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Ivan Lins

Songwriter, vocalist, and pianist Ivan Lins is an icon of Brazilian music. Possessed of a reedy baritone, his vocal phrasing embraces nuance and eschews traditional restraint. Further, he has written for countless vocalists. Lins initially caught listeners' attention in 1970 after Elis Regina scored a hit with his "Madalena." His long recording career includes important albums for RCA (Modo Livre) EMI (A Noite, Novo Tempo), Philips (Amar Assim), and Reprise (Love Dance). Lins gained fans in the United States and Europe. He collaborated with urban contemporary greats George Benson and Quincy Jones during the '80s and then launched an independent American career. 1985's GRP Live in Session featured Lins alongside Dave Grusin, Lee Ritenour, and other jazz musicians. In 1996 he, jazz pianist Chucho Valdés, and Irakere issued Live in Cuba. 2005's Cantando Histórias took home Latin Grammys for Best MPB Album and Album of the Year. 2006's Acariocando charted and won global acclaim. 2009's Regência: Vince Mendoza won Best MPB album, as did 2014's América, Brasil. 2023's My Heart Speaks featured a 91-piece orchestra and soloists who included Dianne Reeves and Randy Brecker. Lins was born in Rio de Janeiro in 1945. At age two he emigrated to Boston, when his father, a naval engineer, enrolled in a graduate program at MIT in Cambridge, Massachusetts. American music had an impact on the boy, particularly the songs from Disney movies, and that influence can still be heard in the narrative architecture of his songs, with melodies fixed at both the beginning and end. His parents returned to Brazil when he was six and he started formal piano studies. Musically, he graduated to listening to big-band records at home -- he was especially drawn to the music of arranger Billy May with Frank Sinatra. During his late teens, Lins pursued and eventually earned a degree in industrial chemical engineering from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro. In his early twenties he seriously considered professional volleyball. That said, Brazilian music was exploding creatively as the bossa nova grabbed the country's attention. The bossa nova craze, with its beach songs and complex romantic narratives, was followed domestically with deep national attention to samba first, then to the advent of Música Popular Brasileira (MPB, or Brazilian pop). Lins began performing at clubs and music festivals, and in 1970, his song "Madalena" was recorded by Brazil's leading vocalist at the time, the iconic Elis Regina. It was a hit at home and in Europe. American jazz singer Ella Fitzgerald cut her own version in 1971, and it has been recorded dozens of times and become a Brazilian standard. Lins signed a record deal with Roberto Quartin's Forma label on which he released both Agora, his debut long-player and his sophomore outing, Deixa O Trem Seguir, in 1971. He released Quem Sou Eu on Philips in 1972. His songwriting and business partner for more than five decades was lyricist Vítor Martins. Lins signed with RCA and released two of his most popular and enduring albums in 1974's Mondo Livre and 1975's Chama Acesa. In late 1976, the constantly touring Lins was musically restless. He signed to EMI in 1976 and issued five albums on the label including the classics A Noite and Novo Tempo in 1979 and 1980, respectively. Despite Lins' success at home and in Europe (particularly in France and Germany), he was almost completely unknown in North America. In 1979, veteran session percussionist Paulinho Da Costa (also a Brazilian) recommended Lins' music to producer Quincy Jones. He licensed the songwriter's "Dinorah Dinorah," and it was covered by guitarist George Benson on the chart-topping smash long-player Give Me the Night, putting Lins on the map in the U.S. In 1981, Jones recorded "Velas" for his album The Dude and won a Grammy for Best Instrumental Performance. Sarah Vaughan recorded Lins' most famous composition, "Love Dance," in 1982 (the same year he released Daquilo Que Eu Sei). Lins' reputation spread when he joined Dave Grusin, Lee Ritenour, Dianne Schuur, and Dave Valentin in the documentary film and concert recording GRP Live in Session in 1985 at the height of the smooth jazz era. Lins also provided two songs for Manhattan Transfer's hit Brasil album: "Arlequim Desconhecido" (Metropolis) and "Antes Que Seja Tarde" (Notes from the Underground). He also provided and sang two songs on the Crusaders' Life in the Modern World in 1988: the title track and "Some People Just Never Learn." (Interestingly, Da Costa also played on both tunes.) Despite earning a stellar reputation among producers and other musicians, Lins remained obscure to the North American record-buying public. He began to alter that with the 1989 release of Love Dance for Reprise, his first English-language LP. The set hosted the pop/R&B single "You Moved Me to This," a duet with R&B songstress Brenda Russell. (He returned the favor by co-writing and singing on "The Universe Is Calling You" from her 1993 album Soul Talkin'.) His follow-up, Awa Yiô, was recorded in New York on Velas -- the label he co-founded with Vítor Martins in 1991 -- and it was released by Reprise in the U.S. Interestingly, the studio lineup included King Crimson stick-and-bass player Tony Levin, drummer Vinnie Colaiuta, and trumpeter Hugh Masekela. Lins' fortunes changed somewhat, but not enough to maintain his American record deal. For the remainder of the century, he recorded several albums on his own Velas label, including Anjo De Mim (eventually released in the U.S. as I'm Not Alone with English-language songs), the three-volume VivaNoel, on which he performed the compositions of Noel Rosa, a legendary early 20th century Brazilian songwriter and guitarist (1910-1937). Lins also joined Cuban pianist Chucho Valdés and Irakere for En Vivo, released on both Havana's Egrem and his own Velas label. In 1999, he released Live at MCG (the Manchester Craftsmans' Guild in England) for jazz label Heads Up International with an all-Brazilian band. In 2000, Lins' influence on jazz and pop musicians was made plain when keyboardist, composer, and producer Jason Miles (Miles Davis, Grover Washington, Jr.) issued the compilation Love Affair: The Music of Ivan Lins. The set included contributions from Russell and Reeves, as well as Chaka Khan, Vanessa Williams, Washington, Jr. Sting, and others. Lins had finally established himself in the U.S and the U.K. as a sell-out attraction in jazz clubs. In 2000, he released A Cor Do Pôr-Do-So, his first studio album as a leader in five years. He wrote eight of the set's 15 tracks, two with Martins, two with Aldir Blanc, and two with Caetano Veloso. It was the beginning of a celebrated run for the artist. The following year, he released Jobiniando, a Latin Grammy-nominated orchestral tribute to the music of Antonio Carlos Jobim. 2002 saw EMI release Love Songs: A Quem Me Faz Feliz; guest singers included Jane Monheit and Wanda Sa. 2004's Cantando Histórias was nominated at the 2005 Latin Grammys for Album of the Year but took home the prize for MPB Record of the Year. 2005's Acariocando took home the Latin Grammy nomination for Best Singer-Songwriter album. Lins appeared with Brazilian fusion legends Azymuth on Arthur Verocai's Encore on Far Out, and released Saudades De Casa for Warner Brazil with his own band. In 2009, venerable Brazilian classical and jazz label Biscoito Fino released Ivan Lins & Metropole Orchestra (released in Brazil as Regência: Vince Mendoza). Mendoza directed the orchestra. The set also featured guest spots from guitarist Leonardo Amuedo and vocalists Trijntje Oosterhuis and Paulo De Carvalho, followed by a world tour. 2010's Intimo, the first of two albums for Som Livre, comprised collaborations with various instrumentalists and vocalists including Oosterhuis, Monheit, Take 6, Alejandro Sanz, and others. 2012's Amorágio offered a clever selection of sophisticated pop songs with an all-Brazilian band. In 2013, Lins accepted an invitation from Italian samba group Inventario. He accepted, traveled to Italy, and recorded Incantra; it was nominated for best MPB Album at the Latin Grammys. Cornucopia, a collaboration with the SWR Big Band, was also released in 2013. In 2014, Lins released América, Brasil as a one-off for Sony Music. Cut by a trio comprising Lins (playing everything from keyboards and guitars to percussion and loops), multi-instrumentalist and co-producer Marco Brito, and drummer/percussionist Teo Lima. It was selected as MPB album of the year at the 2015 Latin Grammys. 2017 saw Muito Bom Tocar Junto, a 2010 collaboration with Brazilian composer and pianist Geraldo Flach (he died in 2011) released by Discobertas. The album Cumplicidade, a collaboration with arranger/composer Gilson Peranzzetta also saw release that year on Fina Flor. Lins toured the world several times with his own group, played festivals with others as an honored guest, and appeared on recordings. He also formed and toured with his quintet Supergenerous that included Brazilian percussion master Cyro Baptista and Canadian uber guitarist Kevin Breit. He didn't release another album until 2023's My Heart Speaks, which was commissioned by Resonance label boss George Klabin. A longtime fan, he released Eddie Daniels' star-studded tribute to Lins, Night Kisses, in 2020. For My Heart Speaks, Lins chose a career-spanning program of well-known and obscure songs. Klabin hired the 91-member Tbilisi Symphony Orchestra and a jazz quartet. German composer/arranger Kuno Schmid wrote the charts. Lins also received guest support from trumpeter Randy Brecker and vocalists Reeves, Tawanda, and Monheit (the latter also contributed English lyrics to two songs). Released in September 2023, the set earned accolades worldwide as the most imaginatively presented overview of Lins' work yet.
© Thom Jurek /TiVo


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