This is how it went.
resurged. But what I heard that
night was decidedly more and rarified. The piano
was exceptional, technically and emotionally. And
there was another layer floating underneath, subtle,
classical riffs that might answer the intriguing
question: What happens when Jobim meets Bach?
That's how I met Manfredo Fest, a worldly,
classically-trained pianist and composer who sautéed jazz and Brazilian
rhythmic harmonies into a feast of musical entrées.
We met and talked that night in between Manfredo's sets as he
maneuvered through the crowd, flirting with his fans, joking with his
friends, and whispering a few modulations to his band. It was delight to
see, because, you see, Manfredo couldn't see—he was blind, though you'd
barely notice it. It seldom affected the rich, full life he created and enjoyed.
He was a high spirit that night and for as long as I knew him. Later, over a
pre-dawn breakfast, we uncovered some mutual depths that resulted in an
enduring friendship which even included creative collaborations on a few
Manfredo was born in Sao Paulo, Brazil in 1936. His father was a concert
pianist and the chairman of the music department at the University of
Porto Alegre for many years. His son trained in classical piano and learned
to read music in Braille. But his heart and ear were tuned to jazz and the
pulse of samba. His strongest influence was George Shearing, who also
happened to be visually impaired. (If you haven't heard Shearing, you
should! He's remarkable.) Manfredo moved away from Shearing and
Brazilian jazz pianists to forge his own layered, unique musical vision.
Though he was known and respected in Brazil for his playing and a few
albums he recorded there, in the '60s he came to the U.S. as the arranger
and keyboardist for Sergio Mendes who was riding the charts as Bossa
Nova took hold. But it was when he broke out on his own that Manfredo
finally added his distinct flavor to the menu of American as well as world
music, often partnered with his singer-composer wife, Lili Galiteri Fest. He
produced a range of successful albums culminating in a highly regarded
series for Concord Picante in the '90s.
Manfredo died five years after Jobim in 1999, both in their 60's, both
tragically too soon. His last album was titled "Just Jobim" and it was just
that, a pure tribute.
He once said: "I don't know how I made it this far, I should have fell over a
long time ago. That's why every day is another day to celebrate and keep
the music going." That legacy lives on in his son, Phill Fest, who honors
Manfredo's music and has established his own succesful career in jazz.
All of his albums are available on the web. Just take the time to slide in and
take a listen. Around midnight is best.