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Manhã de Carnaval

(Morning Of The Carnival)


Black Orpheus film still


In 1959, Marcel Camus' film Orfeo Negro (Black Orpheus) came to cinema screens. It was a re-telling of the Orpheus and Eurydice legend set during a Brazil carnival and starred Breno Mello as Orfeo, Marpessa Dawn as Eurydice and Ademar Da Silva as 'Death'. It also brought some lasting musical compositions from Antonio Carlos Jobim and Luiz Bonfa including Manhã De Carnaval. It introduced an important moment in jazz samba and bossa nova that would be followed by the Stan Getz / Charlie Byrd album Jazz Samba in 1962 and the Getz/Gilberto album of 1963 (released in 1964).

A summary of the film's storyline appears in IMDB: 'In the heady atmosphere of Rio's carnival, two people meet and fall in love. Eurydice, a country girl, has run away from home to avoid a man who arrived at her home looking for her. She is convinced that he was going to kill her. She arrives in Rio to stay with her cousin Serafina. Orfeo works as a tram conductor and is engaged to Mira - as far as Mira is concerned anyways. As Eurydice and Orpheus get to know one another they fall deeply in love. Mira is mad with jealousy and when Eurydice disappears, Orfeo sets out to find her'.


Here is a short clip from the film featuring Manhã De Carnaval.






The film summary above does not do justice to the film; it won the Palme d'Or at Cannes that year and also a Golden Globe and an Oscar for best foreign-langauge film a year later.

In his autobiography, Dreams From My Father, former US President Barak Obama wrote: '"One evening, while thumbing through Black Orpheus scenethe Village Voice, my mother's eyes lit on an advertisement for a movie, Black Orpheus, that was showing downtown. My mother insisted we go see it that night; she said it was the first foreign film she had ever seen ... I was only sixteen then, she told us as weentered the elevator: "I'd just been accepted to the University of Chicago – Gramps hadn't yet told me I couldn't go – and I was there for the summer, working as an au pair. It was the first time I'd ever been really on my own. Gosh, I felt like such an adult. Andwhen I saw this film, I thought it was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen.'"

Sixteen year old Barak reacted to the film differently. His comments have been quoted elsewhere, usually out of context. In context you would need to read more (click here). The usual part quoted goes like this: '

About halfway through the movie, I decided that I’d seen enough, and turned to my mother to see if she might be ready to go. But her face, lit by the blue glow of the screen, was set in a wistful gaze. At that moment, I felt as if I were being given a window into her heart, the unreflective heart of her youth. I suddenly realized that the depiction of childlike blacks I was now seeing on the screen, the reverse image of Conrad’s dark savages, was what my mother had carried with her to Hawaii all those years before, a reflection of the simple fantasies that had been forbidden to a white middle-class girl from Kansas, the promise of another life: warm, sensual, exotic, different. I turned away, embarrassed for her, irritated with the people around me ....."


Writing in The Guardian, Peter Bradshaw challenges Barak Obama's view of Black Orpheus: 'For what it's worth, I think Obama is wrong about Black Orpheus – he's too tough on it. And yet for me this passage exposed, more dramatically than anything has in a very long while, the fact that critical perceptions are governed by class, by background and by race .... (click here for the full article).

Nevertheless, that is the impression the film made on the young Barak. Interestingly, musicals generally, particularly many musicals of the 1950s and before, have characters and plots that could be described as 'childlike', or at least 'naive' in the sense of 'natural and unaffected; innocent'. I am not sure that for all of them, 'critical perceptions are governed by class, by background and by race', but perhaps they are?

In many ways, Orfeo Negro has far more 'darker' characters and scenes than most. Perhaps Barak should not have left half way through!


No Bad News



Some twenty years later, Sidney Lumet made another musical film with a black cast, The Wiz, and I wonder what Barak would have thought of that. The movie is a retelling of The Wizard of Oz through the eyes of a young African-American kindergarten teacher (Dianna Ross) who's "never been below 125th Street." On her journey down the yellow brick road, Dorothy meets the scarecrow (Michael Jackson); the tin man (Nipsey Russell) and the lion (Ted Ross). The quartet tangles with a subway station that comes to life, a poppy den, and a gaggle of motorcycle henchman on their way to the Wiz (Richard Pryor) -- who orders them to kill the Wicked Witch of the West (a sweatshop tyrant) before he will grant them their wishes.




The sweatshop tyrant is played by Mabel King. Here is Mabel performing No Bad News from the movie.





Returning to Black Orpheus, Empire film magazine wrote in a review: '... Marcel Camus’ romantic tragedy is an accomplished blend of Greek legend, Brazilian custom and a little-known play by Vinicius De Moraes. Despite references to Orpheus, Eurydice, Olympus and the Underworld, this is essentially an astral myth: Bruno Mello symbolises the sun, who will deliver the earthy Marpessa Dawn from the darkness of death cast over her by her sinister suitor, Ademar Da Silva. It’s to Camus’ credit that the symbolism is integrated so deftly with the sights and sounds of the Rio Carnival. But what gives the film its mesmerising atmosphere is cinematographer Jean Bourgoin’s discrete contrasts between the vibrancy of the daylight revels and the looming malevolence of the nocturnal sequences ...'.


The trailer for the movie that includes snatches of other tunes that became established through the film.





The legend of Orpheus and Eurydice varies with the telling, but in essence, the god Apollo gives his son Orpheus a lyre and teaches him how to play. Orpheus plays with such perfection that even Apollo is surprised. It is said that 'nothing could resist his beautiful melodies, neither enemies nor beasts. Even trees and rocks were entranced with his music'. Orpheus falls in love and marries the beautiful Eurydice. Hymen, the god of marriage, blesses them but predicts that their happiness will not last. A short time later, Eurydice is wandering in the forest with the Nymphs. In some versions of the story, Aristaeus, a shepherd, sees her and beguiled by her beauty, makes advances towards her, and begins to chase her. Other versions of the story say that Eurydice was merely dancing with the Nymphs. In any case, while fleeing or dancing, she is bitten by a snake and dies instantly.


Orpheus before Pluto

H.W. Bissen - Orpheus pleading with Pluto


Orpheus sings his grief with his lyre and both humans and gods are touched by his sorrow and grief. He decides to go down to Hades to search for his wife. Any other mortal would have died, but Orpheus, protected by the gods, arrives in the Underworld and manages to charm the three-headed Cerebus who guards the way. He faces Pluto, the god of the underworld, and his wife, Persephone and playing his lyre, melts even Hades' cold heart. Hades tells Orpheus that he can take Eurydice with him but under one condition; Eurydice will follow him while he is walking out to the light from the caves of the Underworld, but he must not look at her before coming out to the light or else he will lose her forever. If Orpheus is patient enough he will have Eurydice returned to him.

Orpheus thanks the gods and begins to ascend back into the world. Unable to hear Eurydice’s footsteps, however, he begins to think that the gods have been fooling him. Eurydice is in fact behind him, but can only become a full woman again when she emerges into the light. Only a few feet away from the exit, Orpheus loses his faith and turns to see Eurydice behind him, but her shadow is whisked back among the dead and trapped in Hades forever. Orpheus plays a mourning song with his lyre, calling for death so that he can be united with Eurydice. His wish is granted and the Muses save his head and keep it among the living to sing forever, enchanting everyone with his lovely melodies.

Manhã De Carnaval has since been recorded by Stan Getz and many jazz musicians - Kenny Dorham, the Modern Jazz Quartet, Quincy Jones, Hampton Hawes, Charlie Byrd, Bob Brookmeyer, Oscar Peterson as well as Frank Sinatra, Jose Feliciano or the Three Tenors ... all of whom you can listen to via YouTube - but first we feature this video from 2015 by trumpeter Andrea Motis and saxophonist Joan Chamorro 2015:






The International Movie Data Base (IMDB) adds some interesting miscellaneous information about the film. Marcel Camus shot Black Orpheus posterthe movie Orfeo Negro entirely on location in Brazil with his cast and crew of mostly local talent. Camus wanted to capture the dramatic landscapes around Rio and the vibrant sounds and colours of the area, infusing the film with a kinetic energy set to the constant throbbing beat of samba music.


Shooting on location did not come without its share of challenges. Camus was already on a limited budget and quickly ran out of money. According to an interview he gave to Time Magazine, in order to cut corners, he took to pinching pennies on meals and sleeping on the beach rather than in hotels. When he was down to his last $17, Brazil's then president, Juscelino Kubitschek, helped Camus procure some filming equipment from the country's army in order to help the production out. "The poverty was not such a bad thing in the long run," said Camus. "I spent so much time trailing around on foot, just looking, that in the end I had a deep awareness of Brazil. With money, I would never have made the same film. Everything would have been done too quickly."


Breno Mello who played Orfeu was a soccer player with no acting experience at the time he was cast. Mello was walking on the street in Rio de Janeiro, when Marcel stopped him and asked if he would like to be in a film. He went on to make two more films, Os Vencidos (1963) and Prisoner of Rio (1988). Marpessa Dawn (Eurydice) was not from Brazil, but from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She moved to England where she began acting in small television roles and then moved to France in 1953. Occasionally working as a governess, she also sang and danced in nightclubs where she met director Marcel Camus. She was 24 years old when she was cast as Eurydice. Ademar Da Silva, the actor who played Death, was a triple jumper who won two Olympic gold medals, in 1952 and 1956. Breno Mello and Marpessa Dawn both died in within two months of each other - almost half a century after the film was made.





I think that this video of Manhã De Carnaval by guitarists John McLaughlin, Paco de Lucia and Larry Coryell is a real treat despite one commentator saying that it doesn't have a 'Latin feel', and it is a reminder of the talents of the late Paco de Lucia and Larry Coryell.







Elizete Cardoso



Manhã De Carnaval was sung in the movie by Brazilian vocalist, Elizete Cardoso. Born in Rio de Janeiro, her father was a serenader who played guitar, and her mother was an amateur singer. Elizete began working at an early age and between 1930 and 1935 - became a store clerk and hairdresser among other things. She was discovered at her 16th birthday party by Jacob do Bandolim, the Brazilian composer and musician, to which he was brought by her cousin Pedro, a popular figure among the musicians of the day. Jacó took her to Rádio Guanabara where, in spite of her father’s initial opposition, she appeared on the Programa Suburbano. In 1958, Elizete was invited by Vinicius de Moraes to be the singer of an album of songs written by himself and Tom Jobim. Canção do Amor Demais became the first album of bossa nova music, launching the new genre. The album was released on the Festa label. While Cardoso was not primarily considered a bossa nova singer, she is the vocalist on the original version of the bossa classic Manhã de Carnaval from the Orfeu Negro soundtrack.











Nicole Henry


In the USA, the title Manhã De Carnaval was changed to A Day In The Life Of A Fool and lyrics added.

A day in the life of a fool
A sad and a long lonely day
I walk the avenue and hope I'll run into
The welcome sight of you coming my way
I stop just across from your door
But you're never home any more
So back to my room and there in the gloom
I cry tears of goodbye
(That's the way it will be every day in the life of fool)




Listen to Nicole Henry performing the song. In many ways I think this changes the original concept, but despite that Nicole Henry's interpretation is worth hearing.






Mission Impossible 2 poster


Manhã De Carnaval appeared again in the soundtrack recording for the movie Mission Impossible 2, this time sung by Tori Amos with a completely different arrangement along with a further variation on the lyrics:

I sing to the sun in the sky
I sing to the sun raised high
Carnival dancer, magical time of youth
And as the day draws nigh
Dreams fill my heart
I'll sing while he raises guitar
I'll sing as the night wakes the dawn
Will love come my way on this magical day?
And will hope stay in my heart?


According to some information (click here) 'Tori's song "Carnival" is NOT heard during the actual film Mission Impossible 2. That includes the credits at the end. That fall out is quite a shame! The title of the album does make it clear that some of the songs are "inspired" by the movie and not necessarily in it'.











Luiz Bonfa



It seems right to end this piece with a mention of the tune's composer, Luiz Floriano Bonfá. Bonfá was born in 1922 in Rio de Janeiro and studied with Uruguayan classical guitarist Isaías Sávio from the age of 11. As we learn from Wikipedia: ‘These weekly lessons entailed a long, harsh commute by train (two and a half hours each way) and on foot from his family home in Santa Cruz, the western rural outskirts of Rio de Janeiro, to the teacher's home in the hills of Santa Teresa. Given Bonfá's extraordinary dedication and talent for the guitar, Sávio excused the youngster's inability to pay for his lessons’.

Luiz came to notice when performed on radio in a showcase for young talent and went on to compose music for Brazilian crooner Dick Farney in the 1950s. It was through Farney that Bonfá was introduced to Antônio (Tom) Carlos Jobim and Vinicius de Moraes, the leading songwriting team behind the explosion of Brazilian jazz/pop music. Bonfá collaborated with them and with other prominent Brazilian musicians and artists in productions of de Moraes' anthological play Orfeu da Conceição, (Orpheus of the Conception), a three-act stage play that premiered in 1956 in Rio de Janeiro. The play was later truned into Marcel Camus' film Black Orpheus. (There are several videos online of performance and music from Orfeu da Conceição but mostly in Portuguese).





Fortunately, buried on YouTube, I discovered this video of Luiz Bonfá playing Manhã De Carnaval with singer Elizete Cardoso





Finally, here is a version of Manhã De Carnaval played by Japanese saxophonist Sadao Watanabe with the Toquinho group in 1986.





[The full movie of Orfeo Negro / Black Orpheus is available through YouTube, but as far as I cansee it is not subtitled and the film quality leaves much to be desired]


Black Orpheus children




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