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Billy Stritch Biography

I was 13 when I got my first job playing piano. It was at the Quail Valley Golf Club in Missouri City, TX, and I found out that I could play someone's favorite song, they would put money in a tip jar. Needless to say, I learned a ton of songs that summer, not only "My Funny Valentine" and "My Way" but also "The Girl From Ipanema" and "Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars", both by someone named A.C. Jobim. I thought of them as "Latin songs", not as Brazilian, and I had no idea who A.C. Jobim was.

I found out later, in high school. The parents of a friend of mine had the album "Wave" by Antonio Carlos Jobim and I remember listening to it at his house after school one day. I don't recall if Mike enjoyed it or not, but I was spellbound by the beautiful romantic guitar and elegant, simple piano. The sound of the percussion and the sophistication of the melodies challenged my ear. I learned that this music was called Bossa Nova and it was from a place called Brazil.

I was soon exploring and discovering other music by wonderful singers like Astrud Gilberto, Elis Regina, and Djavan. The album "Amoroso" by Joao Gilberto impressed me with its awesome Claus Ogerman string arrangements and noticed that jazz singers like Carmen McRae and Mark Murphy regularly included Brazilian songs in their repertoire.

The music continued to fascinate and pull me in deeper and it didn't matter a bit that I couldn't understand a word of Portuguese. They could be singing about the worst oppression and pestilence (and quite often were) and it always sounded so carefree and buoyant and passionate. The sound of these voices with their perfect straight tones was magical to me and the sophisticated harmonies seemed like the perfect blend of impressionistic classical and American popular music.

A number of years later, in 1993, I was on tour with my band as the opening act for Liza Minnelli. I found out that we had been booked for three weeks in South America. I was beside myself. Finally, I would get to see Rio de Janeiro and the famous Ipanema Beach and all the sights I had only imagined. Nothing could have prepared me for the experience that followed.

Liza is internationally adored and was front page news from the moment we arrived. Our performances were wonderfully received, but the most amazing parts of the trip were the jam sessions and parties for us after the shows. During the time we were in Brazil, I met phenomenal singers, like Ivan Lins, Simone, Beth Carvalho, and Lenny Andrade; the brilliant musicians Edu Lobo, Oscar Castro-Neves, and Baden Powell; and, the extraordinary composers Francis Hime, and Dori Caymmi. From these people and many more we met I learned lots of new songs and my appreciation of this music grew deeper still.

My favorite memory of the tour was the afternoon we spent with Antonio Carols Jobim and his wife and family at his beautiful home in Rio. A delicious lunch was served, after which the man himself went to the piano and started to play. During the course of the next few hours, he played and sang many of his compositions at times aided by his very talented family, all wonderful singers and musicians. He accompanied Liza on a couple of songs as well, and she and I sang some things for him. The most nerve-wracking moment was when she insisted that I play and sing his song, "Meditation" for him. My arrangement is quiet slower than his original and I take a few liberties with the chord changes. I was very nervous about doing it, but somehow got through it. When it was over, he was quiet for a moment, then he nodded his head and said that he had never heard his song performed quite that way and that he liked it very much. We then played an impromptu four-hand version of "Wave" together. I've often wished that I had a recording of that moment, but I also know that some things are only meant to live in memory. I will always treasure that afternoon and meeting "Tom Jobim".

This album is a mixture of famous songs, as well as some not so famous songs that I learned on that magical trip to Brazil. Some are new ("If Ever", "Evolution"), not-so-new ("Samba de Verao"), three are by Jobim, one is by the pop star Basia ("Astrud"), and two are originals. I think they all evoke the spirit and feeling of Brazil, a country that while always teetering on the brink of economic and political upheaval, is unified by its love of music. This recording is offered with great humility, love and respect for all the artists I met along the way. I hope it is enjoyed half as much as I enjoyed making it.

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