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Oscar Castro-Neves was a gifted Brazilian musician who lived in the U.S. after 1966. Besides his important contribution to the movement usually known as bossa nova, he also took part in projects with Joe Henderson (including their performances at the JVC Jazz Festival) and other great names of jazz, such as Dave Grusin, Herbie Hancock, Michael Brecker, and others. As a producer, arranger, and orchestrator, he worked on many artists' albums, conducting some of them; at the same time, he wrote music for American movies and TV series. As a composer, he enjoyed great success with his "Onde Está Você," recorded by various important interpreters.
Beginning his musical discovery very early, at six he already played a little violão and cavaquinho. With a group formed with his brothers, Leo (drums), Iko (bass), and Mário (piano), he performed in 1954 at Rádio Difusora, Petrópolis, RJ. The musicians interested in renewing Brazilian popular music were bringing classical influences from Ravel, Debussy, and others, incorporating altered chords into the bittersweet samba-canção of those times, and Castro-Neves was taken by it. Johnny Alf, deeply influenced by American jazz, was presenting his unusual piano playing at Cantina do César, where Castro-Neves would go to learn from him, as would all musicians who would become known as bossa nova proponents.
In 1959, the nascent bossa nova was still called alternative names such as Festival de Samba Moderno (modern samba festival) in university presentations, and Castro-Neves joined those events in the first wave. On Carlos Lira's first album, recorded in 1960 for Philips, Castro-Neves' "Chora Tua Tristeza" (with Luverci Fiorini) was included. Forming a new group, along with his brothers Iko and Leo, he performed at Teatro Records' (São Paulo SP) Festival Nacional de Bossa Nova. They also performed at the Noite do Sambalanço at P.U.C. university (São Paulo SP).
Gaining strength, the nascent movement caught the attention of Philips executives, who released the album Bossa Nova Mesmo with Castro-Neves' "Chora Tua Tristeza" (interpreted by his group) and "Menina Feia" (recorded by Lúcio Alves). He and his group also accompanied other artists on that album. In 1962, he took part in the historic Carnegie Hall Bossa Nova Festival with a group comprised of Percy Wilcox (guitar), Iko, and Roberto Pontes (drums). He then became friends with Paul Winter, with whom he would record his own solo album, Oscar!, debuting on Winter's label Living Music. Also in 1962, Castro-Neves recorded an LP for Audio Fidelity with drummer Milton Banana (O Ritmo e o Som da Bossa Nova), which included some of his own compositions. He performed at 1964's historic concert at Zum-Zum nightclub, together with Vinícius de Moraes, Dorival Caymmi, and Quarteto em Cy. The show, directed by Aluísio de Oliveira, was recorded and released by de Oliveira's Elenco label. The seminal show, O Fino da Bossa, was presented at São Paulo's Teatro Paramount, which would generate the TV series presented by Elis Regina under the same title, and had Alaíde Costa singing Castro-Neves' "Onde Está Você," scoring a hit with it.
Castro-Neves' group was also recorded live on some tracks and released in 1965 on several LPs, such as A Bossa no Paramount, O Fino da Bossa (RGE), and A Bossa Nova no Carnegie Hall (Audio Fidelity). He also composed and directed the music for Roberto Farias' movie Toda Donzela Tem um Pai Que é uma Fera and Millor Fernandes/Flávio Rangel's play Liberdade, Liberdade. Tom Jobim included Castro-Neves' song "Morrer de Amor" (with Luverci Fiorini) on his 1966 album Tom Jobim Apresenta. Castro-Neves then headed for the States, where he joined Sergio Mendes' Brasil '66 group. Hired by A&M through Herb Alpert, they had immediate success in blending a commercial pop vein, Brazilian jazz, and American popular styles. When Castro-Neves joined them, they had already recorded three albums and he took part in all the subsequent ones, departing from their fourth album, Fool on the Hill, until 1981.
As an arranger, Castro-Neves worked for Quincy Jones, Flora Purim, Laurindo Almeida, and others. In 1970, when João Gilberto and Miúcha were living in Mexico City, he arranged João Gilberto en Mexico. In 1973, he recorded the LP Alaíde Costa & Oscar Castro-Neves for Odeon. In 1982, he arranged and directed the soundtrack for Bruno Barreto's movie Gabriela, Cravo e Canela and also for Blame It on Rio. He worked with Yo-Yo Ma on the cellist's chart-topping Soul of the Tango album and played on David Darling's Cycles (ECM). He was a conductor, producer, and arranger for Ottmar Liebert's best-selling Leaning into the Night album. Together with Paul Winter, he co-produced Winter's albums Common Ground and Missa Gaia. Beginning in 1992, he promoted Brazilian Music Nights at the Hollywood Bowl. He also owned Kennis Enterprises studio. His discography in the U.S. includes Tropical Heart, More Than Yesterday, Maracujá, Brazilian Scandals, Oscar!, and Big Band Bossa Nova. Oscar Castro-Neves died of cancer in Los Angeles on September 27, 2013; he was 73 years old.