It’s my guess that only the most venerable jazz anoraks will have heard of WALTER WANDERLEY… that’s despite his huge sales figures in the 60s (most successful instrumentalist of the bossa nova era) and his initiating a whole new musical sub genre – lounge jazz.
First a little background. WALTER JOSE WANDERLEY MENDOCA was born in 1932 in Recife, Brazil and by his early teens he was a skilled piano and organ player. He won local acclaim and went on to work with JOAO GILBERTO and other Brazilian bossa nova luminaries. WANDERLEY was brought to the USA by TONY BENNETT who’d heard him playing in Rio and, recommended by the singer, CREED TAYLOR signed WALTER to the Verve label.
By 1966 WANDERLEY was enjoying huge success with instrumentals like ‘Summer Samba’ and ‘Rain Forest’ and his Verve LPs were all steady sellers. Then he entered into a potentially lucrative deal with the Holiday Inn Hotel chain which was to have him play their hotel lounges throughout the States. The company execs believed his easy-on-the-ear, mildly exotic tunes would pack their cabaret lounges and for the first show they were proved right. Sadly though during WALTER’S second set at the packed San Francisco Holiday Inn, our man collapsed over his organ… drunk. Holiday Inn duly terminated his contract, but a musical style had been born.
You can catch up with much of WANDERLEY’S pre-US work on a new 30 tracker from Cherry Red’s El imprint. ‘The World of Walter Wanderley’ features music recorded in 1958 and 1959 and it’s packed with gentle sambas and stately bossas – there’s even a bizarre version of NEIL SEDAKA’S hit ‘Oh Carol!’. It’s a great tribute to a one-off artist who died in 1986 – at just the time when the genre he’d help create was enjoying a huge revival.