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Marcos Valle is a monument of Brazilian music. The 75-year-old legendary pianist, singer and composer from Rio de Janeiro blends pop, bossa nova, psychedelia, jazz and funk into a distinctive sound that has inspired music lovers for nearly six decades. His songs were interpreted by famous artists such as Frank Sinatra and Bebel Gilberto and sampled by Hip Hop stars like Jay-Z and Dr. Dre. “Summer Samba (So Nice)” is, after “The Girl From Ipanema”, the most played bossa nova song of all time. Now the original Rio beach boy has returned with his new album “Sempre” – his first solo album in almost a decade – and revives his seminal feel-good Brazilian boogie-era sound of the early 80s. WEST COAST SOUL talked with the pioneer of Música Popular Brasileira about his new album, his musical career and old friends.

Marcos, the following quote of Antônio Carlos Jobim, the legendary co-author of “Girl From Ipanema”, is handed down: “I was a beach boy, and I believe I learned my songs from the birds of the Brazilian forest”. Sports, surfing and the connection to nature have always been important to you. Was this passion and your love to music your key to the bossa nova movement?

What moved me into music was the fact that I learned a lot of music when I was very young. Not only classical music because of my grandmother who was a classical pianist, but also because of my father who was a lawyer who played a lot of popular music and had a lot of records that I all listened to. So music was really something very, very important to me since I was very young.

The influence I had afterwards came from different things, from different music I heard. For sure, Jobim had a big influence on me. Sports, the beach and surfing were also very important for my music, but that was only a part of it because I had so different influences. That’s how I lived and still live today, I’m thinking about music all the time. But I would say that what really got me to make music were the influences I had at the age of five or six.

You wrote your first songs in Jobim’s house. How did this come about?

When I was going to record my first album “Samba Demais”, that was released in 1963, I had already recorded a few songs by other artists. At that time, Milton Miranda, the musical director of Odeon, took me to Jobim’s house because he thought Jobim could write the orchestration for the album. So I went there and Jobim asked me if I had written down the songs. And I said: I didn’t do it. He asked me: Why not? And I replied: Well, I never tried. Then he said: Ok, but you have to do it, because if you studied classical music you can read music and write your own notes. Then he said to Miranda: You can leave Marcos here and he will write his music today. So he took me to one of his rooms – Jobim had a very small house back then – and gave me paper and pencil and said: Choose one of your songs and write it down. And that’s what I did. So I learned to write down my own music in Jobim’s house.

What significance did Jobim have for your musical development? Did you see him as a mentor?

I would say that my very first big influences were Dorival Caymmi and Luiz Gonzaga. But later, when bossa nova started, Jobim really became an idol for me because of his music. And when I was introduced to Jobim and he liked my music so much and he was so kind to me, for sure, I was very influenced by him, his personality and everything else. I was very happy to be close to him.

I was close to Jobim in different times, at the beginning and then later, when “Summer Samba” became a hit in the States. Jobim was there with Ray Gilbert, who was his lyric writer, publisher and manager at that time. Ray asked Jobim to introduce me to him because after the success of “Summer Samba” he wanted to take me to the States. At that time I was very close to Jobim again. He told me what I should do when I publish in the USA and taught me many other tricks. Later Jobim became my neighbour. During that period I spent a lot of time with him. So, I would say he was a kind of mentor for me in a special way. Someone who took care of music with so much love and so much talent. Yes, he was a very important influence to my music.

1964 you released your first album, “Samba Demais”, for EMI Brazil. I read that your father was less enthusiastic about your music career. Did he come to terms with your career choice later?

My father was a lawyer, as I told you, and at the same time he was a big fan of popular music. But he was afraid that I would become a professional in music and not make any money. For sure at that time it was very difficult to make money as a composer because there was really no control of the performers, of the royalties and all those things. So he was very afraid that I would choose music as my profession. I was studying to become a lawyer. I was even in my first degree as I decided to make music. And he was very worried. My mother, on the other hand, knew how much music meant to me. She said: He has to follow what he wants to do. When my father later found out that I was an important artist in Brazil and he saw that I could make a living, he was my biggest fan.

Marcos, early on your older brother Paulo Sérgio played an important role in your musical career. He wrote the lyrics for many of your songs. Did the family bond simplify the creative process?

My brother Paulo Sérgio is three years older than me. When I was younger, my older brother was my hero. He took me to the parties and to the girls. We were very close. When I was making music he was listening all the time. We lived in the same house, we were three brother and two sisters. One day, a little bit before I started professionally, he asked me if I could write music to some words he had written. The way he wrote, the metric, the form he wrote was difficult to follow with a melody. It was an exercise for me to write music. After that, I told him: Look, now we have to do it the other way, you have to write the lyrics to my music! And he started to do it. Little by little he became more experienced. As he was very close to me, he could understand what I was trying to say with my melodies. We wrote a lot of songs together in the 60s, 70s and 80s. Sometimes we still write together today.

In 1968 your legendary album “Samba ’68” was released on the Verve label, which became a classic with songs like “Batucada” and “Crickets Sing for Anamaria”. This Americanized version of the Brazilian bossa nova and samba opened up an even bigger audience for you. What significance does this album have for your career in retrospect?

Ray Gilbert took me to the States, where I first recorded an instrumental album called “Braziliance!” for Warner Brothers. And then I started doing all kinds of television shows with Johnny Carson and many others. The album “Samba ’68” opened up more space for me because most of the songs were recorded in English. That was my entrance into the American market. The music was the same. And it became a kind of refreshing bossa nova, because my way was different from Jobim’s. Each one had his own style. My style was bossa nova too, but with a different accent at that time. This album later became so important for me because it brought me all this attention from the DJs in the 90s. So I would say that “Samba ’68” was a very important moment for me and my breakthrough on the American market.

Your success made you a popular guest in American showbiz. Your (almost) fistfight with Marlon Brando is legendary. How did this come about?

I was married at that time with Annamaria, who went with me to the USA. And one day we were at a party with many famous actors and musicians. Henry Mancini and Quincy Jones played and many other like Sérgio Mendes. And Marlon Brando was also there playing the congas. I was going to play the piano that night.

My ex-wife was really attractive, I knew that. And when we went out, Marlon grabbed her arm and asked her to stay with him. She was so angry that she told me the story. So I went against him. I was going to punch him, but people say: No, don’t, he’s drunk! So that was the story in which I almost punched Brando.

In 1970 the album “Marcos Valle” was released. Your music became more and more psychedelic, was more rock, pop and soul than bossa and samba. This was followed by albums that are still appreciated by music lovers and critics today: “Garra”, “Vento Sul”, “Previsão do tempo” and “Marcos Valle (No Rumo Do Sol)”. The music of these albums was once called by a critic “futuristic world music”. Would you agree?

The critics called the music I wrote back then ‘futuristic music’. But I tell you the truth: I didn’t notice that! Everything I wrote was from that time and at the same time it was ahead of its time. I think because my music was this mixture of influences I had – from bossa nova to rock ‘n’ roll to jazz and black music – it was very modern for different people and for different generations. But that was the music I had with me the whole time! That was my style, my character of writing. So if the few critics said it was a little ahead of time, well, it’s okay and I agree because now I realize that today’s generation is very interested in things I haven’t done since the 70s. So it makes sense, but I never thought about it. I did what I had in mind at that time. I couldn’t imagine the reaction of today’s people. I really didn’t know it, but sometimes I’m really surprised by the effect of my music.

Marcos, in 1975 you finally decided to leave your beloved Rio and go to the States. Did the military dictatorship, which had ruled Brazil since 1964, restrict you too much in your work as an artist?

When I decided to leave Brazil for this reason, I first went to New York because my friend Eumir Deodato lived there. He had said: Come here, stay close to where I live! So I went there. I first stayed at Adam’s Hotel, where I also wrote a song called “Adam’s Hotel”, which was first recorded by Deodato and later by myself. And I stayed there for almost a year, but I really missed the other part of my life because I loved nature and all those things I grew up with. So I decided to move to L.A. to see what would happen.

In L.A. I worked with Sarah Vaughan and with the band Chicago. I wrote this song with Robert Lamm from Chicago, “Love Is A Simple Thing”, and Leon Ware had listened to it. He asked somebody that I knew if I could visit him at the studio and listen to his recording. I loved his work. And from that moment Leon and I knew that we had to write something together. We did a lot of songs, at least 15 to 16 songs. I recorded with him some of the records like “Rockin’ You Eternally” and we had such a good time. And that was very good for me back then. I thought maybe I would stay there for a few months, but in the end I stayed for five years.

Leon and you weren’t just music collaborators, you became close friends. How did you experience Leon as a human?

Leon and I became friends. He was an incredible human with a lot of soul and spiritual thoughts. Leon was really a very nice man. We got along very well. We were together many times in his house and his wife Carol cooked for us and we stayed there writing. Sometimes we also wrote in my house or in his office that he had at A&M Records where we could record demos. And at lunch and dinner we talked and talked. So we became really good friends. And we knew that we had a lot in common: The way we that we face music, what we expect in music and that music is our most important thing in life. We both had such a joy in writing together.

In 1981 Leon Ware’s masterpiece “Rockin’ You Eternally” was released, which contained numerous titles of your fruitful songwriting collaboration like the title track “Rockin’ You Eternally,” “Baby Don’t Stop Me” and “Got to Be Loved”. You played on that album too. Do you still remember the recording sessions?

I remember the album “Rockin’ You Eternally” very well. Yes, I played my keyboard there. When we recorded “Rockin’ You Eternally” it was in the studio of A&M Records. I remember this track so well because we recorded it with a whole orchestra, with strings and horns. It was a really big orchestra. I was at the piano and Gene Page conducted the orchestra. His arrangement was absolutely beautiful. It was an incredible moment, very emotional for me. It was great! I remembered it as if it was today. It was an incredible recording. And not just because of other songs I had on the album like “Baby Don’t Stop Me” and “Got to Be Loved” and some others.

In 1980 your brother Paulo Sérgio encouraged you to record another album in Brazil. “Vontade De Rever Você” was your version of “Rockin’ You Eternally”. How was it for you to work in Brazil again? And how was the album received there?

After spending many years in the States, my brother asked me if I wanted to return to Brazil to record again. There was a very important Brazilian label, Som Livre, they wanted me to record for them and so I decided to come back to make the album “Vontade De Rever Você”.

I had already recorded two tracks in the States with the group Chicago and also with Leon Ware. And then I came to Brazil and did the other tracks. It was a very good album and I really love it. I think that over time it became more important than at the time when it was released. It was important, but the next album was a hit, mostly the song “Estrelar”. But “Vontade De Rever Você” was the perfect return to Brazil for me because it was an album that I really felt and that I had to do. It was very well received in Brazil, it was played a lot on the radios. So it was a very good comeback for me.

Was there a competition between Leon and you who recorded the most perfect versions of the songs?

No, I never had any competition with Leon Ware! On the contrary, I was always wonder assuring that he would do a beautiful recording. His work on “Rockin’ You Eternally” is absolutely incomparable. So when I recorded it in Brazil, it was so different. I even made the rhythm faster. The groove is completely different. And also the other songs like “Got to Be Loved” and “Baby Don’t Stop Me” I did differently. So there was no competition.

“Vontade De Rever Você” also marked your final return to Rio. Was homesickness stronger than frustration about the political situation?

It wasn’t all so good in Brazil back then, but I missed my home country. I had never had to live outside Brazil for such a long time before. The fact that I was so homesick made me face the political situation. But the political situation was much better at that time. Even, to tell you the truth, a few years after I returned to Brazil in 1981 the situation ended and we returned to democracy. So everything together made me want to stay there.

Marcos, in 1983 your legendary disco-boogie album “Marcos Valle” was released, which was produced by Brazilian boogie and soul legend Lincoln Olivetti. How do you remember Lincoln and the work on the album?

To work with Lincoln Olivetti on this album was an idea of the musical director and producer of Som Livre, Max Pierre. It was not the first time that we collaborated. Lincoln also played some keyboards on my previous album “Vontade De Rever Você”. But on “Marcos Valle” he wrote the strings and horn arrangements and we recorded the basic tracks together. Lincoln and I worked so well together. It was absolutely perfect. We had the same total understanding of the album.

The album also includes “Estrelar”, your ode to the joy of exercise, which became one of the biggest Brazilian disco hits of all time. Is it true that the song was in a continuous loop at all gyms in Rio at that time?

The song “Estrelar” was interesting because I had already made a demo of this song in Los Angeles before. Back in Brazil I showed the demo to Lincoln Olivetti and Max Pierre who fell in love with the recording. But we couldn’t use the demo for the album because of the sound quality. So we did exactly the same basic tracks as I had done in LA. And then Lincoln Olivetti wrote the horns.

I had recorded the basic instrumental parts, everything was ready. Only the lyrics were missing. So I went to the studio with my brother Paulo Sérgio and we listened to the recording very loud. It immediately brought a theme: energy! Because the song was so energetic, we went from there to exercise.

The song “Estrelar” became an absolute big hit – not only on the radios, but also in all gym academies, not only in Rio. It was absolutely incredible!

Your new album “Sempre” has been released on Far Out Recordings. The sound of the record strongly reminds of your legendary disco boogie era of the early 80s, but never sounds dusty, but timeless and fresh. Was it your intention to get people dancing again?

I had recorded albums in a different style in the last ten years, mostly in my bossa jazz direction. But I really missed this boogie and R&B thing Joe Davis from Far Out Recordings had been asking for a new album for the last two years. Unfortunately I couldn’t do it because I was involved in other projects. After all, I said yes, and Joe had exactly the same idea to go in that boogie direction. So when we saw that we were thinking the same way, I decided to record the album. Co-producer Daniel Maunick, son of Jean-Paul “Bluey” Maunick from Incognito, finally came to Brazil to work with me on the album. And he’s also very good with the synthesizers and electronic things I wanted to use.

You’ve worked with an impressive cast of musicians on “Sempre”, featuring Azymuth bassist Alex Malheiros, trumpeter Jesse Sadoc, and percussion master Armando Marcal. Please tell us a little about the recording process of the album.

When we had the idea for the album, I started writing four or five songs and I also wrote the lyrics. Then Daniel came to my house in Brazil and we worked together on the arrangements. Finally we brought Alex Malheiros to my home and recorded a few things together. And then we decided to go to a studio where we recorded the electronic rhythms we wanted and we also had the live percussions from Armando Marcal that worked very well with the electronic grooves. Jesse Sadoc wrote the horn arrangements together with me and Daniel for the album. Also, my wife Patricia did some background vocals on the record. And then we had guitarist Paulinho Guitarra, who had this perfect black blues feeling for the record. It was the perfect blend.

You were on a European tour earlier this year. I saw you in Cologne and was not only impressed by your performance and your great fellow musicians, but also by the enthusiasm of the young audience. From the first bar on the crowd danced. Do such reactions still impress you?

Ah, you saw me in Cologne! It was a fantastic show! It happens everywhere. I perceive this reaction of the young audience, because the performance that I give on the stage also depends on the reaction of the people and when the audience responds in such a way and is so happy to dance, the change of energy is immediately. This makes me very happy and the band also feels that energy. So I feel great about it – not only because I see people dancing, but because it seems that they check every detail of the solo improvisation. You know, they’re a great incentive for us. So it is absolutely fantastic for me as an entertainer to play for this audience.

Marcos, thank you very much for the interview.

Photo: Far Out Recordings

This interview was published for the first time on September 7, 2019