An Interview with Ivan Lins
A Conversation with
by Mark Ruffin
Brazilian music fans must be in a tizzy, because there is so much going on in the musical life of Ivan Lins. There is still a palatable buzz from last year’s stunning tribute album, A Love Affair; The Music of Ivan Lins. Plus, Sting won a Grammy earlier this year for the track She’s Walks This Earth from that album.. There was also the Ivan Lins tribute concert at Carnegie Hall, and now the singer has released an import live album, recoded in Havana. It’s titled Live in Cuba and features the Brazilian superstar backed by the island’s biggest jazz stars, Chucho Valdes and Irakere.
Contacted by phone, the singer talked about his trip to Cuba, and the tribute album. On a warm day, from his home in Rio, the singer talked about, among other things, how that tribute album project was originally supposed to be Miles Davis next album, and the unique experience of performing in Havana.
“Oh boy that was really something wonderful,” he said of the trip. “It was my first time in Cuba and it’s very impressive. Havana is crazy. They are very musical people and everybody in the country can play percussion”
The album is a pristine recording of Lins and his Cuban friends playing nine slick arrangements of the composer’s most well known tunes, including The Island and Dinorah, Dinorah. Plus Lins sings a wonderful arrangement of The Girl From Ipanema, and Valdes and Irakere plow through a long jam of Love For Sale.”
“We had one rehearsal and Irakere understood everything,” Lins exclaimed. “I brought in some lead sheets for the musicians, and I was like, okay, let’s try one,’ and they just played and played.
The second time we played any song they were playing spectacularly. We could’ve recorded the rehearsals. It was that spectacular.”
Lins said he was also touched by the overwhelming positive goodwill of the people of Cuba, despite shortages everywhere. There wasn’t even a space for the band to rehearse for the concert. So, the day of the concert at Casa de La Musica, they practiced at an outdoor stadium where training athletes burnt in the hot sun along with the musicians.
“It was so weird,” Lins remembered, “so we just improvised.”
After the show was over, the Cuban group went to Europe, while Lins went to a private island to relax for a short vacation. The trip was part of his itinerary, but was interrupted when he got a call from the people of Cuba. The representative was a promoter asking the singer to cancel his vacation.
“Because the concert was very expensive, the students and common people couldn’t go to the concert I recorded live,” Lins explained. So, I went back to Havana and did a free concert at the National Theatre of Havana for 3500 people, just me and the piano.”
Impishly, the singer insisted there was a tape of this show, and implied that he wouldn’t be surprised if it showed up somewhere in the future.
On A Love Affair, The Music of Ivan Lins, the tunes that surprised the singer the most was Vanessa Williams singing Love Dance, and Sting singing the only song written specifically for the album, She Walks This Earth.
“Usually, my music is recorded by jazz musicians and is very jazz oriented, not so pop,” he exclaimed. “But Sting and Vanessa were huge surprises for me. And I loved it, because it’s a chance to have more pop people hear my music.”
He makes it clear that the project was all the impetus of the producer, Jason Miles. As the producer planned it, got an approved budget and a label, Lins was kept informed, but he kept his distance, until Miles asked him to sing one song and play keyboards on three others.
“Just to have my touch,” the singer said.
The project’s origin actually stretches back exactly a decade to early 1991, when Jason Miles was a programmer for Miles Davis. The keyboardist was an integral part of Davis’ great Amandla album. He was also around when then Warner Brothers’ jazz exec, now Verve Music Group president, Tommy LiPuma was suggesting new music to the great trumpeter.
Lins had met LiPuma during the time when the Brazilian composer was working with Quincy Jones and being produced by Stewart Levine. Two days after LiPuma sent Davis Lins’ music, he reacted the way most people do after first hearing his music. He went nuts.
“Miles called Tommy and said I need to talk to this man.,'” Lins remembered. “You sent me incredible music. I want to talk to this Ivan Lins. How can I talk to him?’
“Tommy contacted Stewart Levine, and he contacted me and said Ivan, Miles wants to talk to you. He’s in love with your music, but he wants to talk personally.’
“I got scared,” he said laughing.
The singer was so intimidated about speaking to the great man, that he didn’t trust his very good English. So he had a friend listen to the conversation, in case he needed a translation.
“I was afraid of the slang,” he commented. ” The Miles Davis slang. And it was really funny, because it was really fast and he went directly to the point.
“‘Oh man, your music is excellent. I love your music, man,” Lins said imitating Davis’ gravelly voice. “I listened to your cd’s and the songs are really great, but too many notes man, too many notes in the arrangements.'”
Laughing hard now, the singer continued the story saying that Miles said he was going to record an incredible 28 of his songs. Lins was proud, but skeptical of the bloated number, until a month later when he got his very first phone call from Jason Miles.
“He confirmed it,” Lins said. “He called me and said, oh, Ivan, I’m Jason Miles. I met you in Los Angeles at Larry Williams’ house. I don’t know if you remember me, but I’m working with Miles and he wants to record 28 songs and I want to just say I’m a fan of your music.'”
Miles Davis died three months after that phone call.
Lins did get to know Grover Washington Jr., before the saxophonist died in late 1999. He opened two shows for the saxophonist, in San Diego and in Denver. He remembered Grover, like anyone who ever came in contact with him, by emphasizing what a quality human being he was.
Back in 1993, a Brazilian group called Batacoto with Dionne Warwick as guest vocalist, first recorded the song that Grover recorded for A Love Affair; The Music of Ivan Lins.
“The opening lyric is I’m a chameleon so I am here, but I’m not, which is how a lot of his American fans feel about Ivan Lins.