In Chico's own handwriting, a verse of the lyrics for his music "Paratodos": "my greatest maestro was Antonio Brasileiro", quoting his admiration for Antonio Carlos Jobim.

interviewed by
Luiz Roberto Oliveira

english translation: Jerry Lombardi
photos: Eduardo Pires Ferreira


A guitar called Vinicius

Luiz Roberto Oliveira: Chico, how old are you?
Chico Buarque: Fifty-two.
LR: When was the first time you heard about Tom, or heard his music?
CB: It was on a 78rpm record, possibly the first record I ever bought, and it was for my sister. I liked that tune: "Teresa da Praia".
LR: Which sister?
CB: Miucha.
LR: Who was known as "Bubu" at the time (laughs). So you gave her a copy of "Teresa da Praia".
CB: With Dick Farney and Lúcio Alves on vocals. But I was more interested in the recording itself and maybe didn't even realize it was by Tom Jobim. I didn't know who the composer was, or that the lyrics were by Billy Blanco. I don't remember the name Tom Jobim from that period. I had already known Vinicius for some time, he was a friend of my father, Sérgio Buarque de Holanda, who was an historian and literary critic. They both belonged to the literary world.
LR: You knew Vinicius since childhood?
CB: Since my childhood. For two years, between '52 and '54, my family lived in Rome. My father was teaching at the University of Rome and Vinicius was the Brazilian Consul there at the same time. Living in São Paulo we'd never seen Vinicius, but in Rome he used to show up at our house once in awhile.
LR: How old were you at the time?
CB: Eight when I went and 10 when I came back. And whenever Vinicius showed up there was a party at the house, a party that we children weren't invited to, obviously, and so we kept our distance and just listened.
LR: And at that time you were already interested in Vinicius, asking yourself, "So who is this guy?" and so on?
CB: Very much so. I was fascinated by him, and part of it was that my older sister Miucha had a guitar that she'd named Vinicius. And it was also through my parents that I became so interested. My father was fascinated by him. Vinicius had that power to fascinate people who were a little envious, in the good sense of the word, of the kind of life he led. In a certain way I think my father wanted to be like him. Carlos Drummond de Andrade once said that Vinicius was a great poet who lived his own poetry. A poet of life itself. Once in a while my father told stories about him, because he was already a mythic figure. Vinicius would take Miucha's guitar and play those compositions he'd done with Antonio Maria, some others he'd done by himself, that one called "Cem por cento", "Quando tu passas por mim". When the Vinicius-Tom Jobim collaborations began I thought Tom was a nobody, just another writing partner for Vinicius. I remember quite well the LP that we played a lot there at home, Elizete Cardoso doing "Canção do amor demais".

LR: When did you live in São Paulo?
CB: I moved to São Paulo when I was two years old and stayed there until I was twenty-two. I lived in São Paulo for 20 years, except for the two-year interval in Rome.

The break

CB: And then there was a point where everything changed, which is when music really started to happen in my life. It was João Gilberto's recording of "Chega de saudade". João had played acoustic guitar on "Outra vez", on an album entitled "Canção do amor demais", which was already a strange event for me, but the strangeness really hit me with "Chega de saudade". It was a sense of general estrangement, so much so that there was a break between the generations, between those who didn't like what was going on, older people who had a hard time accepting that first moment of the Bossa Nova, including Tom's music and the voice and the guitar and the vocal style of João Gilberto.
LR: What did your father think of all this?
CB: He resisted it quite a bit; funny thing about that. I was 14 and it hit me full force. And I realized it was the same with everyone else: in Bahia with Gilberto Gil, Caetano Veloso. Everybody can remember where they were and what they were doing when they heard it for the first time. I remember thinking, "Wow, there's one of Vinicius' tunes on the radio..." And I asked my father to give me an advance on my monthly allowance so I could buy the record. "Chega de saudade" was the historical starting point for the Bossa Nova.
LR: And earlier compositions like "Teresa da Praia" were pre-Bossa Nova."Orfeu da Conceição" was still in the "samba batucada" style.
CB: And in fact there's a recording that few people know about from that period, which has João singing "Orfeu". I don't know if you remember. It was an old 45 rpm record of João Gilberto's, which had that frevo piece from "Orfeu" that he didn't sing on - they had a vocal chorus instead. João sang "Manhã de Carnaval", "O Nosso Amor" and "A Felicidade", and the refrain on this was a batucada (he sings a few bars), a real popular-style chorus, and then in comes João with his bossa nova, this hybrid thing that was so interesting, on this record that practically nobody ever heard. I remember watching the film "Orfeu" ("Black Orpheus"). It was a big hit and everything... and I remember being annoyed hearing Agostinho dos Santos on the soundtrack. I mean he was a great singer and all, but I just became really annoyed because I was already a radical "bossanovista" and João Gilberto was miles ahead of him, miles ahead of Elizete Cardoso, even. So that's the story of how I came to know about Tom...

Tom or João ?

LR: And so what about Tom; were you fascinated by him right from the start? His music...?
CB: From that point onward I started to discover that the tunes were not by Vinicius, they were by Tom, and I began to pay attention - each new record of Joao's had a bunch of tunes by Tom. But Tom himself, I mean him singing and recording, that came later. . .

LR: At that time he was timid professionally, he kept very much in the background, didn't want to sing or anything, and he made his living as a pianist and arranger. But even at this early stage, was Tom already fascinating to you, or was he just a good composer - no better and no worse than some others, like Pixinguinha, like Noel Rosa?

Tom, Pixinguinha, João da Baiana and Chico
CB: No. To my mind he left everyone else in the dust, because I knew all that Brazilian music from the 30s and 40s, there was always lots of music at home, my parents used to sing Noel Rosa a lot. There were stories about Ismael Silva, Ataulfo Alves. Then the Bossa Nova arrived and I split with all this past history. There was a time when I couldn't even stand to hear about it, unless it was a cover version by João Gilberto, for example, João singing Ary Barroso. That's the way it was for all changed. Later on I got back to it, including that whole background I had, which was quite strong, in popular music and carnival music - I used to listen to the radio a lot during Carnaval. When the middle of the year rolled around I used to like listening to those boleros, sambas, carnival marches, I knew all the tunes by heart. But then when Tom arrived on the scene... although at this point I couldn't even tell you exactly how much of it was Tom and how much was João Gilberto, because the innovation also came from João's singing style.

In the next installment:
Chico tels how he felt composing his
first lyrics for one of Tom's compositions.

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