Johnny Alf

Johnny Alf, born Alfredo Jose da Silva on 5/19/1929 in Rio de Janeiro, is a true genius. Unfortunately, he is also greatly underestimated. Brazil was introduced to a new way to sing, play, and compose many years before the “bossa Nova” term was invented. Alf had an influence on Leny Andrade and Luis Eca as well as Carlos Lyra and Tom Jobim. Alf rejected the label bossanova and focused on his artistic accomplishments, letting go of the music media, which continued to ignore him. While his importance as a precursor in Brazilian pop music is still well-recognized, he was frequently recorded by international musicians like Lalo Schifrin (“Rapaz de Bem”)). His playing can be found on 46 albums, singles and compilations in Brazil. However, he only recorded nine solo LPs or CDs during his career. In 1932, his father, an Army sub-official died. His mother was a washerwoman at the family home, where Johnny was raised by Luis Paulo Ribeiro and Johnny. Alf started piano lessons at the age of nine with Geni Borges, a friend from his family. He soon showed an interest in North American composers like George Gershwin or Cole Porter and unnoticed Brazilian revolutionaries like Garoto, Custodio Mequita, Lucio lves and Gilberto Milfont. He formed a group of friends at 14 in Vial Isabel and began playing weekends in Andarai. He was a student at Pedro II School and was invited to participate in the Brasil U.S. Institute Ibeu’s cultural meetings. They met weekly to discuss jazz music, and to watch jazz movies, concerts, and to listen to jazz music. Alf was an accountant assistant at the time and already had a music composition. He enlisted at 18 and returned to the U.S. in 1949. Farney was one of the most popular singers to use jazz influences in his own music. Farney was welcomed to the jazz meetings by Sinatra-Farney Fan Club. This honors another influential name from that era. Many names would become famous in music later, including Nora Ney and Tom Jobim. Jose Domingos Raffaelli, who was a jazz journalist and longtime jazz fan, was also a longtime friend to Luis Paulo Ribeiro. He used to visit the home of Luis Paulo Ribeiro on Saturdays with his friends to listen to music and talk about it. They began their friendship in 1949, and in 1950 they founded the Hot Club do Rio, a jazz fan club. Raffaelli shared a private testimony about a musical meeting where he met a boy who was recovering from tuberculosis and lived with his family. They were listening to Red Rodney 10″, an Imperial LP, and the second track was Chopin’s “Minute” valse in jazz. One listener commented on the third track, “Isto da Samba ” (loosely “it can be made into a samba rhythm”); Alf responded that the track could not, but that the previous one could. He was challenged and he went to the piano to compose his masterpiece samba, “Seu Chopin, Desculpe” with only 15 minutes of music and lyrics. Raffaelli was introduced to Cesar de Alencar by a passer-by, who was at that time the most well-known radio host in Brazil. de Alencar explained to Raffaelli that he was opening an eveningclub and needed a pianist who could sing in both English and Portuguese. Farney had previously mentioned Alf to de Alencar and he was selected to begin playing at the Cantina Do Cesar, Rua Rodolfo Dantas in Copacabana. This was 1950, when Tom Jobim, a newcomer, would visit the Cantina Do Cesar after his day job to learn crazy harmonies and a new comping style. Alf even asked him to teach him how to compose. Alf was approached at the Cantina Do Cesar by Mary Goncalves who had been elected Queen of Radio in 1952. Convite ao Romance included four of Alf’s compositions on the album. Alf went to Monte Carlo nightclub with Fafa Lemos, a violinist. Alf’s first recording for Sinter dates back to September 1952. His “Falseta”, accompanied by Vidal (bassist) and Garoto (violao), is the result. Also, he played nightclubs Mandarim and Clube da Chave. Alf was already a well-known musician in the artistic scene and began playing at the Plaza nightclub on Avenida Princesa Isabel, which is the center of the new bossa nova. The Plaza nightclub at the Avenida Princesa Isabel was a meeting place for anyone interested in jazz music. It was not the South side apartments that are commonly associated with bossa. Alf established his status there as a major influence in Brazilian modern music. Alf felt isolated from other musicians in 1954, just before the bossa movement exploded in Rio. He moved to Sao Paulo. Alf’s extraordinary musicality scared off the rest of the competitors. He was there to open Baiuquinha, Major Sertorio’s nightclub. He played at Michel with then-natives Saba, Paulinho Nogueira and Luis Chaves. He recorded a 78-rpm album for Copacabana Brasil in 1955. This album is considered by many musicologists to have been the first bossa Nova album. It was released three years prior to Joao Gilberto’s Chega de Saudade. Chico Feitosa invited Alf to perform at the Carnegie Hall Bossa Nova Festival in 1961. Alf declined the invitation. He recorded his first LP, Rapaz de Bem for RCA in that year. He spent the next year in Rio at Bottle’s Bar. This bar also hosted Sergio Mendes and Luis Carlos Vinhas as well as Silvia Telles and Tamba Trio. He formed a trio with Edison Machado, the drummer, and Tiao neto the bassist. They performed at the Little Club as well as the Top Club. He recorded the LP Diagonal (RCA), and Johnny Alf (Mocambo) in 1964. His 1967 composition, “Eu e a Brisa”, was presented by Marcia at TV Record’s Third FMPB (Brazilian pop music festival). The jury was inspired by the tropicalista novelties “Alegria, Alegria” (Caetano Verloso) as well as “Domingo no Parque” (Gilberto Gil), but they ignored that song, which would become one of Alf’s biggest hits just one month later. He recorded Ele e Johnny Alf in 1971 for Parlophon. He recorded Nos (Odeon), and Desbunde Total (1978) for Parlophon. He recorded Olhos Negros, a new album for RCA in 1990, while he was away from the studios for the entire 1980 decade. He recorded an album in 1997 that he co-produced with Leandro Braga (distinguished arranger/pianist), dedicated to his interpretation of Noel Rosa, one of Brazil’s most revered samba composers. This was somewhat ironic considering that he was often mistakenly thought of as an Americanized performer/composer. He also performed tribute shows to Ary Barrroso in that year. He recorded live Cult alf for Natasha in 1998. He was commissioned to compose popular songs for Bishop Dom Pedro Casaldaliga’s social poetry. The production was recorded on the CD As Sete Palavras de Cristo na Cruz. Alf also recorded the CD Eu e a Bossa in 1999 for Rob Digital. Later interviews revealed that he regretted the label’s choice of title (40 Years of Bossa Nova). He was also the 20th recipient of a Premio Shell for lifetime achievement in that same year. He has maintained a consistent schedule as a nightclub performer throughout his entire life. Alvaro Neder, All Music Guide User Contributed Text is available under Creative Commons By–SA License. It may also be available under GNU FDL.

Leave a Comment