Scenes From A Photographer's Notebook: How Bossa Nova Came To Carnegie Hall and Uncle Dave Came To Brasil

Scene 1, Boate Bon Gourmet, Rio de Janeiro, 1962

It was springtime in the sensual city by the sea.

It was the inaugural night of what was to be probably the most famous show of a new musical style called Bossa Nova.

It was a tiny nightclub, the Bon Gourmet, and it was a tiny cast of musicians in the show. In spite of their diminutive number, the cast had musical weight. When you run through their names, you now know why.

First (it was his show), there was a singer from Bahia called Joao Gilberto, a diplomat from Itamarati named Vinicius de Morais, a group of vocally malabaristic singers called Os Cariocas, and a cool, light-handed drummer improbably named Milton Banana.

Finally, there was a slim young piano player who went by the handle of Tom Jobim.

It was a memorable night for Brasil and a photographer named David Zingg. Bossa Nova was on its way to something that neither Adolph Hitler nor Joe Stalin had been capable of -- world conquest.

When I first heard the understated, streamlined version of the classic Carioca samba, I was simply wiped out.
Smashed.
Bewitched
Hypnotized.
Deeply changed.
Terminally emotionally reprogrammed.

Let me explain what I was doing that night in the Bon Gourmet, a long way by primitive 707 from my home base, New York City.

In 1962, I was a free-lance writer who had turned photographer after working as an editor/writer on the staff of Look magazine, a sort of combined O Cruzeiro/Manchete on better paper.

Look, and its arch-rival, Life, were the eyes of Gringolandia. Until the end of the '60s, they had the mass audience and the power that would later come to television.

Lucky little me, I had fallen into an extremely cushy job as editorial advisor for a rich, influential new magazine called Show.
(Even if you're mentally missing a sandwich to make a picnic, Joaozinho, you might guess that Show was dedicated to the arts).

This is what brought us, that fateful night to the Bon Gourmet.

I came back night after night, drinking in this new music. (I also drank in an inordinate quantity of Scotch whiskey with Tom and Vinicius).

Scene 2, Months Later, Over Dry Martinis, New York City

Uncle Dave and Bob Wool have successfully close their special edition of Show magazine about the state of the arts in South America.

They are celebrating in P.J. Clark's, a hangout for reporters. They are happy, They are on their fourth double Martini and they are completely drunk. Wool, slurring his words: "The only little problem we still have is how the hell do we promote our special issue?'

Zingg is profoundly inspired by the LP "Cancao do Amor Demais" that he brought back from Brasil. He plays it twenty-four hours a day to the alarm of friends who are certain that he left his common sense in a bar in Brasil in the care of a musician named Tom Jobim.

Zingg is also triumphantly drunk, but inspired by Jobim's music and gin, in equal parts. "Simple," he says creatively, "all we have to do is hire Carnegie Hall and a fleet of airplanes and bring the whole fuckin' mob of Bossa Nova musicians to Manhattan do a show!"

Said and done.

Once recovered from their brutal hangover, our courageous young reporters win the support of Dora Vasconcellos (poet and Brasilian consul in New York) and Mario Dias Costa, then chief of cultural affairs at Itamarati in Rio.

Dora sold the idea to a shyster record company which paid for the rental of the concert hall. Mario used some sort of blackmail, and squeezed Varig for an immense number of free airplane tickets for the musicians. Most of the musicians slept on the floor of New York apartments owned by cooperative Brasilian fans.

The concert was a done deal.

Scene 3, Twenty years later, Sao Paulo

Tom Jobim's music was the lever that catapulted me to a new life as a permanent resident of Brasil. Life is a kind of a Mobius strip. I had helped give Jobim and Bossa Nova to the world.

Now, in 1985, Tom is interviewing Zingg (chic, nao?) for the August number of Walter Carelli's hip magazine, Status:

"- Depois, o David veio para o Brasil. E diz que foi por minha causa, mas na verdade ele vivia na praia, no Arpoador, jogando peteca e frescobol com meninas bonitas e nunca voltou.
"- Depois, quando o Rio comenou a ficar chato - e de fato ficou, virou esse balneário bagunçado - ele se mudou para São Paulo, a nossa Nova York.
"- Jaime Ovale costumava dizer que São Paulo é o Estados Unidos do Brasil. 'E Nova York, o que é Nova York, Jaime?', nos perguntavam. 'Nova York é a São Paulo do mundo'.
"- Bem, é a cidade de David Drew Zingg."

End of Lesson

OK, class, that's all Professor Dave has in the lesson for today. If you behave real well, sometime I'll tell you some more reporter's secrets like:
1) Why President Jack Kennedy telephoned his press secretary, Pierre Salinger, and screamed, "What's that son-of-a-bitch Zingg trying to do -- fuck me?"
2) Why Oscar Niemeyer hated the photographer's portraits so much he complained, "You make me look like an ape."
3) Why Zingg almost keeled over in a New York restaurant when his summertime romance, Oona, introduced a man who looked like her grandfather. Oona, who was 18, smiled coyly and said, "David I'd like to present my future husband, Charles Chaplin."

David Drew Zingg

Illustration: Kipper