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Bossa Nova Guitarist Oscar Castro-Neves Dies at 73

Brazilian musician also produced, composed and arranged

Toots Thielemans with Kenny Werner and Oscar Castro-Neves
Oscar Castro-Neves

Oscar Castro-Neves, a Brazilian guitarist who was instrumental in the development of that country’s bossa nova style, died in Los Angeles on Sept. 27. He was 73 and the cause was cancer. Castro-Neves had lived permanently in the United States since 1971.

A composer, producer and arranger as well as instrumentalist, Castro-Neves was often praised for his sophisticated harmonies and complex rhythms on his chosen instrument. He recorded several albums as a leader and also contributed to projects by Stan Getz, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Paul Winter and Sergio Mendes, whose group Brasil ’66 utilized Castro-Neves for 10 years (1971-81) as guitarist and musical director.

Oscar Castro-Neves was born in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on May 15, 1940. He began playing guitar, specifically the Brazilian cavaquinho, a small Brazilian guitar, as a child and performed in local bands as a teen. He also learned piano but it was the guitar that brought him success, particularly after he became involved in formulating the emerging bossa nova sound, working with Jobim and others. While still living in Brazil, he recorded with major artists such as Vinicius de Moraes and Dorival Caymmi.

At 22, Castro-Neves performed at a bossa nova concert at Carnegie Hall and four years later he began working extensively in the States, eventually adding his guitar and vocals to recordings by Getz, Frank Sinatra, Elis Regina, Flora Purim, Joe Henderson, Michael Jackson, Barbra Streisand, Stevie Wonder, Eliane Elias, João Gilberto, Lee Ritenour, Airto Moreira, Diane Schuur, Herbie Hancock, Ella Fitzgerald, Ottmar Liebert and others. He arranged music for Quincy Jones, Flora Purim, Laurindo Almeida, Gilberto and others.

Although Castro-Neves began releasing albums as a leader in the early 1960s, his assistance to other artists as session guitarist and producer comprised the bulk of his work. He toured with Getz, Lalo Schifrin and Dizzy Gillespie, produced albums by Toots Thielemans, Yo-Yo Ma and others, and was a member of the Paul Winter Consort during the 1970s and ’80s. He composed his first hit song, “Chora Tua Tristeza,” at age 16 and later became active in film, scoring music for Blame It on Rio, Sister Act II, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and He Said, She Said, among others, as well as the Julia Louis-Dreyfus TV series Watching Ellie.

Originally Published