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When Tap Met Tom, a Terrific Twosome at New York's 14th Street Y

by Bonnie Rosenstock
March 15, 2018
14th Street Y
344 East 14th Street
New York, NY 10003
(212) 780-0800
In the late 1950s, Brazilian composer-songwriter-singer-musician Antônio Carlos (“Tom”) Jobim (1927-1994), created bossa nova, crafted out of homegrown Afro-Brazilian samba, but with more emphasis on melody, complex harmonies, blues and improvised jazz than the percussive rhythms of the popular dance and traditional carnival beat. When then unknown singer-songwriter-guitarist João Gilberto (b. 1931) recorded some of Jobim’s songs, bossa nova, which means “new trend” or “new wave,” went viral, as we would say today, and remained on the charts until the early 1960s. The most famous song, “The Girl from Ipanema” has been recorded hundreds of times, including by Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, George Michael, Sergio Mendes, and Gilberto’s then wife, the breathy voiced Astrud Gilberto, who popularized the Brazilian version, “Garota de Ipanema.”

Tap dance is fiercely rooted in Afro-American culture, believed to date from the mid-1800s, with contributions from English clog dancing and Irish jigs. To celebrate what would have been Jobim’s 91st birthday this past January and the 60th anniversary of bossa nova, Brazilian tap dance virtuoso Felipe Galganni choreographed and created “TAP & TOM,” an hour-long show that merged these two distinct cultures that have common roots for a perfect marriage of rhythm.

For three performances in February (coincidentally, Brazilian carnival is in February), the intimate 2nd-floor theater at the 14th Street Y was transformed into a wall of sight, sound and syncopation by the “TAP & TOM” team, consisting of four dancers, five musicians (piano, guitar, bass, drums, flute, percussion, sax) and four singers, plus special guest appearance by child tap wonder Bruno Khilkin Secches (with music direction and body percussion by Carlos Bauzys). The 14 songs were sung mostly in Portuguese, many of which were accompanied by various groupings of the dancers. Singer Jackie Ribas did an outstanding job with “The Girl from Ipanema” in two languages, making it her own, while retaining that nasally, quiet, sultry characteristic bossa nova style. A tap duo danced those lyrics of longing and unrequited love, like “But each day, when she walks to the sea, She looks straight ahead, not at me.”

The four dancers made a lively quartet with “Agua de Beber” (“Water to Drink”), with spirited harmonies by the singers. One of Jobim’s more curious songs is “Águas de Março" (“Waters of March”), which he wrote in both English and Portuguese. The inspiration came from the rainiest month in Rio de Janeiro. Nearly every line begins with “É” (“It is”), a series of words, which represent all the debris that the flooding would carry—a stick, a stone, a sliver of glass, a knot of wood, a fish—plus specific references to Brazilian culture. The tall, long-legged Galganni had a photo of Jobim on a table and put on a hat similar to what Jobim wore and masterfully sang and danced to the song. Later, he and the young Secches performed a delightful dance call and response to “Samba de Uma Nota Só” (One Note Samba”).

Jobim contributed to the canon of traditional carnival dance and music when he wrote his own set of lyrics to “Frevo” (“Fervor”), which was accompanied by flute and a big drum for that fast-paced, repetitive, percussive “batucada” sound. Another carnival contribution was “Piano na Mangueira,” (music by Jobim with lyrics by Chico Buarque), a homage to Mangueira, Rio’s most celebrated samba school, danced and sung by the entire ensemble. Made me want to get up and dance. Next February in Rio.

Photo © & courtesy of Photographer Unknown

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