Monday Notes

Joao Donato, A Ra. The Piano and Brazilian Popular Music

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Leggi in Italiano

[Monday Notes no. 67] Although it is natural to associate bossanova with the guitar, the piano has been very important in the development of this music. The most important founders of bossanova include pianists Johnny Alf, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Sergio Mendes, Ivan Lins and Milton Nascimento. Let us analyse a nice piece entitled A Ra (the frog), composed by pianist and accordionist Joao Donato.

A Ra is a very unusual piece, extremely simple and minimal in its melody, which consists of only the four notes G A B C, all within a fourth interval. At the beginning, the melody is superimposed on only two chords.

In the first phrase, the melody is superimposed on just two chords: Gm7 and C7

Later the same melody is repeated but this time the harmony changes, creating an interesting variation. Joao Donato has composed other pieces based on this process, in particular the repeated notes creating an incisive and very rhythmic theme.

Joao Donato A Ra parte 2
In the second phrase the melody is unchanged while the chords vary

The original lyrics of the song are about a frog jumping happily from flower to flower. In this version of the song, however, the voice does not recite the words but only meaningless syllables, with an essentially rhythmic function once again.

It is a kind of jazz scat adapted to Brazilian music and language, which is not surprising since bossanova has from the very beginning been the result of the fusion of jazz and Brazilian popular music.

Besides being an original pianist and very interesting for his rhythmic use of the instrument, Joao Donato has been an accordionist and arranger. His records are always exquisite and full of humour. Exactly like the frog that jumps happily from flower to flower.

Until Next Monday

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My interpretation of A Ra

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