Born: May 15, 1940 | Died: September 27, 2013 Primary Instrument: Guitar
Few musicians in the world today can boast a career that reflects a lifetime of accomplishments as diverse, rich and acclaimed as those Oscar Castro-Neves has achieved. Renowned as a composer and arranger for his sophisticated harmonic concepts and the exquisite texture and color of his orchestrations, he is equally well known for his distinctive guitar style and as an accomplished record producer who has worked with dozens of major artists in a wide range of jazz, popular, Brazilian and classical idioms.
Famed jazz critic Leonard Feather wrote of Oscar, The crystalline beauty of his arrangements is matched by the rare delicacy with which they are interpreted. Castro-Neves is incapable of creating a dull moment, but that is an understatement: He is only capable of generating rhythmic, harmonic and melodic joy.
Oscar was born May 15, 1940, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, one of triplets in a highly musical family. Along with Antonio Carlos Jobim, João Gilberto and a handful of other young composers, he emerged in the early 1960s as one of the founding figures of the musical movement that became known worldwide as Bossa Nova. His first instrument was the cavaquinho, the small Brazilian guitar used in such traditional styles as choro. He soon added the piano and classical guitar to his repertoire and began performing with his three brothers — pianist Mário, bassist Iko and drummer Léo. At the tender age of just sixteen, Oscar's first recorded song, Chora Tua Tristeza, became a national hit in Brazil and generated over fifty covers recorded by various artists. In the studio, he recorded historic albums with the music’s biggest names, including Vinicius de Moraes, the poet laureate of the bossa movement; Dorival Caymmi, the godfather of Bahian-rooted Afro-Brazilian sounds; and the soon to be famous female vocal group Quarteto em Cy. In 1962, a year before “The Girl From Ipanema” became a Top 10 hit, he helped lead the Bossa Nova invasion of the U.S., playing a central role as a performer and accompanist for other noted Brazilian musicians at the historic presentation of Brazil’s new music at Carnegie Hall.
Following his U.S. debut, Oscar and his quartet toured in the illustrious company of the Dizzy Gillespie Quintet, the Stan Getz Quartet, the Lalo Schifrin Trio and the Laurindo de Almeida Quartet before he returned to Brazil to resume a busy schedule as an arranger and producer. In 1971 he made Los Angeles his permanent home, joining Sergio Mendes' Brazil ‘66 group as the featured guitarist, music director and vocal coach. When he left the group in 1981, he had recorded more than 15 albums with Mendes, had co-producer many, and had appeared in concert in dozens of the world’s major cities.
Word of his arranging and guitar expertise spread quickly among the close-knit community of studio musicians and producers in Los Angeles, resulting in an avalanche of opportunities to arrange and produce for other artists and lend his guitar style to countless studio sessions. Among the many highlights of his tenure in the U.S. as the resident dean of Brazilian sounds have been collaborations with Antonio Carlos Jobim, Elis Regina, Flora Purim, Yo-Yo Ma, Joe Henderson, Michael Jackson, Barbara Streisand, Stevie Wonder, Stan Getz, Eliane Elias, João Gilberto, Lee Ritenour, Airto Moreira, Edu Lobo, Toots Thielemans, Paul Winter, Diane Schuur and countless other Brazilian, jazz and pop music stars.
Not surprisingly, major media critics have been lavish in their praise of Oscar. In a review of his performance with saxophonist Joe Henderson, Reuben Jackson of The Washington Post wrote, The enthusiasm and beauty of guitarist Oscar Castro-Neves seemed to ignite fires beneath the ensemble. Britt Robson of The Star Tribune commented, It was apparent that guitarist Oscar Castro-Neves was a collaborative catalyst who expertly shaded the tone and spurred the creativity of everyone around him. And Don Heckman of The Los Angeles Times wrote, Castro-Neves was present in Rio at the birth of Bossa Nova in the '50s, and he is one of the most proficient players of the deceptively complex guitar rhythms that are the music's heartbeat. His instrumental rendering of ‘Manhã de Carnaval’ (from the film Black Orpheus), was an exquisite updating of the familiar theme; and his vocal/guitar interpretation of Antonio Carlos Jobim's ‘Waters of March,’ one of the most remarkable songs of the 20th Century, brilliantly displayed its gripping, stream-of-consciousness qualities.
Oscar’s list of credits as a record producer is long and distinguished. Among the most notable are: Color and Light - Jazz Sketches on Sondheim, chosen as one of the Top Jazz Albums of the year by Billboard Magazine and one of the Ten Best Albums of the year by Time Magazine; Double Rainbow, Joe Henderson’s tribute to the music of Jobim, picked as one of the Top Jazz Albums of the year by Billboard and nominated for a Grammy® Award; and Soul of the Tango by cellist Yo-Yo Ma, a Grammy winner for best cross-over album of the year and a platinum album in Japan. Other note-worthy credits as a producer include Harry Belafonte’s platinum-selling album The Tradition of Christmas; jazz harmonica legend Toots Thieleman’s critically acclaimed Brasil Project I and II, as well as his East Coast-West Coast and Chez Toots releases; João Gilberto in Mexico; Two Worlds by Stan Getz; Dream by Japanese Bossa Nova singer Lisa Ono; and Common Ground, Earthbeat and Missa Gaia with saxophonist Paul Winter, among many others.
Oscar's film scoring credits include Blame it on Rio, with Michael Caine and Demi Moore; Gabriela, with Marcello Mastroianni, featuring the music of Antonio Carlos Jobim; and the Oscar®-nominated short documentary Burning Down Tomorrow. As an arranger and orchestrator, he has worked on many motion pictures, among them Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, L.A. Story, Sister Act II, House Sitter, He Said, She Said, Getting Even with Dad and Larger than Life. He composed and performed the music for the Julia Louis-Dreyfus TV series Watching Ellie and produced the television special Reflections through a Brazilian Eye for KCET, which was nominated for an Emmy® Award.
As a music director, Oscar directed for six years a night of Brazilian music at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles, which boasted a regular attendance of over 14,000 people. The globally broadcast television special Tribute to Jobim, with Herbie Hancock, Shirley Horn, Gal Costa, Gonzalo Rubalcaba and other jazz and Brazilian music stars, was produced under Oscar's musical direction. He composed and conducted the musical revue Brazilian Scandals in Paris, France and has overseen music productions for theatre in Los Angeles.
Oscar has served as a governor of the Los Angeles chapter of NARAS, the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, which presents the Grammy Awards. Although a permanent resident of the U.S. for over three decades, he remains well known and widely respected in his native land. Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso honored Oscar by appointing him an officer of the Order of Rio Branco in recognition of his outstanding contribution to the dissemination of Brazilian culture and music around the world. And he continues to be invited to participate in major made-in-Brazil music productions, including the recent DVD releases Coisa Mais Linda, a documentary on the history of Bossa Nova, and Bossa Nova Concert, an all-star performance feature Oscar and such Brazilian music icons as Marcos Valle, João Donato and Carlos Lyra. He is currently working on a new DVD project featuring contemporary singers performing Bossa Nova classics.
As a solo artist, Oscar has recorded many albums, including Big Band Bossa Nova, Tropical Heart, Brazilian Scandals, More Than Yesterday, and Oscar. Today associated with Mack Avenue, Oscar has recorded Playful Heart and, his current release, All One, for the label. “I drink from many founts,” Oscar says metaphorically, explaining his insatiable desire to explore the widest possible realm of music influences. On All One, as he has demonstrated throughout his career, the logic of his artistic wanderlust becomes abundantly clear once again. The album documents the inherent music genius that has made Oscar Castro-Neves one of the world’s most complete musicians of his generation.