Monday Notes

Noel Rosa, Conversa de Botequim. A conversation in the bar

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[Monday Notes no. 45] Noel Rosa is one of the most important authors of Brazilian Popular Music. Noel Rosa sings about the lives of the miserable, describing small details in an ironic and poetic way, always with a benevolent and optimistic outlook.

Conversa de botequim tells the story of a confrontation between a waiter and the guest of a bar who, with a thousand ways, delays paying his bill.

While the waiter dusts the table to induce him to get up, the customer behaves like a great gentleman and makes a thousand requests: a not too hot beer, bread and butter, ice-cold water. But that’s not all, he asks the unfortunate waiter to close the door, find out the result of the football match, bring him a cigarette and lighter, paper and pen, a toothpick, magazines.

He asks to borrow an umbrella and wants the waiter to make a phone call on his behalf. These absurd demands reach their climax when the customer announces that he has forgotten his purse. In fact, if the waiter could just lend him some change…

The dialogue between customer and bartender is also a classic in jazz music, this piece reminds me of Harold Arlen’s One for my Baby, in which a drunken customer shares his love woes with a bored bartender who can’t wait to close up and go to sleep.

There is much that is autobiographical in this delightful samba. Noel Rosa loved to spend hours at a bar table, writing songs and indulging in his many vices. His life was short and troubled, yet he composed over two hundred songs, many of which have become classics of Brazilian Popular Music.

Noel Rosa lived between 1910 and 1937, thus long before the birth of bossanova. However, the elaborate harmony of his songs somewhat anticipates it, as bossanova songs tend to use very elaborate harmonic progressions as well.

Until next Monday!

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