For almost half a century, the Brazilian born guitar player Baden Powell has been one of the key musicians among his country’s jazz scene. However, Powell’s work demonstrates a mastery of many classical guitar styles, from the South American tradition of flamenco to interpretations of the composer Johann Sebastian Bach. Nevertheless, on the whole Powell built his reputation as an innovator of bossa nova or the marriage of Brazilian sambas and jazz, often aided by the poet and lyricist Vinicius de Moraes. Although his popularity in the United States has never truly expanded beyond jazz and guitar aficionados, Powell’s name has been virtually a household word in Europe from the early 1960s, when he relocated to that continent for several decades.
Born in the a small shantytown, called a favela in Portuguese, Powell grew up amongst a musical family. His father Lino de Aquino was a fairly successful violinist, and his grandfather had been an important orchestra leader. Seeing that the young Powell had an attraction to musical instruments— he had been caught stealing his aunt’s violin—Lino decided to sent his son to study with the nationally famous composer and guitarist Jaime Florense. Florense, under the stage name of Meira, had made a name for himself in the 1940s as an accompanist for many Brazilian radio stars and immersed Powell in a vigorous diet of trade secrets of the classical musician. All the while, the budding musician was seduced by the sounds of jazz musicians such as saxophone player Charlie Parker and pianist Thelonius Monk.
By the mid-1940s, Powell had become something of a minor child star in Brazil, largely through the help of Florense. “When I was nine, my father entered me in a radio amateur hour contest—without telling me,” Powell remembered to Guitar Review writer Brian Hodel in 1990. “I had been playing only two years, but I played well.” Powell won the contest, and the publicity gave Florense a lever with which to boost his protégé into other engagements. In 1947, Powell appeared in the first ever Brazilian television program, performing jazz pieces on an electric guitar. After this point, Powell would carry out his work almost exclusively through acoustic instrumentation.
Although Powell began playing professionally at the age of fifteen, it was not until the late 1950s that he began to take himself seriously as a composer, after his song “Samba Triste” became a popular hit for the singer Lucio Alves in 1956. However, it was not until his experience with the congealing school of bossa nova found in the Bar Plaza district of Rio de Janeiro that helped Powell develop his own flavor of songwriting. While the exact origin of bossa nova is debated, it gained international fame in the 1960s through the work of artists such as Antonio Carlos Jobim, Joao and Astrud Giberto, Chico Buarque de Hollande, and Powell himself.
In the early 1960s, Powell began his partnership with Vinicius de Moraes, who was already Brazil’s foremost poet. With the delicate, sometimes nostalgic mode of Powell’s music accompanied by the understated lyrics of Moraes, the duo became instrumental in defining what bossa nova meant to the world. Although his reputation in his own country had peaked upon his teaming with Moraes, Powell was celebrated even more in Europe, where the cool jazz flavor of bossa nova raged in many clubs. “In Brazil the audience [for my music] is affectionate, but it is a very select group,” Powell told Hodel. “In Europe, the same people who attend a rock concert will listen to [composer] Artur Rubenstein, jazz, everything. There is just so much culture!” As a result, in 1963 Powell moved to Europe, which remained his base of operations for three decades.
In Europe, Powell made a number of important bossa nova recordings, beginning with a duet recorded with
For the Record …
Born Roberto Baden Powell de Aquino (named after Boy Scout founder Lord Robert Baden Powell), August 6, 1937, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Education — Studied with famed musician Jaime “Meira” Florense, 1944-1949.
Toured Brazil playing guitar at Florense’s suggestion, 1947; had first success with Lucio Alves’s recording of song “Samba Triste,” 1956; met lyricist and partner Vinicius de Moraes, 1961; moved to Europe to record with artists such as Herbie Mann, 1963; toured Europe as a band leader, beginning in 1966; recorded in New York City with American saxophonist Stan Getz, 1967; performed at the Berlin Guitar Festival, 1967; recorded bossa nova styled album La Grande Reunion with Stephane Grappelli, 1974; recorded acclaimed album Seresta Brasiliera, 1994; released retrospective record The Guitar Artistry of Baden Powell, 1998.
Awards: second place in first Festival of Brazilian Popular Music for song “Valsa do Amor Que Nao Vem), written with Moraes, 1965; fourth place in Festival of Brazilian Popular Music for song “Cidade Vazia,” written with Lula Freire, 1966; won French Golden Disc Award for album Le Monde Musical de Baden Powell, 1967’; won Biennial Samba Competition with “Lapinha,” written with P.C. Pinheiro, 1968.
Addresses: Record company —Iris Records, Box 422, Port Washington, NY, 11050, (516) 944-7905; Home’Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
flutist Herbie Mann. In the meantime, bossa nova had become synonymous with a chic, cosmopolitan lifestyle, and infiltrated the rock-dominated charts in both Europe and the United States as pop groups like Sergio Mendes and Brazil ’66 fused bossa nova with contemporary pop. Powell and Moraes’ own composition “Samba da Bencao” (“My Heart Loves The Samba”), featured in French director Claude Lelouch’s 1966 film A Man and a Woman, accompanied images of a young, attractive couple galloping on horseback through Brazilian grasslands and helped create an almost mythical image of Brazil for a generation of foreigners.
As one of the few guitarists in Europe who had mastered the bossa nova style, Powell was in high demand during the 1960s and extensively toured Europe throughout that decade. Nevertheless, Powell confined himself neither to the bossa nova genre nor to the European scene. In addition to recording a number of jazz and classical guitar pieces, he shuttled back to Brazil to compete in a number of competitions, including the very first Festival of Brazilian Popular Music in 1965, where his “Valsa do Amor Que Nao Vem” placed second. Still, it was his intense take on the often laid-back bossa nova that demonstrated Powell’s greatest inspiration, such as on Afro-Samba, an album actually recorded in a flooded studio in Rio. “The water was nearly up to our knees and we were getting shocked by the microphones, so we went to a nearby bar and borrowed wooden beer crates to stand on,” Powell remembered to Hodel. “The great thing about the bossa nova days was great love - more love than professionalism. That doesn’t exist anymore.”
Throughout the 1970s, Powell continued to cut diversely styled albums in Europe, highlighted by the efforts Solitude on Guitarin 1971, La grande reunion in 1974 (recorded with vocalist Stephane Grappelli), and Brazilian Rhythm in 1977. While never abandoning the bossa nova, Powell made sure to offer listeners the full scope of traditional Brazilian music. As Gramophone said of Brazilian Rhythms, Powell’s recorded efforts were “a delightful array of his own works and those of some fellow countrymen, demonstrating the beauty of the guitar in its pristine, unamplified state.” Powell’s devotion to his instrument was so great that in 1979, he needed surgery to repair parts of his rib cage that had worn away from tightly cradling his guitar. Although Powell sometimes needed to spend days lying on his back to recuperate, he chose to keep playing.
Powell began to take further steps away from the jazzier side of bossa nova in favor of an even more refined classical execution. Likewise, his live performances of the period contained less of the spontaneous musical license associated with jazz gigs. “I improvise,” Powell explained to Hodel, “but I lost that jazz style improvisation because I lost the habit. I improvise well, but it’s not totally jazzistic. It is in accord with the kind of music I am performing.” Although Powell’s new material did not place him on the vanguard of stylistic experimentation, he was respected nevertheless by jazz and classical critics alike. “With his clean, consummate technique and, more importantly, abiding musicality, Powell animates these songs with a kind of emotive power that crosses the line between classical and folk sensibilities,” Josef Woodward wrote in Down Beat “The intent here is not to overwhelm with virtuosity, but to find a path between twilight-like melancholy and controlled passion.”
In addition to creating new albums, Powell re-released some of his back catalogue during the 1990s, making the full legacy of his work available to newer listeners. As Powell’s popularity in the United States had never been level with what it was in Latin America and Europe, he also expressed interest in relocating to New York City, where Powell performed several special engagements in the early 1990s. With many young Americans delving into diverse styles of world music as an alternative to the monopoly of mainstream rock, it would not be unlikely if Powell’s guitar mastery were to be embraced by yet another generation.
Tristeza on Guitar, Verve, 1966.
Berlin Festival Guitar Workshop, Pausa, 1967.
Le Monde Musical de Baden Powell, Barclay, 1967.
Solitude on Guitar, Columbia, 1971.
La Grande Reunion, Festival, 1974.
Brazilian Rhythms, Phillips, 1977.
Baden Powell, WEA/Atlantic, 1979 (live).
Melancolie, Accord, 1985.
Three Originals, Polygram, 1993.
Seresta Brasiliera, Milestone, 1994.
Afro Samba, Iris, 1996 (re-release).
Live In Rio, Iris, 1996,
Guitar Artistry of Baden Powell, Dom, 1998.
Down Beat, June 1994.
Gramophone, May 1977.
Guitar Review, Fall 1990.
Jazz Journal International, October 1995.
Jazz Times, May 1994.
(b.. Stamford Hill, England, 22 August 1796; d. London, England, 11 June 1860)
Powell was the eldest son of Baden Powell of Langton, Kent. After private education he entered Oriel College, Oxford, in 1814 and graduated in 1817 with a first-class degree in mathematics. After ordination in 1820 he was curate at Midhurst, Sussex, and, from 1821 to 1827, vicar of Plumstead, Kent. The quality of his early researches in optics and radiant heat, which he performed at Plumstead, was recognized by his election as a fellow of the Royal Society in 1824 and by his appointment as Savilian professor of geometry at Oxford in 1827. He remained a prominent and respected figure at Oxford until 1854, when, despite the fact that he was to retain his chair until his death, he took up residence in London. He was married three times—in 1821, 1837, and 1846—and had fourteen children. One of his sons by his last marriage was Robert Baden-Powell, later Lord Baden-Powell of Gilwell, the founder of the scouting movement.
Most of Powell’s scientific research dates from the 1820’s and 1830’s. His best-known experiments were those on the heating effect produced beyond the red end of the solar spectrum (described in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society in 1825 and 1826). Powell used his experiments on the transmission of radiant heat and light through glass screens as the basis for some unusual speculations on the nature of radiation. According to Powell, all sources, whether luminous or not, emitted radiant heat of a kind that could be intercepted by a glass screen; but once a body became luminous, it began to exercise an additional and quite separate “heating power,” characterized by the ability to pass through glass.
Although in this way he associated at least a part of the heating effect with luminosity, Powell left his conjecture unexplained and certainly did not commit himself to John Leslie’s view that radiant heat and light had a common cause. Powell’s theory won little support and, as evidence of the identity of radiant heat and light accumulated in the 1830’s and 1840’s, it was ignored. Indeed, once J. D. Forbes had demonstrated the polarization of radiant heat in 1835 (an observation that Powell had failed to make in his experiments on polarization some five years earlier), Powell’s own conviction weakened and he became increasingly sympathetic to the view that radiant heat, like light, consisted of vibrations in an all-pervading ether.
Of Powell’s other experimental work, the most notable was the investigation of the dispersion of light (described in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society between 1835 and 1838), which he used to support the wave theory as treated by Cauchy.
Powell’s scientific reputation was not founded solely on his skill in original research. After 1830 he became even better known as a commentator on the work of others—for example, in the reports on the state of the study of radiant heat that he read to the British Association for the Advancement of Science in 1832, 1840, and 1854. As a public speaker he was noted for his lucidity and sedateness, and he was much in demand both as a lecturer on science and as a preacher. Powell wrote a number of elementary textbooks of mathematics, a popular History of Natural Philosophy (1834) for the Cabinet Cyclopaedia, and an exposition of the wave theory of light in 1841.
Throughout his life, but especially after 1850, Powell was involved in religious controversy. Opposed equally to the strict Sabbatarianism of the Evangelicals and to the Tractarians, he adopted a position on matters of doctrine similar to that later associated with the Broad Church movement. Like the Broad Churchmen, he maintained that the searching reexamination of traditional beliefs in the light of scientific knowledge did not endanger faith. Repeatedly he affirmed the irrelevance to Christian belief of the Old Testament (which he saw as little more than a Jewish parable) and argued, with Thomas Chalmers and against William Whewell, for the possibility of life on other planets. An admirer of Charles Lyell, Powell enthusiastically accepted the principle of the uniformity of nature and strongly criticized forms of natural theology that incorporated geological catastrophes and supposed suspensions of the normal laws of nature as evidence of divine intervention. Miracles, being deviations from uniformity, were inconceivable to Powell and merely reflected either the unreliability of the witness or man’s ignorance of the true laws of nature.
Although Powell presented his views on miracles most fully in his contribution to Essays and Reviews (1860), in which he elaborately distinguished the “external accessories” of Christianity (like miracles) from the “essential doctrines,” he had been no less committed to the principle of uniformity in the 1830’s, when such a position was unorthodox among theologians. It was entirely characteristic of Powell’s independence in Anglican circles (as also of his zeal for the principle of uniformity) that he was one of the first major theologians to treat Robert Chambers’ Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation (1844) sympathetically, as he did in his Essays on the Spirit of the Inductive Philosophy (1855). Like Chambers, he maintained that belief in the uniformity of nature could be the basis for a new natural theology that would yield a far grander conception of the Creator than the old.
Powell was also active in educational reform, and throughout his tenure of the Savilian chair he was a forthright spokesman for science at Oxford. As a member of the Royal Commission of Enquiry into Oxford University between 1850 and 1852, he urged the extension of science teaching at the university, against strong opposition; and he must take much credit for the modest reforms of the I850’s.
I. Original Works. Powell’s most important researches are described in the following papers: “An Experimental Inquiry Into the Nature of Radiant Heating Effects From Terrestrial Sources’ in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, 116 (1825), 187; 202; “An Account of Some Experiments Relating to the Passage of Radiant Heat Through Glass Screens,“ibid., 117 (1826), 372-382; “Researches Towards Establishing a Theory of the Dispersion of Light,” ibid., 126 (1835), 249-254; 127 (1836), 17-20; 128 (1837), 19-24; 129 (1838), 253-264, with supplement, 130 (1840), 157-160. He was also a frequent contributor to the Philosophical Magazine. His scientific and mathematical books, which were generally pitched at an elementary level, include: The Elements of Curves (Oxford, 1828); A Short Treatise on the Principles of the Differential and Integral Calculus, 2 vols. (Oxford, 1829-1830);An Elementary Treatise on the Geometry of Curves and Curved Surfaces (Oxford, 1830); A General and Elementary View of the Undulatory Theory, As Applied to the Dispersion of Light and Some Other Subjects (London, 1841). History of Natural Philosophy From the Earliest Periods to the Present Time (London, 1830) is popularization of a rather different kind. The most interesting of his publications on educational matters is The Present State and Future Prospects of Mathematical and Physical Studies in the University of Oxford(Oxford, 1832). Many of his theological views are expounded in The Connexion of Natural and Divine Truth (London, 1838), but the fullest treatments are his contribution to Essays and Reviews (London, 1860) and three sets of essays: Essays on the Spirit of the inductive Philosophy (London, 1855); Christianity Without Judaism (London, 1857); and The Order of Nature Considered in Reference to the Claims of Revelation (London, 1859).
II. Secondary Literature. The standard obituary of Powell is in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, 21 (1861), 103-105, repr. in Proceedings of the Royal Society, 11 (1860-1862), xxvi-xxix. A detailed if uncritical account of Powell’s life and work appears in W. Tuckwell, Pre-Tractarian Oxford (London, 1909), 165-225; a thorough study has yet to be written. The critical unsigned article “Recent Latitudinarian Theology,” in Christian Remembrancer, 38 (I860), 388-427, is useful for an understanding of Powell as a theologian.