anyone beside João Gilberto begin this list? The man credited with perfecting bossa nova rhythm playing, he influenced everyone to come and still occasionally performs himself. Watch his version of Ary Barroso’s classic “Aquarela do Brasil.” If you want to understand saudade, listen up.
My favorite guitarist in terms of creativity, Luis Bonfá sparked the bossa nova revolution with songs like “Manhã de Carnaval” and “Felicidade” penned for the film Black Orpheus. He imitates a berimbau one moment and a string tremolo the next. Watch Perry Como patronize him in this funny clip.
Laurindo Almeida was the first musician to win a Grammy for both classical and popular music. He infused virtuosic classical technique with jazz harmonies and pop sensibilities. Almeida is a gem who is often overlooked in the guitar world. Watch the pretentious announcer be pretentious while Almeida and the Modern Jazz Quartet shred.
I discovered Bola Sete (seven ball) only this week. In my opinion (take with a grain of salt), he is the most underrated guitarist on this list. Sete performed with the likes of Vince Guaraldi and Dizzy Gillespie on his signature nylon string guitar. Watch him walk all over the fretboard with the Vince Guaraldi Trio on Ralph Gleason’s Jazz Casual from 1963.
In addition to his sultry piano, Tom Jobim played a mean guitar. There is nothing I could say that would do justice to his timeless music. Watch him perform with the equally timeless Sinatra.
While I’ve never much cared for Baden Powell‘s arrangements, I do respect his badassery. Watch him perform Bonfá’s “Manha de Carnaval” with cigarette in hand.
Sebastião Tapajós is another powerhouse of the pop classical style. Watch him interpret “Aquarela do Brasil” in a very different manner than Gilberto. Look for the imitations near the end…
Toquinho connects the old guard to the new. His friendship with poet Vinicius de Moraes, who penned unforgettable lyrics for songs like “Girl from Ipanema,” spawned some incredible music including “Tarde em Itapoã.” Watch him perform the song with the great Gilberto Gil.
The aforementioned Gilberto Gil needs no introduction. Godfather of Tropicalia along with Caetano Veloso, he is so respected in Brazil he even served as Minister of Culture for a spell. Listen to his soaring voice on the classic tune “Expresso 2222.”
What would a list of Brazilian music be without Caetano Veloso! Perhaps the most well-known Brazilian musician outside of Brazil, he remains an invaluable artist in voicing the country’s inequalities. When I lived in Brazil the bittersweet “Sozinho” was on MTV nearly every time I tuned in.
Milton Nascimento made his name in my own state of Minas Gerais. After his first few records he turned much more commercial–and I don’t blame him completely–but in my opinion he never achieved the glory of Clube da Esquina. Listen to one of my favorite songs of all time, “Tudo que você podia ser.”
Novos Baianos never found a substantial audience outside of Brazil even though they’re revered in their home country. Rolling Stone Brazil even called their album Acabou Chorare the all-time greatest Brazilian record. I agree; their wild mix of samba, bossa nova (Moraes studied with Gilberto), and experimental rock is only matched by the band’s virtuosity. Watch Moraes Moreiro’s twisting, syncopated fingerstyle in “Samba da Minha Terra.”
For something completely different… Yamandu Costa is universally regarded as a virtuoso of the seven string guitar. Beautiful playing and bursting with creativity!
Last but not least, the Assad Brothers. They’ve performed together since the 1960s and have collaborated with classical and jazz greats like Paquito D’Rivera and Yo-Yo Ma. Watch them with Yo-Yo during his “Brazil” period…
I hope this roundup reminded you of your favorite music or sparked your interest to something new. As always, if you have anything to add, leave a comment! Ate logo meus amigos!