“Manha de Carnaval”
Music composed by Luiz Bonfa’.
Recorded by the Vince Guaraldi Trio in February, 1962 for Fantasy Records in San Francisco.
Vince Guaraldi, piano; Monty Budwig, bass; Colin Bailey, drums.
The story: As we approach Shrove Tuesday, my thoughts turn to various traditional and decidedly non-religious festivals that occur just before the beginning of Lent. In New Orleans, there is Mardi Gras; in Rio de Janeiro there is Carnaval, the largest of these celebrations in the world. In this post, I will discuss the film Orfeu Negro (titled Black Orpheus in the USA), which contains the wonderful music, including the sensuous “Manha de Carnaval,” which led in the 1960s to the bossa nova craze in the US and around the world.
“Manhã de Carnaval” appeared as a principal musical theme in the 1959 Portuguese-language film Orfeu Negro by French director Marcel Camus. The film’s soundtrack also included songs by Antônio Carlos Jobim and Vinícius de Moraes, as well as another composition by Bonfá,”Samba de Orfeu.” “Manhã de Carnaval” appears in multiple scenes in the film, including versions sung or hummed by both the principal characters (Orfeu and Euridice), as well as an instrumental version. Accordingly, the song has been described as the “main” musical theme of the film. In the segment of the film in which “Manha de Carnaval” is sung by the character Orfeu (portrayed by Breno Mello), the song was dubbed by the singer Agostinho dos Santos. It was initially rejected for inclusion in the film by Camus, but Bonfá was able to convince the director that “Manhã de Carnaval” was superior to another song Bonfá composed as a replacement. The film Orfeu Negro was an international success (winning an Academy Award in 1960 as best foreign film and other awards), and brought the song to a large international audience.
“Manhã de Carnaval”‘ became one of the first bossa nova compositions to gain popularity outside Brazil. In the United States it is considered to be one of the most important Brazilian jazz/bossa songs that helped to start the bossa nova movement here. “Manhã de Carnaval,” as an instrumental, became a jazz standard in the US. It is nevertheless still performed regularly by a wide variety of musicians around the world in its vocalized version, known as “A Day in the Life of a Fool,” “Carnival,” “Theme from Black Orpheus,” or simply “Black Orpheus.” In France, the song is also known as “La Chanson d’Orphée.” All lyrics in languages other than Portugese were written by lyricists other than Antônio Maria, using Bonfá’s original music.” (*)
Vince Guaraldi’s third Fantasy album was entitled: Jazz Impressions of Black Orpheus. Orfeu Negro was an engaging light drama that was a clever reinterpretation of the Orpheus/Eurydice myth, set against the the bustling, colorful backdrop of Rio de Janeiro’s annual Carnaval.
Orfeu Negro/Black Orpheus was released in major U.S. markets on December 21, 1959. San Francisco was among the cities that buzzed (at least in informed circles) with excitement over the film. The movie was drawing crowds as much for the music in it as for the dreamily romantic plot. Music lovers couldn’t get enough of the Antonio Carlos Jobim/Luiz Bonfa soundtrack, with its warm and sensuous bossa nova sounds. (This was a few years before Jobim wrote “The Girl from Ipanema,” and the bossa nova craze swept popular music and jazz in the United States.)
Vince Guaraldi saw the film and immediately fell in love with its music. He bought the soundtrack album, listened to it often, and began incorporating various songs from it into the repertoire of his jazz trio.The first tune he began playing was “Samba de Orpheus,” which was a part of his repertoire for many months before he began to think of putting together an album of music from the film. Eventually, in the summer of 1963, Guaraldi recorded a demo tape of four songs from Black Orpheus: “Samba de Orpheus,” “Musso Amor,” “A Felicidade,” and “Manha de Carnaval.”
Even though Guaraldi had recorded two albums previously for Fantasy as a leader, had appeared on many other recordings as a sideman, and led one of the best jazz trios in the Bay area, he was not yet a successful recording artist. As he shopped the demo around (to Capitol and Columbia), he realized that whatever the quality of the music he was trying to sell, no one was buying. Almost by default, Guaraldi returned to Fantasy Records. (Guaraldi’s two Fantasy albums in the late 1950s contained excellent music, but had sold relatively few copies.)
The owners of Fantasy, Soul and Max Weiss, were not exactly nurturing of Guaraldi: the one-year contract with Fantasy they offered him would enable him to produce his Jazz Impressions of Black Orpheus album, but it required Guaraldi, not Fantasy, to pay all costs of recording the album, including studio rental, all technical costs to record the music, and the cost of the musicians. Once Guaraldi had a master tape of all of the music to go on the album, Fantasy took over the remaining production including the LP records, dust jackets, liner notes and distribution. Guaraldi did not share the net income from the album 50/50 with Fantasy however. He simply got a small performer’s royalty. As one would expect, this deal did not sit well with Guaraldi. A few years later, he and the Weiss brothers came to an acrimonious parting of the ways involving litigation. (**)
The story of how Vince Guaraldi’s Black Orpheus album became fantastically successful is told elsewhere on this blog. (The link to that post [for “Cast Your Fate to the Wind”], is at the bottom of this post.)
The melody of “Manha de Carnaval” is warm, sensuous and memorable. Vince Guaraldi completely understood that music like this required a slow, indeed insinuating tempo, to create the appropriate mood. This is an intimate, thoughtful performance that is the result of many months of subtle refinement. (It does not include bossa nova rhythm.) After the intro, which is a paraphrase of the secondary melody of the piece, Guaraldi sets forth the languorous main melody with feeling in a full chorus exposition. He knew a strong melody when he heard one (indeed, he created many of them himself), and he knew that audiences appreciated being oriented to the melody before jazz improvisation began.
Vince Guaraldi’s piano playing was very personal. The stylistic ornaments he used at the keyboard with his right hand made it possible to identify who was playing within a bar or two. And his creative use of tasty chords in his left hand throughout this performance is a definite highlight.
As Guaraldi moves into his improvisation, we hear not only his strongly melodic interpretation, but the impeccable, sensitive support he receives from bassist Monty Budwig, and drummer Colin Bailey. The three members of the Vince Guaraldi Trio were obviously very adept at listening to each other, and responding with inspiration and taste to what they heard. (This is a big benefit accruing to musicians who play together regularly over a period of time.) Note for example at the beginning of Guaraldi’s third chorus of improvisation when Vince starts to play more intensely, using percussive, syncopated block chords: Bailey, who has been using his brushes in whispering fashion on his snare drum, gracefully transfers to his ride cymbal. Action, reaction…perfection.
After the jazz exploration of “Manha de Carnaval” has been completed, Guaraldi reprises the melody to finish this marvelously evocative performance.
(*) Cited with revisions from the Wikipedia article on Black Orpheus.
(**) Cited with revisions from Vince Guaraldi at the Piano by Derrick Bang (2012), pages 101-102.
This recording was digitally remastered by Mike Zirpolo.