Monday, October 26, 2015

R.I.P.: Havana Carbo (1935-2015)

Just got the sad news that singer and composer Gladys Havana Carbo Flower passed away yesterday, October 25, 2015, at 6:35pm in the Berkshires, Massachusetts, after a long battle against cancer.

I loved her. I love her. Carbo released few albums, but all are sublime. A supreme balladeer, one of the best singers I've ever heard, in the same level of Shirley Horn and Helen Merrill, she was considered by me as "the best female jazz vocalist of the year" in 2004, 2007 and 2010 in the Jazz Station Annual Poll.

Born Gladys Lourdes Margarita Carbo Ramiro Garcia y de la Torre in Havana, Cuba, she lived in NY for decades, but relocated some years ago to Massachusets. We talked by phone for the last time ten days ago, when she was already very weak, but our conversation was long enough to remember many great moments of her career.

She told me that the doctors had given her only 1 month more, and that she had decided to stay at home instead of going to an hospital. We both were deeply moved by this difficult (to use a light word) "situation."

We talked about her recordings, about her love for Brazilian music, and remembered how master jazz pianist (and founder of the CAP label) Mike Longo introduced us.

I'm losing so many friends this year - Mark Murphy a few days ago, Phil Woods, Lew Soloff besides many other great musicians that also passed away recently... Like I wrote to her in my last email message: "Te amo profundamente."

Gladys Carbo Flower, 80, Cuban-American singer/composer HAVANA CARBO, née Gladys Margarita Lourdes Carbó Ramiro García y de la Torre, died peacefully on October 25, 2015 at Berkshire Medical Center in the loving presence of her family. Born in Havana, Cuba on February 22, 1935, she was the daughter of Nicolás Carbó and Herminia Ramiro.

She attended Grover Cleveland High School in Queens, NY and Villanova University in Havana, Cuba where she studied Philosophy and Languages. She later studied musical theater at New York University. She moved to Stockbridge, MA in 1964 where she became active in the civil rights and anti-war movements. Gladys was also a pioneer in the women’s rights movement with a close cohort of early Berkshire County feminists and hosted many meetings in her home on Church Street.

In the early 70’s, she managed the bar at the renowned Music Inn at Stockbridge, selecting and promoting a myriad of popular and jazz artists that we know and love today. She became a self-made business woman and in the 1970’s purchased the front of the 1884 building on Main Street, Stockbridge where she opened “Woffin’s Corner,” her very own, singularly unique and first-of-its-kind in the Berkshire’s, European toy shop. She later transformed Woffin’s Corner into “Habanera Boutique” — a lavish, elegant and utterly decadent fine women’s clothing store with globally imported fashions. Her series of business successes ultimately allowed her to return to her first love and finally pursue the musical dreams she had deferred for decades. She returned to Stockbridge in 2013 after living, performing and recording in Manhattan for 20 years.

Growing up in Havana, Cuba in the 30’s and 40’s, Gladys was raised in its notably rich, rhythmically complex musical traditions.  She displayed a natural gift for music and a facility for the piano by age three.  By the age of eight, she began formal music lessons, relying mostly on her ear, and memorizing her lessons. Raised in an environment that celebrated music but viewed “nightclub” performing as inappropriate for a young lady, a budding career that began during her New York high school years was cut short.

As a teenager, in high school, she created and led a vocal quintet, “The Holidates,” and held her first professional job as vocalist with Bobby Friedlander’s Band. Her introduction to American popular song and jazz came via Chet Baker, Dinah Washington, Sarah Vaughn, Ella Fitzgerald, Johnny Hartman, Frank Sinatra, June Christy, Mel Tormé, and later Shirley Horn, Maysa, Elis, Regina, João Gilberto, Edu Lobo, Ivan Lins and Antonio Carlos “Tom” Jobim.

Fascinated and inspired by the directness of Brazilian lyrics, incomparable melodies and harmonies, she taught herself Portuguese to better understand the culture, and to do justice to her forthcoming compositions. As luck would have it, while searching for lyrics to a song she heard sung by Gilberto called, “Retrato em Branco e Preto,” she was put in contact with its composer, the legendary Jobim, who gave generously of his time, by clarifying, translating, and answering her questions.

With a style that defies category, sometimes described as “Chamber Bolero/Jazz," she wove her tapestry of meticulously chosen and rarely heard gems traveling seamlessly between Spanish, English, French, Italian and Portuguese, enchanting audiences and critics alike, ushering the listener into her world. Her many musical compositions were greatly influenced by Ralphe Vaughan Williams and Michel Legrand.

The former Soul Note recording artist ("Street Cries," 1991), later signed with Mike Longo's CAP label ("So I’ll Dream You Again", 1997, and "Luna de Varadero," 2005) released "Through a Window, Like a Dream," 2007 and "Phantoms of Love," 2010, on MODLmusic, her own label. "Through a Window, Like a Dream" received the same enthusiastic response given her previous recordings, which garnered glowing reviews from as far as Braga, Portugal to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where the LA-based Brazilian producer/jazz writer Arnaldo Desouteiro wrote that Carbo possesses a “…singularly warm timbre…extraordinary phrasing and stirring expressiveness… and “is destined to develop a cult-following”, calling Luna de Varadero “SUBLIME…a perfect CD”.

As a result she was selected by Mr. DeSouteiro as “Best Female Jazz Vocalist of 2004, 2007 and 2010" in the Jazz Station blog, according to the results of the Annual Jazz Station Poll, also published in Rio de Janeiro's daily newspaper Tribuna da Imprensa. Her “Stockbridge Requiem,” composed for two sopranos, full chorus, organ and Latin jazz quartet was performed at Saint Peter’s Church in New York, and the Marian Chapel in Stockbridge. She was a BMI member since 1985 and a Local 802 member since 1993. She was nourished by a love of music, family and friends.

Gladys was also an amazingly gifted painter, sculptor and artist, leaving an additional published legacy of unique pen & ink drawings depicting various Stockbridge landmarks. She cherished her gift of music and art, fully aware of the responsibility and humility that came with that gift, while striving to keep her dream unconditionally uncompromised.

Gladys is survived by four artistic, successful and loving children and partners, Michael Lavin Flower and fiancé, Alison Collins of Lenox, Robert Lavin Flower and wife, Laurie of Stockbridge, Aline Flower and partner Mary Yu of Bainbridge Island and Seattle, WA and Ethan Alan Flower and wife, Rebecca East of Los Angeles, CA. She also leaves her adoring brother, Nicolás Andrés Carbó, her niece Juliet Carbo DiTroia and husband John, as well as four grandchildren, Andrew, Wilson, Victoria Flower and Sarah Flower McCraw.

SERVICES: A private family service is planned for Saturday, October 31. A public celebration of her life and music will be held in the near future. Per her wishes, donations can be made to Saint Peter’s Jazz Vespers.
Vocal CD of the Month
Havana Carbo: "Phantoms of Love" (MODL Music) 2010

Rating: ***** (5 stars)
Featuring: Dario Eskenazi, Oriente Lopez, Vince Cherico, Oscar Feldman, Sean Smith, Leo Traversa, Pablo Aslan, John Pezanelli, Helio Alves, Nilson Matta, Lino Fernandez, Gabriel Machado.
Highlights: "Tarde Triste," "Poinciana," "Canto Triste," "Tres Palabras," "Retrato em Branco e Preto," "Que Reste-t-il de nos Amours," "La Valse des Lilas," "Maybe September," "The Shining Sea."
Available from

Actually, the whole album is a highlight. Our latin-tinged Helen Merrill, Gladys "Havana" Carbo delivers another love letter in form of a CD. Her warm and seductive voice, gifted with exceptional phrasing and impeccable enunciation, fits perfectly with the sumptuous repertoire.
The unexpected opener, Maysa's "Tarde Triste," would be enough to make it one of the top CDs of the year. But the emotions don't stop there. Havana's renditions of Percy Faith's "Maybe September" (the best one since Tony Bennett's take on his masterpiece album from 1965, "The Movie Song Album"), Michel Legrand's "La Valse des Lilas" (aka "Once Upon A Summertime", Legrand's first song, dating 1954), Johnny Mandel/Peggy Lee's "The Shining Sea," Nat Simon/Buddy Bernier's "Poinciana" made a hit by Ahmad Jamal, and Osvaldo Farrés' bolero anthem "Tres Palabras" are beyond words.

Besides "Tarde Triste," her affinity for Brazilian music is showcased through magnificent interpretations of Edu Lobo/Vinicius de Moraes' "Canto Triste" (a song included in the first album I ever produced, the debut LP of Yana Purim for RCA in 1980) and Antonio Carlos Jobim/Chico Buarque's "Retrato Em Branco e Preto," all sung in Portuguese. Not to mention Havana's French adventure on Charles Trenet's standard "Que Reste-t-il de Nos Amours," one of João Gilberto's personal favorite songs, having been recorded by the Bossa Nova Pope on his "João" album orchestrated by Clare Fischer in 1991. Essential.
The artist herself talks about her creative process and the making of this new CD:

‘Phantoms of Love’ …from dream to reality.
In an earlier poem I wrote about “ a land where love and beauty reign.” Beauty…that rare pearl of incalculable value, cherished all the more as values change! Instinct draws me to well-crafted, beautiful music and compelling stories. Rummaging through scores, recordings, films, and remembered conversations, childhood songs, saved photographs, I search for treasure.

That’s my process for selecting songs, and was my process in creating ‘Phantoms of Love.’ I picked these tunes from among hundreds. Forever intrigued by the obscure gem and bypassing the usual menu, beauty trumps all. Financial gain is never a motivating factor, and as an independent artist/producer I’m free to let artistic integrity guide me. I’m answerable only to my conscience and my heart. Not an easy or practical choice but one I can live with.

I suppose I should explain how my mind worked for this album. I don't do ‘up-tunes’ any more…for the sake of doing up-tunes to balance the album. ‘Happy’ music for no particular reason doesn't appeal to me...unless the song meets my criteria which includes beauty, construction and content. This particular collection is more than a bunch of pretty songs... they tell a story, are woven from a fine, sometimes fragile thread and speak of vulnerability, loss, haunting memories of love, and all are personal intimate moments. They are part of a complex process which starts with my interminable and ever growing list of songs I absolutely love. After months of editing out titles I found myself with a group of songs united by some common thread, often not immediately apparent. I followed my gut however, and began to recognize which ones worked and why. As I narrowed them down to the final dozen or so, I then began searching for a hidden reason or message that linked them all together, often concurrent with, and influenced by the state of my heart and my mind at the moment, or by the pain or joy of my soul. I let the music speak to me. Sounds nutty? Perhaps, but to me it's the only thing that makes sense. Commercial success is never a priority though the economic aspect surfaces like Hamlet's ghost as I confront the reality of my life, yet it never alters my vision or my artistic integrity. If anything it reinforces what I believe to be right.

In this collection, Poinciana and Que Reste-t-il de Nos Amours can be considered my concession to an uptune, but that's not why they were selected. It just worked out that way.
As for Epilogue, that's something I wrote in the 80's for piano to act as underscoring for ‘Llanto de Luna.’
You'll notice that in no way is it meant to assuage or musically smooth out the tragic lyric or to make it easy for the singer - quite the opposite, it's meant to be in conflict and highlight the sadness and despair in the lyric. Comfortable harmonies are for resolutions and happy endings. I included it as my epilogue as well, both a farewell and a recapping of all the stories that came before. A theatrical conceit.

I’m fortunate and thrilled to work with such remarkable multi-talented musicians in an ambience of fun and friendship. I have the deepest appreciation for Dario Eskenazi’s legendary artistry, sensibility and highly developed sense of beauty, his myriad arrangements and the production of many songs (see credits) selfless dedication and an uncanny ability to make me laugh; for Oriente Lopez’s musicality, originality, versatility and music-direction of his arrangements; Vince Cherico’s rare sensibility, dependability, wisdom and long, helpful conversations, Leo’s sensual heartbeat bass, Sean’s solid dependable round tone, and the entire ‘Band of Angels’ for their brilliance, high level of professionalism and flexibility. I’m indebted to my sons Michael and Robert for long hours, patience and exceptional photography/ artwork; I am blown away by the generosity of spirit and kind words of extraordinary composer Gabriel Yared (Possesso).
I cherish the love and support of my other children Aline and Ethan, my brother Nick, and loyal friends.

Serendipity played a role when funds from a soon to become ex-employer appeared - the genie came out to make this project possible. (2nd CD on my label MODL, 5th CD to date).
Having recently survived cancer, I live fearlessly and thankfully in every minute, every song and every act of kindness.
We are born, we die and everything in-between is a gift. Nourished then by music, laughter, love and beauty, I’m living that rare and beautiful gift.
- Havana Carbo, NY
From Carbo's official website:

Havana born, US raised, Cuban-American singer/composer HAVANA CARBO received her MFA in Music Theatre composition from TSOA/M/T at NYU (‘93) and is a Yip Harburg Fellow. A former Soul Note recording artist (Street Cries, ’91), and more recently a CAP recording artist (Luna de Varadero’05; So I’ll Dream You Again ’97, Carbo celebrates the ‘07 release of “Through a Window, Like a Dream” on MODL, her own label.

In his liner notes, Richard Peaslee writes: “Havana Carbo draws us into a delicious world of nostalgia, tristesse and exotic locales. With her fluent command of Spanish, Portuguese, French, and English, and her warm intimate delivery, Carbo can evoke the atmosphere of a smoky back alley bar as easily as that of a sophisticated club on the Lido. A master of musical understatement and subtlety, she becomes one with the impeccable musicianship of the ensemble of prominent musicians with whom she performs.”

At age 3 she took to the piano and at 8 began formal lessons in Havana, where she was raised in an environment that celebrated music but viewed “nightclub” performing as inappropriate for a young lady. Jazz established residence in her soul during her NY High School years, but a budding career was cut short by marriage to a Cuban Economics major she met while a student at pre-Castro’s Villanova University in Havana.

…But twenty-odd years, three marriages and four fabulous children later, with life’s experiences as a bonus, Havana finally went home to her passion – music. In 1984, Carbo created “Havana Midnight”, a latin/jazz group devoted to her arrangements of Latin American classics from her past, and the group met with instant success in the Berkshires where she resided. She produced an EP (Another Summer), which led to being signed by Soul Note in 1987 to record her first solo CD, “Street Cries”. It featured Gene Bertoncini, Michael Moore, Marvin Stamm and John Sauer.

In ‘89 she was awarded a Mass Arts Grant.
CARBO has recorded/performed with such greats as Michael Moore, Jimmy Giuffre, Gene Bertoncini, Dario Eskenazi, Nilson Matta, Vince Cherico, John Benitez, Café, Chocolate Armenteros, Oriente Lopez, Helio Alves, Sean Smith, Diego Urcola, Edsel Gomez, Aaron Goldberg, John Di Martino, “El Negro”Hernandez, Café, LeoTraversa, the late Edson Machado, and a two-month run as vocalist with the legendary Chico O’Farrill Band. Since moving to NY she has appeared in major clubs from NY to the Caribbean, South Beach and Paris; venues as varied as Birdland, 55BAR, Lenox Lounge, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Smith College, Aaron Davis Hall, B.Smith’s, Lenox Lounge, Helsinki, the Barbados and Jamaica Jazz Festivals. Carbo has been featured guest on radio including WNYC, WFCR, WFDU, WBGO, WDNA Miami, XM Satellite Radio, WLUZ San Juan, and KLAS Jamaica. In the West Indies, the drink “Havana Carbo” was created in her honor at Kingston’s Redbones Blues Café.

Glowing reviews come from as far as Braga (Portugal) to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where Arnaldo Desouteiro, La Tribuna wrote “ … her voice travels with a voice of singularly warm timbre and her phrasing has extraordinary and stirring expressiveness… …destined to develop a cult”. Her penultimate CD “So I’ll Dream You Again” was one of the top 10 in Jazz for 1997 in Brazil and in 2004 she was selected #1 Female Jazz vocalist of the year with her “Luna de Vardero” release.

Joanna Rudnick, Artful Mind, Mass. wrote “…her velvet voice parades throughout your body…her music subtly reminds the listener that she has lived in every lyric and every note…also writes bone-shattering poetry.”
Havana continues to write poetry, music, and working on “LIVING BY EAR”, a One-Woman Show based on her adventurous life. She has found her home in a community of extraordinary musicians with whom she is proud to work, and is nourished by love of music, family and friends. She lives in constant awe of the gift that is music, fully aware of the responsibility that comes with the gift, always striving to keep her dream alive and uncompromised.

Membership – Honors
• Local 802
• American Academy of Recorded Music
• Yip Harburg Fellow

Vozes mágicas e transcendentais
Havana Carbo e Lou Lanza brilham em novos CDs

Artigo escrito por Arnaldo DeSouteiro em 01 de Dezembro de 2005 e publicado originalmente no jornal "Tribuna da Imprensa"

Em meio a tantos pastiches e armações de Jamies e Madeleines, devem ser recebidos com missa de ação de graças os novos trabalhos de Havana Carbo e Lou Lanza. De gerações distintas, abençoados com vozes privilegiadas, têm em comum não apenas a qualidade interpretativa e a originalidade de seus estilos, mas também um apurado e incorruptível senso estético que privilegia a beleza no seu sentido mais literal, em um tempo pautado pela inversão de valores. Transcendendo rótulos e estilos, mostram salutar ousadia criativa, ungindo-nos com um bálsamo sonoro multi-dimensional.

Desde “Street cries”, gravado em 1990 para o selo italiano Soul Note, Havana Carbo conquistou um cult-following que sabe estar diante de uma artista singular, dona de timbre incomparável, personalíssimo. O charme, a sutileza e a sofisticação que fizeram de “So I’ll dream you again” (1997) um dos meus “desert island discs”, aparecem novamente neste segundo CD para o selo CAP, “Luna de varadero” (43m42s). A diferença está na instrumentação: enquanto, no álbum anterior, flautas, sax, trompete, guitarra e a percussão do brasileiro Valtinho complementavam o grupo de base, o novo disco alicerça-se somente no excelente trio formado por Dario Eskenazi (pianista argentino, da nobre linhagem de Bill Evans), Nilson Matta (baixista brasileiro radicado em NY há quase vinte anos, com quem tive a honra de trabalhar no CD “The Bonfá Magic”, de Luiz Bonfá, em 1991) e o baterista Vince Cherico (do grupo de Ray Barretto).

Não se trata de um trio acompanhando uma cantora, mas de um quarteto com destaque para uma voz “lovely, warm and intimate”, na síntese perfeita de Ira Gitler, o maior historiador de jazz na atualidade. A cubana Havana, que cresceu e ainda hoje reside em NY, respira junto com os demais músicos. Sensação reforçada pela mixagem, que coloca todos no mesmo plano, optando por um som amplo, quente, “antigo” (no bom sentido), sem compressão, privilegiando a transparência de todas as freqüências e deixando a bateria soar realmente “acústica”. Os arranjos, em sua maioria assinados por Eskenazi (ouvido com Mongo Santamaría, Paquito D’Rivera e o Caribbean Jazz Project), são bem estruturados e funcionais. Para quem não dispensa comparações, Havana poderia ser colocada em patamar similar ao de Helen Merrill (mas com maior carga de sensualidade) e Shirley Horn (sem sofreguidão).

Performances sublimes

Ao longo das 13 faixas deste álbum sublime, Gladys Havana Carbo faz do ouvinte seu cúmplice, acariciando sua alma, convidando-o para aconchegar-se através do antológico “Acércate más”, de Oswaldo Farrés. Popularizado nos EUA por Nat King Cole, raramente recriado por jazzistas (Zoot Sims nos presenteou com uma bela interpretação sob o título de “Come closer to me”), reaparece aqui em luxuosa levada de bossa-bolero. A carga de sensualidade aumenta ainda mais em “No me platiques más”, do mexicano Vicente Garrido. Mrs. Carbo segue deslizando por “Moon and sand”, de Alec Wilder, que ganhou novos fãs após a gravação de Chet Baker na trilha de “Let’s get lost”. Por falar em Chet, outro tema emocionante, “The wind”, escrito por seu pianista Russ Freeman e regravado por, pasmem!, Mariah Carey, ganha nova dimensão na voz de Havana. O batera Vince Cherico contribui para o efeito hipnótico, usando “mallets” até o início do solo de Eskenazi.

No standard “I fall in love too easily” (tema da dupla Jule Styne-Sammy Cahn para o filme da MGM “Anchors Aweigh”), Havana dá conta do recado em 2m49s, com espaço ainda para um solo de Nilson Matta. Na faixa-título, “Luna de varadero”, de Bobby Collazo, Vince troca a bateria pelo bongô. O clima torna-se ainda mais intimista nos duos de voz & piano em “Aquellas pequeñas cosas”, do espanhol Joan Manuel Serrat, e “Atrás da porta”, de Francis Hime & Chico Buarque. Outra música brasileira no repertório, também com arranjo de Nilson, “Bonita” é cantada como uma “bossa up-tempo” com a letra em inglês de Ray Gilbert para a jóia lançada por Jobim em seu “The Wonderful World”, com arranjo de Nelson Riddle em 65. O pianista Eskenazi realiza um de seus melhores solos, aliando o lirismo de Bill Evans ao balanço econômico de Tom, citando “O barquinho” durante a tag, enquanto Vince usa as vassouras com a costumeira categoria.

Carbo, cuja intimidade com a bossa nova vem desde o tempo em que atuava com o batera Edison Machado, retorna às baladas emendando “I wish I knew” (com delicadeza comparável ao tratamento de Keith Jarrett) à “In the wee small hours of the morning” (imortalizada por Sinatra), antes de mostrar sua face autoral na valsa “Paris”, aberta pelo assobio de Eskenazi, e de letra nostálgica, inspirada em um verão de passeios por Montmartre. No boleraço cubano “Contigo en la distancia”, de Cesar Portillo de la Luz (o mesmo de “Tu, mi delirio” gravado por Astrud e pelo Azymuth), sucesso de Lucho Gatica, Olga Gullot e, agora, Christina Aguilera, Carbo chega ao ponto máximo de emoção à flor da pele. Tema de encerramento, “No dejes que te olvide” (Ignacio Villa), remete às noitadas de seu principal intérprete, o lendário Bola de Nieve, no clube Tropicana, de Havana, cantando as dores de amor sem desespero nem melodrama. Fecho ideal para um disco perfeito, apaixonado e apaixonante.

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