Alfredo Jos da Silva (May 19, 1929 – March 4, 2010), popularly known as Johnny Alf, was a Brazilian pianist, singer and composer. Though he was not widely known outside Brazil and enjoyed mass popularity only intermittently in his homeland, Mr. Alf, born Alfredo José da Silva, is highly regarded among Brazilian musicians and musicologists. The writer Ruy Castro, the author of several authoritative books on Brazilian popular music, has called him “the true father of the bossa nova.”
Mr. Alf was a contemporary of Antônio Carlos Jobim, João Gilberto and others who would make the bossa nova a worldwide phenomenon, but he began his career earlier and spent the mid-1950s playing on what was known as Bottle Alley, a street in Copacabana full of bars and nightclubs. His younger admirers would sneak into those clubs to listen to him play and study his technique and improvisational style.
Alfredo José da Silva was born in the Vila Isabel neighbourhood of Rio de Janeiro, a hotbed of samba, on May 19, 1929. His father was a corporal in the Brazilian Army, his mother a housekeeper. He began studying the piano at age 9, focusing on the classical repertory. But his love of American movies pushed him toward jazz and away from the classics, a shift on which he later reflected in an amusing composition called “Seu Chopin, Desculpe” (“Pardon Me, Chopin”).
Mr. Alf started playing professionally at 14, when he was given his Americanized stage name. He helped found a Frank Sinatra fan club in Rio and also admired George Gershwin and Cole Porter. But his biggest influence, as both pianist and singer, was probably Nat King Cole, whose smooth vocal delivery, gentle touch and sophisticated chords meshed with Mr. Alf’s quiet, even timid, personality.
“I always played in my own style,” Mr. Alf said in an interview with the Brazilian daily Folha de São Paulo. “I had the idea of joining Brazilian music with jazz. I try to bring everything together to achieve an agreeable result.” Alf's reputation for pioneering a new sound earned him two other nicknames: Genialf and Senhor Modernidade – Mr Modernity.
At its best, Mr. Alf’s music had a light and airy feeling that expressed the optimism and joie de vivre that Brazilians think of as among their defining national traits. It was reflected not just in the title of his best-known song, “Eu e a Brisa” (“Me and the Breeze”) but also in hits like “Ilusão à Toa” (“Carefree Illusion”) and “Céu e Mar” (“Sky and Sea”), as well as “O Tempo e o Vento” (“Time and the Wind”) and “Rapaz de Bem” (“Well-Intentioned Guy”), a two-sided success released as a 78 r.p.m. single in 1955 and now widely regarded as the first glimmering of bossa nova on record.
Here's "Bossa Só" from above 1964 album.
But Mr. Alf eventually tired of the glitz of Rio and moved to São Paulo in the mid-1960s to take a job teaching in a conservatory. After that, while continuing to perform regularly, he recorded only sporadically. In 1990 he recorded “Olhos Negros” (“Black Eyes”), a widely praised CD dominated by duets with a second generation of admirers, including Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gil, Chico Buarque and Gal Costa.
Over his career, he recorded nine albums and appeared on nearly fifty others. He died in 2010, aged 80, from prostate cancer.
After his death, the lyrics to one of his best-known songs – Eu e a Brisa (Me and the Breeze) – were read out in the Brazilian senate.
“From him I learned all of the modern harmonies that Brazilian music began to use in the bossa nova, samba-jazz and instrumental songs,” (Quote from pianist and arranger João Donato).“He opened the doors for us with his way of playing piano, with its jazz influence. When my generation arrived, he had already planted the seeds.”(Quote from guitarist and composer Carlos Lyra) (Info edited from various sources mainly New York Times obit.)