In her native Brazil, Rosa Passos is known and loved as “a feminine João Gilberto.” For a singer/songwriter who carries the soulful cool of bossa nova into a new age, there can be no higher compliment. Mingling the classics of Gilberto, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Ary Barroso and other masters of Brazilian song with her own enchanting works, Passos sings in a sweet, warm, totally-in-tune voice that the Los Angeles Times has hailed as “sounding a bit like the legendary Elis Regina but with the rhythmic articulation of Ella Fitzgerald.”
Passos grew up surrounded by music in the city of Salvador, in the Brazilian state of Bahia. Inspired by Gilberto and Jobim – widely recognized as the godfathers of bossa nova – she switched from piano to guitar and began writing her own material as a teenager. Passos’ songs (co-authored with her longtime lyricist Fernando de Oliveira) appeared on her first recording in 1979. After taking several years off to devote herself to her husband and children, she returned to performing and recording in 1985, jump-starting a career that has been on the upswing ever since.
Since her American debut in 1996 (at the invitation of Oscar Castro Neves) with a sensational performance in a “Jazz at the Bowl” concert at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles, Passos has developed an ever-growing international following. Also in 1996, she performed in Japan for the first time with saxophonist Sadao Watanabe, which led to successful appearances in Spain, Germany, Switzerland, Denmark, Norway and Sweden, as well as Colombia, Cuba, Uruguay and the United States.
In the years since, Passos has toured Japan five times, collaborated with Ivan Lins and Chucho Valdez in a memorable Cubadisco show in Havana, and wowed a packed crowd at New York's Lincoln Center for a Tribute to Elis Regina show. In 1999, she was invited to perform during the 50th anniversary celebration of German democracy, joining Paquito D’Rivera and the WDR Big Band for shows in Bonn and Cologne that featured her own songs and classic Brazilian tunes. The same year, she performed at the Jazz Festival Bern.
In Brazil, where she has built an impressive catalogue of recordings, Passos has been one of the stars of producer Almir Chediak’s “Words and Melody” project, a series of recordings honoring the legacies of the great Brazilian songwriters. Her discs of the songs of Jobim and Barroso were instant hits – not only in Brazil but internationally – with their distinctive, revelatory new interpretations of such worldwide hits as Barroso’s “Aquarela do Brasil” and Jobim’s “Desafinado,” “Samba de Uma Nota Só” (“One Note Samba”) and “Garota de Ipanema” (“The Girl from Ipanema”).
The voice and style that Brazilian fans have known for years have been more recently discovered by international audiences, thanks in part to Amorosa, an album Passos recorded for Sony Classical/Odyssey in 2004. The album includes renditions of songs included on João Gilberto’s similarly titled classic album from 1977, Amoroso.
Passos also collaborated with cellist Yo-Yo Ma on the double-Grammy-winning Obrigado Brazil and its sequel, Yo-Yo Ma Obrigado Brazil Live in Concert. Following the release of Obrigado Brazil, Passos joined Ma and other musicians from the recording on a critically acclaimed world tour. The Los Angeles Times raved about Passos’ Hollywood Bowl performance on the tour: “Perhaps best of all, singer/guitarist Rosa Passos’s sweet-voiced renderings of Jobim were marvelous updatings of classic bossa nova, superbly demonstrating the subtle interplay between the voice and guitar this is the foundation of this enduringly appealing genre.”
Passos joined the Telarc label in 2006 with the release of the simply but aptly titled Rosa. Minimal yet powerful at the same time, Rosa was Passos’ first solo acoustic project since she began recording nearly three decades ago.
She follows in 2008 with the May 20 release of Romance, a 12-song set that addresses the timeless topic of love, a universal force that knows no borders or language barriers. Backing Passos on the new album is a trio of fine Brazilian players – pianist Fabio Torres, bassist Paulo Paulelli and drummer Celso de Almeida.