The Brazil Effect: Bossa Nova’s Big Break in Washington, D.C. And Its Impact on Jazz, Pop Music

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Strathmore's Jazz Samba Project explores how pivotal Jazz Samba album, recorded in Washington, D.C., drew global attention to Brazilian music.

Recording of the Jazz Samba album at All Souls Unitarian Church

The impact of Jazz Samba was profound on both sides of the Atlantic. The previously little known bossa nova syncopation had an immediate impact on popular music. - festival co-curator Ken Avis

Propelled by the landmark 1962 Stan Getz and Charlie Byrd Jazz Samba album, recorded in Washington, D.C., Brazilian bossa nova music experienced commercial success for the first time, leading to the booming popularity of this sound in America. The album created an international platform for bossa nova music, which caused an indelible cultural shift in jazz and popular music.

Strathmore’s Jazz Samba Project is a celebration of over 50 years of bossa nova in the United States. From Friday, May 30 through June 15, 2014 Strathmore will explore the origins of bossa nova music in Brazil, its journey to Washington, D.C. and ascent to international recognition with more than 20 concerts, events, art exhibitions, lectures and family activities. The festival coincides with the 2014 World Cup held in Brazil, which has put the country once again at the forefront of the American dialogue. By revisiting its music history, Strathmore and festival curators Georgina Javor and Ken Avis are creating a new conversation around the significance of Brazilian influence on American culture, convening musicians who shaped the genre and their disciples, academic authorities, filmmakers, artists, authors and experts to share the story of bossa nova.

Festival highlights include a concert by Brazilian music legend Sergio Mendes and bossa nova’s “new vanguard” Eliane Elias; a world premiere screening of the documentary Bossa Nova: The Brazilian Music that Charmed the World; a re-imagining of the original Jazz Samba album from start to finish (featuring the Brazilian International Press Award USA 2014 winner Hendrik Meurkens); public discussions with Buddy Deppendschmidt, the last surviving member from the original recording; the first curated public exhibition of recordings, pictures and documents from the Felix E. Grant Jazz Archives at the University of the District of Columbia; and a culminating day-long free family festival celebrating the musical styles of Brazil.

A full schedule of events can be found at Jazz Samba Project is made possible by a National Endowment for the Arts Art Works Grant.

Jazz Samba was the first major bossa nova album on the American jazz scene, achieving immense commercial success and exposing this music to a brand new audience. The album sold half a million copies in 18 months and became the only jazz album ever to hit No. 1 on the Billboard Pop Chart, holding steady on the charts for 70 weeks. Recorded at Washington, D.C.'s All Souls Unitarian Church, the album led to two landmark concerts which included all the big Brazilian musicians of the time—at Lisner Auditorium in Washington, D.C. and at Carnegie Hall in New York.

The inspiration for Jazz Samba came during Charlie Byrd Trio's 1961 State Department tour of Brazil and 17 other countries in South and Central America. Byrd and his collaborators brought home a sound that had captivated Brazilians and set the stage for a new wave of music in the United States—inspiring the likes of Burt Bacharach, Elvis Presley, and the Beatles, who all drew influence from the bossa nova craze. In Brazil, bossa nova and its older cousin, samba, inspired generations of musicians to create important movements that also influenced the world over, including the tropicalia movement, psychedelic rock and forro.

“The impact of Jazz Samba was profound on both sides of the Atlantic. The previously little known bossa nova syncopation had an immediate impact on popular music and to this day, bossa nova remains a key element of the contemporary music and jazz portfolio,” said musician and festival curator Ken Avis.

One can see the re-emergence of Brazil today, from OS Mutantes, one of Brazil’s top psychedelic rock bands and headliner at Wilco’s 2013 summer music festival, to the resurgence of the tropicalia movement’s Tim Maia (deceased), who has a biopic slated for production and a new musical running in Brazil to critical acclaim, to Spike Lee’s documentary on Brazil, Go, Brazil, Go! The resurgence of bossa nova is also reflected in the work of internationally-known Washington, D.C. DJ duo Thievery Corporation, which incorporated core elements of bossa nova music into its April 2014 release, Saudade.

About Strathmore

Strathmore presents and produces exemplary visual and performing arts programs for diverse audiences; creates dynamic arts education experiences; and nurtures creative ideas and conversations that advance the future of the arts. The hallmark of the arts center is the Music Center at Strathmore, a 1,976-seat concert hall and education complex. The Music Center at Strathmore is located at 5301 Tuckerman Lane in North Bethesda, MD, one half-mile north of the Capital Beltway and immediately adjacent to the Grosvenor-Strathmore station on Metro’s Red Line.

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