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Cadenza: The Thrill of Brazil

The journey to Ouro Preto in Brazil is not easy. Even with short waits between the three legs of the trip, it takes most of a day. You fly from New York to one of the coastal airports, Rio or São Paulo (I did the latter), and board another plane inland to Belo Horizonte, which slightly overshoots Ouro Preto. Vans from the Tudo é Jazz Festival pick up musicians and other guests for the drive south, which, with traffic, may exceed two hours. The final destination is labyrinthine, steep and cobblestoned: an erstwhile mining center, now a university town and tourist magnet (population 50,000) known for its translucent gold topaz.

One look at the huddled russet roofs, the white walls with brightly painted window frames and the gold baroque churches, all transformed by the play of golden light, and exhaustion is instantly banished by intimations of paradise. Ouro Preto is a jewel box preserved from another age, namely the 1700s, when precious metals and gems poured from its mountains. If the contagious tranquility and the fact that, from Sept. 21 to 23, it hosts a smart, diverse, laid-back international jazz festival doesn’t relieve one from all cares, a shot of cachaca-the national firewater, refined from sugar cane-will seal the rapture. Brazil doesn’t make tourists; it makes converts.

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Originally Published

Gary Giddins

Gary Giddins is the author of 12 books, including Rhythm-a-Ning: Jazz Tradition and Innovation (1985), Visions of Jazz: The First Century (1998), Weather Bird (2004), and the three-volume biography Bing Crosby: Swinging on a Star, of which two volumes have been published to date. Between 1974 and 2003, he wrote a regular jazz column for The Village Voice, winning six ASCAP Deems Taylor Awards for excellence in music criticism. From 2002 to 2008, he wrote JazzTimes‘ Cadenza column.