The smooth, romantic Brazilian beat that underlies much of contemporary jazz-pop in the United States has often originated with the music of Brazilian singer-songwriter Ivan Lins. A superstar in Brazil with a career stretching back to the classic era of bossa nova music, Lins gained fans in the United States and Europe as he collaborated with urban contemporary greats George Benson and Quincy Jones in the 1980s and launched an independent American career. His popularity, rather than declining as he aged, continued to grow, and in 2005, 35 years after breaking into the Brazilian music scene, he won a Latin Grammy Award for his album Cantando Historias.
Lins was born in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 1945, but when he was two years old his father, a naval engineer, enrolled in a graduate program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Massachusetts, outside Boston. It was there that Lins grew up, in a brownstone apartment near the Boston Public Garden, and American music made a strong impact on him when he was very small. "I was really a speedy child," Lins told Bob Young of the Boston Herald. "One day my parents said, 'Let's calm him.' They gave me these plastic colored records and I used to play and sing to them all the time." Among the records were classic American songs by Stephen Foster such as "Camptown Races" and "Swanee River," and tunes from the hit Walt Disney animated films of the 1940s such as "When You Wish Upon a Star," from Pinocchio.
Listeners to Lins's sophisticated adult pop wouldn't necessarily think first of Disney as a possible influence, but Lins pointed to the music of his childhood in explaining the structure of his songs. "The melody has a start and a finish, and I like to tell a story melodically," he explained to Young. "I think it's because Walt Disney's music used to be like that … because it was composed for children." After the family moved back to Brazil when Lins was six, he continued to pursue an interest in American music. He took up piano and listened to big band jazz from his parents' record collection, studying the arrangements of Pittsburgh bandleader Billy May. "My favorite Sinatra albums at that time were the ones with Billy May arranging," he told Peter B. King of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "You know, Come Fly with Me."
In his teens and early twenties, Lins wasn't thinking in terms of a career in music. He went to college and thought about a career in professional sports. But with Brazilian music going through an unusually creative phase, he was drawn back to writing songs. The bossa nova craze, with its songs of the beach and sophisticated romance, was followed domestically by Música Popular Brasileira (MPB, or Brazilian Popular Music). Lins began to perform at Brazilian clubs and festivals, and in 1970 one of his songs, "Madalena," was recorded by Brazil's leading vocalist, Elis Regina. A harbinger of Lins's international appeal came when the song was picked up immediately by American jazz singer Ella Fitzgerald and recorded by her in 1971. Regina's version also became a hit in Europe.
Lins released his own album debut, Quem Sou Eu (Who I Am), in 1972, and during the 1970s he recorded seven albums for the Philips, Polygram, RCA, and Odeon labels. He remained almost unknown in the United States, however, until he was discovered by producer and hitmaker Quincy Jones. Lins's music was recommended to Jones by Brazilian percussionist Paulinho da Costa, a veteran session musician. In 1980 Lins's composition "Dinorah, Dinorah" was featured on guitarist George Benson's top-selling Give Me the Night album.
Jones began exploring Lins's catalogue for other releases, and included "Velas" on his album The Dude, which won a Grammy Award for best jazz instrumental performance, and he continued to return to Lins for material on other albums. Lins's songs began to spread among jazz musicians featured on the popular "quiet storm" radio formats of the era, and Brazilian beats grew more common on the radio. The vocal group Manhattan Transfer featured two Lins songs, translated into English, on its Brasil album in 1987, while more traditional jazz artists such as Sarah Vaughan also recorded Lins pieces. In 1987 Lins contributed two tracks to an album by R&B/jazz group the Crusaders, including the title track "Life in the Modern World." Lins was well known by the late 1980s among jazz musicians and producers but remained relatively unknown to the general public. Lins aimed to change that situation with the release of his first English-language album, Love Dance, in 1988. His English was imperfect but enthusiastic.
For the Record …
Born in 1945 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; grew up in Cambridge, MA.
Song "Madalena" recorded by Brazilian vocalist Elis Regina, 1970; signed to Philips label, recorded debut album, Quem Sou Eu, 1972; signed to RCA label; song "Dinorah, Dinorah" featured on George Benson's Give Me the Night LP, 1980; songs heavily recorded by jazz and urban contemporary artists, 1980s; collaborated with the Crusaders on Life in the Modern World, 1987; recorded U.S. debut Love Dance, 1989; released Anjo de Mim, 1995; A Love Affair—The Music of Ivan Lins, 2000; Cantando Historias, 2005.
Awards: Latin Grammy Award, Best Album, for Cantando Historias, 2005.
Addresses: Booking—Ted Kurland Associates, 173 Brighton Ave., Boston, MA 02134. Website—Ivan Lins Offical Website: http://www.ivanlins.com.br (in Portuguese; click on "Contato" to send e-mail).
The smoothly romantic title track of Love Dance remains Lins's single best-known composition. It was recorded by many jazz vocalists and instrumentalists, including Sarah Vaughan, Nancy Wilson, and Kenny Burrell, but perhaps the most famous version was that by adult contemporary chanteuse Vanessa Williams. That version appeared on the all-star CD A Love Affair: The Music of Ivan Lins (2000), that paid tribute to Lins's impact on contemporary American pop. Other artists included were Sting, Chaka Khan, and Dianne Reeves. Jim Newsom of All Music Guide noted that the album showed Lins's music to be "as fine as anything that has come out of his native country since the bossa nova heyday of the early '60s." Lins shared with bossa nova star Antonio Carlos Jobim an ability to write catchy, rhythmic material that proved irresistible to other musicians in both the jazz and pop fields. His songs were equally suited to jazz-pop fusions and to straight-ahead jazz interpretations from the likes of trumpeter Terence Blanchard.
Lins's recording and concertizing activities gained speed in his sixth decade of life, when most performers begin to coast. His 1995 album Anjo de Mim (My Angel) was released in the United States as I'm Not Alone, with new English songs, and kicked off a Lins tour that made the artist into a consistent American nightclub draw. Although he had been closely watched by Brazilian authorities during the country's years of military dictatorship, his mostly romantic lyrics escaped censorship and his Brazilian career continued unabated. Lins was also popular in Europe and Japan. The early 2000s brought several reissues of early Lins albums, and in 2005 Cantando Historias (Singing Stories) teamed a still boyish-looking Lins with a host of younger Brazilian artists. The album became the first Portuguese language release to win the Album of the Year award at the annual Latin Grammy Awards, and the subtle Brazilian tinge Lins had brought to a wide variety of American music was only growing deeper.
Quem Sou Eu, Philips, 1972.
Deixa o Trem Seguir, Polygram, 1972.
Ivan Lins/Abre Alas, RCA, 1974; reissued, 1996.
Chama Acesa, RCA, 1975; reissued, 2001.
Nos Dias de Hoje, EMI/Odeon, 1978.
Somos Todos Iguais esta Noite, EMI/Odeon, 1979; reissued, 2005.
A Noite, EMI/Odeon, 1979; reissued, 2005.
Juntos, Verve, 1984.
Maos, Verve, 1987.
Love Dance, Reprise, 1988.
Awa Yio, Reprise, 1990.
Performance, EMI Latin, 1991.
A Doce Presença de Ivan Lins, Velas, 1994; reissued, 2003.
Anjo de Mim, Velas, 1995.
I'm Not Alone, Alex, 1996.
Live at MCG, Heads Up, 1999.
(With various artists) A Love Affair: The Music of Ivan Lins, Telarc, 2000.
Jobiniando, Abril, 2001.
Agora, Universal International, 2004.
Cantando Historias, EMI, 2005.
Boston Herald, October 15, 2000, p. 51.
Daily Telegraph (London, England), December 9, 2000.
Los Angeles Times, November 4, 2005, p. B4.
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, June 20, 1999, p. G3.
San Francisco Chronicle, May 2, 1996, p. C7.
"Ivan Lins," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (February 28, 2006).
"Ivan Lins," Soulwalking, http://www.soulwalking.co.uk (February 28, 2006).
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