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A Sunday Night in Ipanema

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Last Sunday night was a balmy evening in Ipanema and I had just stepped out of Capricciosa, a trendy pizzeria on the corner of Rua Vinicius de Moraes, when I heard live bossa nova playing. Across the narrow street, in front of a shop called Toca do Vinicius, about 100 people were gathered, swaying to the music, as a woman sang and a trio played what amounted to the Tom Jobim songbook: “Desafinado,” “The Girl from Ipanema,” “One Note Samba,” “Corcorvado.” I was standing next to a kid, a parking lot attendant, and in my fractured Portuguese, I asked what was going on.

“Claudia Telles,” he said. “Her mother was Sylvia Telles.” Indeed, the late Sylvia Telles was one of the great bossa nova singers. And Claudia, also a Brazilian recording star, had clearly inherited her mother’s gift.

I stood under the thick canopy of trees on Rua Vinicius de Moraes, listening to the blissful and hypnotic music, a block away from the bar called Garota de Ipanema, where Tom Jobim and Vinicius de Moraes had penned “The Girl from Ipanema” so many years ago. The stage was the sidewalk, the only illumination the lights of the store and the headlights of cars that snaked down the narrow street. After a few minutes, I felt a tap on my shoulder. The kid from the parking lot stood up and gestured at me to take his stool. He went and grabbed another from a doorway, and the two of us sat there for an hour and a half, as Claudia Telles filled the misty night with bossa nova. When it was over, I hung on the edge of the crowd as Telles autographed CD’s and then wandered into the store, a trove of cd’s books and records, all devoted to bossa nova, a movement celebrating it’s 50th anniversary this year. The impromptu concerts, like the one I had stumbled upon, were a bonus.

But as I walked out, I saw a small, elderly man with slicked back white hair and a white moustache, wearing a white shirt, white pants and white shoes. He was carefully signing a vintage 50’s album for a young fan, who clutched it like a piece of the true cross.

“Who was that?” I asked the fan, as the man in white ambled away.

“Billy Blanco,” he said. “One of the greats.”

The man named white dressed in white, a samba ghost, disappeared into the crowd down Rue Vinicius de Moraes, stooped at 80-something but still a star. The spirit of bossa nova was alive and well, at least on this misty Sunday night in Ipanema.

Toca do Vinicius, Rua Vinicius de Moraes, 129, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (tel.: 247-5227)

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