I LEARNED to love jazz music when I started as a radio disc jockey in 1975 in dyAV, the station operated by the Abellana National School. The vinyl albums that we had included those of artists like Al Jarreau, Herb Alpert, Chuck Mangione, George Benson and Chick Correa. When I transferred to dyLV located in the Lion’s Club House in Fuente Osmeña, fellow DJs—Neddie Bayot (White Rock), Ralph Dooley (Ralph Ding) and Mario Lopez—would spin records borrowed from the USIS Library. The albums were those of Jethro Tull, Jean-Luc Ponty, John McLaughlin and Weather Report, among others.
Much as my ears became accustomed to fusion jazz, I was more inclined to listen to bossa nova and samba artists in the likes of Antonio Carlos Jobim, Astrud Gilberto, Sergio Mendes, Michael Franks, Lani Hall, Esther Satterfield and Bong Peñera. Through the years, jazz has remained in the periphery of pop music with few acts such as Kenny G, Michael Bublé and Norah Jones becoming mainstream.
Earlier this year, I learned about Lisa Ono making an Auckland stop for her “Music Journey” tour. Her title “Queen of Bossa Nova” intrigued me, so I scored two tickets. Just to check the veracity if she was the real deal, I researched on her background and live performances. Born in Sao Paulo, Brazil to Japanese parents, Lisa started singing professionally in 1989 and has worked with some of the maestros including Antônio Carlos Jobim and João Donato.
On Sept. 15, I had a double date. My wife, Debbie, beside me, and on stage, Lisa. The Kiri Te Kanawa Theatre had the basic instruments on stage, a few microphones and no frills. Lisa walked on stage and immediately went to work covering almost every classic bossa nova number. Her voice reminds one of Astrud Gilberto–silky, soft, soothing, yet confident. Her Portuguese is impeccable and she misses not a single note.
Is Lisa an Astrud Gilberto clone? She may give one that impression, but she has something more on her sleeves. She is actually a revelation. Lisa is able to brilliantly transform into her unique bossa nova style songs from different eras like Doris Day’s “Que Sera Sera,” Otis Redding’s “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay” and Hank William’s “Jambalaya.” She had regal tributes to Nat “King” Cole and Henry Mancini. It was a surprise for me to hear her perform ABBA’s “Dancing Queen” without compromising her roots.
What makes Lisa the crowned Queen of Bossa Nova is her ability to invest the genre into songs of countries outside of Brazil. She sang not just in English and Portuguese, but also in French, Japanese, Mandarin and even in Maori. Another plus factor in her live performances is her backup musicians whose precision and versatility give candescence to every number. Even if I may sound cheesy, as far as bossa nova is concerned, Lisa is Numero Ono today.