Jorge Costa PintoBorn: November 26th, 1932, Campo de Ourique, Lisbon (Portugal)
Pinto Sr’s determination to keep his offspring away from music turned out to be largely in vain; two of his sons – apart from Jorge also Domingos, who became a professional drummer – would go on to earn their money as musicians. Unfortunately, Mr Pinto did not live to tell; he died untimely, aged forty. Subsequently, the family moved in with Jorge’s grandfather in Cascais, a Lisbon suburb. Pinto: “As you may understand, these were difficult times for the family. My youth wasn’t a particularly happy one. Luckily, there was always music as an outlet. When I was a schoolboy, about twelve years old, I discovered there was a small local band of some ten pieces, the Orquestra Baía. It was an amateur band which did a concert once a week. At one time, they needed a replacement at the drums – and I stepped in. After a while, I became their regular drummer. The conductor, Mário Clarel, didn’t fail to notice I was interested in the technical side of music, which I knew nothing about. I wondered how he did the arrangements, but I could not even read notes! Maestro Clarel took it upon himself to teach me the basics of music theory… not just notes, but also solfege. He was such a nice man. Perhaps he noticed I had some talent, I don’t know – at any rate, I owe him a lot for being my first teacher.”
After three years with Clarel and his orchestra, Jorge Costa Pinto went back to Lisbon to join another amateur band, the Orquestra Bolero, which specialised in dance music. As he could not imagine a life outside of music, young Jorge applied to the Academia de Amadores de Música, one of Lisbon’s conservatories, to study the piano as well as music theory and contemporary music. For eight years (1948-’56), he was taught by some of Portugal’s finest music teachers.
“In particular Fernando Lopes Graça was very good”, Pinto recollects. “He taught me the piano as well as composition and arrangement. Time and again, he encouraged his students to give their best. For as long as I can remember, I was interested in composing and arranging, which is part of the explanation as to why I chose to study the piano. At the academy, we were taught to analyse the works of some of the greatest classical composers, but our studies didn’t involve any writing. I wrote my first composition only after graduating. As I played in a dance orchestra, I was keen to learn more about arranging variety music, but in conservatory there was nobody to teach me about that. Hence I turned to Armando Tavares Belo, who was the best popular music arranger of that time, wondering if he could be of any help; maestro Belo, however, explained to me it was something that came naturally to him – in other words, a talent that cannot be taught. Later on, I understood what he meant, but at that time, I couldn’t help feeling somewhat frustrated by his answer!”
During his student days, Jorge Costa Pinto never ceased playing in Lisbon’s club circuit. In 1948, he participated in Portugal’s first-ever jam session, organised by Luiz Villas-Boas at a local bar, the Café Chave d’Ouro; that same year, Pinto was involved in founding the country’s first jazz club, the so-called Hot Clube de Portugal. Meanwhile, as a drummer, he joined the Orquestra Vieira Pinto in 1950. “That was the first professional orchestra I played in,” Jorge recalls, “and, effectively, from that moment onwards, I made a living as a musician. Though I was only seventeen, I think it is safe to say now that I was one of Portugal’s best drum players. That is why I was invited by Vieira Pinto to become a member of his group. Buying myself an American textbook on percussion and looking for translations in a dictionary, I refined my playing. That was the only way to go about it, as there were absolutely no teachers of drums! The Orquestra Vieira Pinto performed at the casino in Póvoa de Varzim. I joined them for six months before going back to Lisbon where I worked in Arcadia, a cabaret. When the owner discovered that I was also able to play the piano and the accordion, he invited me to come to the Negresco, a restaurant of which he was the proprietor as well. There, I worked for two years in a combo accompanying variety singers. In between, I did some jazz gigs here and there, especially when foreign artists visited Portugal on their tours – Hazel Scott, for example. Generally speaking, however, there was no money in jazz in Portugal; audiences for that type of music were small.”
Throughout the 1950s, Jorge Costa Pinto played in several groups and in the big band of Fernando de Carvalho, who had been a fellow student of Jorge’s father in conservatory in the 1920s. In 1958, Pinto had his first taste of playing abroad, when he was invited to join the orchestra of popular Italian bandleader Ray Martino in Madrid: “At that time, Italian music conquered Europe. The songs of Renato Carosone and Marino Marini were played in radio programmes everywhere. As a result, Italian dance orchestras were sought-after across the continent. I don’t know how Martino heard of me, but, at any rate, I received an invitation to come and join him in Spain – which I duly did. His band turned out to be quite good; though it was an orchestra of just seven pieces, everything we played had been written out. The band’s pianist was responsible for creating all arrangements. Unsurprisingly, the quality of the music benefited as a result. Though we played relatively simple entertainment songs, the sound was more refined, more interesting than what an average band would play. I only stayed with Ray Martino for seven or eight months. After Madrid, we came to Portugal, but their next stop was Rome – and I was reluctant to leave my home and family for so long.”
Meanwhile, Jorge Costa Pinto’s very first composition, a ballad called ‘Gostei de ti’, was recorded in 1956 by fado artist Carlos Ramos, who enjoyed considerable success with it. In spite of this, Pinto never became much of a songwriter: “Compared to the number of arrangements I did later on in my career, I didn’t write that many songs – a couple of dozen, perhaps. ‘Gostei de ti’ is an ordinary song in the style of theatre revues of the fifties in Portugal. In the 1950s, especially after playing in the Ray Martino Orchestra, I was sure I rather wanted to specialise in arranging, but who would give me the opportunity? After quitting Martino in 1958, I formed my own quartet of musicians with whom I played dance music in bars and clubs. That same year, I received an invitation to perform on Portuguese radio. It was the start of several years in which I mainly worked in broadcasting, especially in television. My old friend Luiz Villas-Boas had joined RTP as a producer and put in lots of effort to popularise jazz with all kinds of music programmes. It was a new source of income for many musicians and I was lucky to get my foot in the door.”
Commissioned by Villas-Boas and other producers, Jorge Costa Pinto formed several ensembles for the purpose of televised variety shows: a sextet, an octet, and finally, in 1963, a big band. By that time, the erstwhile drummer had in fact become a fledgling bandleader. “I liked putting groups of musicians together for these programmes,” he comments. “It was satisfying to build a homogenous sound, working with a group of people who knew how to play as a team. It wasn’t long before I wrote most of the arrangements myself, which turned out to work quite well. For these smaller groups of six or eight musicians, I was playing the drums and at the same time conducting the band. One television producer claimed I was being impractical, suggesting I invite someone else to take care of the drums and do the conducting as it is meant to be done: from the front. That was how I started, in 1961. Two years later, another RTP producer, Manuel Jorge Veloso, came up with the idea of having a music programme for television exclusively dedicated to jazz music, ‘Jazz no estúdio’. For that purpose, I put together a big band… incidentally the first big band in Portugal which focused on jazz music alone. I was chief arranger and conductor for the duration of that series of programmes.”
To satisfy his thirst for the theoretical knowledge, in 1965, Jorge Costa Pinto travelled to the United States for a two-month summer course of jazz orchestration, harmony, and conducting at the Berklee College of Music, Boston. His main teachers were Herb Pomeroy (jazz orchestration) and James Progris (conducting). Pinto: “Back then, I was an avid reader of American music magazines… Melody Maker, Metronome, Downbeat. Developments which took place in jazz music, especially in the US, interested me. Reading these magazines, I came across the name Berklee more than once. First, I decided to follow a correspondence course in arranging with them. In 1965, after having made several thousand escudos for composing a music comedy commissioned by Lisbon’s Theatre Villaret on the occasion of its opening, I decided to put this money into my education; hence I chose to go to Boston to take their summer course. There had been nobody in Portugal to teach me conducting. By trial and error, I had made an attempt at making the correct gestures myself. Progris’ conducting lessons at Berklee were of invaluable worth for the rest of my career. The main lesson, perhaps, was that conducting is about far more than counting in an orchestra. Whether it be a symphony or a three-minute song, it is all about interpreting a music score and conveying this interpretation to the musicians in front of you.”
Turning down an offer to stay at Berklee as a teacher, Jorge Costa Pinto returned to Portugal, where he became the most sought-after record arranger overnight. Working freelance, he teamed up with all the most popular Portuguese folk and pop artists, including the likes of Tony de Matos, Tonicha, Madalena Iglésias, Simone de Oliveira, and Antonio Calvário. No doubt, the most high-profile artist he worked with was Amália Rodrigues, for whom he arranged, amongst other titles, ‘Havemos de ir a Viana’ and ‘Cá vai Lisboa’.
Pinto: “Possibly in shared first place with Tony de Matos, Amália Rodrigues is the biggest singing talent I ever worked with. I never really liked fado music, which, to my taste, is too simple – usually based on just two chords – but Amália was unique. To date, she has never been equalled. I first met her in 1953 when she was a dinner guest at the Negresco restaurant where I worked at that time. It was a thrill to be given the opportunity to write orchestrations for her after all those years. It just goes to show how much my life changed after Berklee. I had been an arranger for some studio sessions before, but after returning from America, record producers were really keen to book me; they reckoned my approach would be more contemporary than what they were used to from arrangers of the older generation. None of them had studied abroad. The main thing about arranging was to make sure the orchestration fitted the artist. You can come up with wonderful harmonic patterns, but if these are too complicated to match the style of the singer or the song, there is no use for them.”
Apart from writing the odd film score and musical comedy, Jorge Costa Pinto earned virtually his entire living from arranging popular music. In 1967, he decided to stop being a freelancer and began his own record company: Tecla. “This allowed me to become my own producer,” Pinto explains. “There had always been an entrepreneurial spirit in me and this seemed the right time to stop working for others. It permitted me to release some instrumental solo albums. I had a studio built especially for Tecla recordings. In the years leading up to the revolution in ’74, the company flourished. Some high-profile artists signed with me: João Maria Tudela, Florbela Queiroz, and Carlos do Carmo. I had already worked with Carlos before founding Tecla, but he had some of his biggest hits with my company. He was an artist with a remarkable voice, but there is no doubt my arrangements and his Tecla recordings were quite important in making him famous across Portugal.”
With another of the artists who signed for his Tecla company, Madalena Iglésias, Jorge Costa Pinto participated as a composer and arranger in song festivals in Greece (Athens: 1968) and Yugoslavia (Split: 1970). Pinto remembers, “The Greek festival, called the Olympiad of Song, was held in the Olympic Stadium in Athens, a magnificent open-air venue. I conducted the orchestra for Madalena and we came fourth with ‘Tu vais voltar’. After coming off stage, I was approached by two guys – the general manager of the South African national broadcaster, SABC, and Rollo Scott, the conductor of their radio orchestra – who wondered if I would be interested in conducting a radio concert in South Africa. Honestly, I believed I would never hear of them again, but, two years later, Scott turned up in Lisbon and repeated how they would love to have me in South Africa. It was an exciting prospect, all the more so as my sister lived in that country. Finally, in June 1972, I made the trip. Coming to Johannesburg was one of the best experiences in my life as a musician. I stayed for a couple of months to record some forty music pieces; some local melodies, some other compositions and arrangements I had taken with me from Portugal. The radio orchestra was of a very high level and the sessions with them were a joy from start to finish. We did a wonderful concert in a packed Johannesburg City Hall. In the following years, I returned to South Africa several times, teaming up with the SABC Light Orchestra and the SABC Big Band. Some of the recordings were released in Portugal on my Tecla label. They are amongst the best in my career.”
Keen to add a record factory to his record company, Jorge Costa Pinto followed sound engineering courses in New York (1973) – during this stay he also performed at the Newport Jazz Festival in Rhode Island – and in London (1975). Meanwhile, however, in Portugal, the Estado Novo regime of Salazar and Caetano was replaced by a socialist-orientated republic as a result of the so-called Carnation Revolution (1974). For Jorge Costa Pinto, this revolution constituted a breach in his career. Since he was not involved with the revolutionary movement, he lost much of his work – and with him a whole generation of musicians.
“In many ways, the Estado Novo was better than the situation after the revolution,” Pinto professes. “Right after April ’74, the new politicians tried to bring about real socialism, which is the complete antithesis of democracy. They found out soon enough that the Portuguese people didn’t accept it; accordingly, after a while, they somewhat mellowed their approach. In the meantime, however, they had completely ruined conservatory teaching by sending away all the old guys who weren’t socialists. The result was virtually a complete brain-drain in music education. At the same time, Portugal’s two symphony orchestras were politicised as well. Laws stating musicians’ rights were repealed. The RTP light entertainment orchestra was abolished. Socialists also found out record companies were not state-owned; thus their resolve to finish off these private enterprises. I was foolish enough to start a publishing house and a record factory right after the revolution had taken place. At Tecla, I hired a sales manager who turned out to be a communist. I had never asked him about his political colours, which proves how naïve I was. This man destroyed my company. Within a couple of years, Tecla and my other enterprises went bust. It was a terribly frustrating time.”
In the following years, Jorge Costa Pinto mainly worked as a sound engineer and musical supervisor for various record companies. In addition, in 1979, he released two more instrumental solo albums, entitled ‘Uma orquestra para o sucesso’ on the Fontana label, and joined RTP as the musical advisor of the public broadcaster’s branch of Entertainment and Music Programmes for a short period. Meanwhile, he still regularly spent several months per year in South Africa to work as a guest conductor with the SABC Light Orchestra. In 1985, Pinto was offered the position of permanent producer at the South African broadcaster.
Pinto: “… and I decided to accept the offer. Unfortunately, however, I found the atmosphere in South Africa wasn’t as good as it had been. I sensed a revolution was coming and after about year, my wife and I decided to go back to Portugal. Having experienced a revolution before, we felt enough was enough. Over the following years, I stayed in touch with some of the musicians of the SABC orchestra. After the abolition of apartheid in 1991, there was a decision made to integrate black musicians into the ensemble, but they weren’t of the level of their predecessors – and it was not long before the orchestra was disbanded. The equipment in radio was pretty advanced, but, so I’ve been told, much of it was destroyed after ’91. It is sad, because the SABC Light Orchestra was the best set of musicians I have worked with.”
In 1987, Jorge Costa Pinto started working at the music school of Lisbon’s National Conservatory, where he founded the jazz course. Pinto states, “I had always felt it was sad how Portugal’s cultural life in general, and conservatory education in particular, suffered in the wake of the Carnation Revolution. Perhaps, I thought, I can make a difference as a teacher. Often, in my years as an arranger, I was slightly fed up having to work on pop music all the time. Over the last thirty years, thanks to my teaching job, I have been able to more or less focus full time on my passion: jazz. Even nowadays (at the time of the interview, in 2018), in spite of my age, I do still teach: a postgraduate course, ‘Introduction to jazz’. It is most rewarding to teach young people about music history, which, for a conservatory student, is as important as learning how to play his instrument. Recently, I found a publisher who was interested in releasing a book in which I have brought together most of the material from my lessons of the past fifteen years. It is called ‘Conversas sobre a história da música’ and was published in November last year (2017 – BT).”
In 2003, forty years after ‘Jazz no estúdio’ and the big band he formed for that television programme, Jorge Costa Pinto founded a new big band, the Orquestra Jorge Costa Pinto. After having made its debut at the International Jazz Festival in Estoril, the ensemble performed at venues and jazz festivals across Portugal. About half of the band’s arrangements are written by Pinto himself. Furthermore, he composed several wind band pieces as well as a concerto for timpani and symphony orchestra. Moreover, since 2006, he has been the host of a nationwide radio programme dedicated to big band music, ‘Coreto’. “It is the first time I have been a radio presenter”, says Pinto, “but it is something which has given me great pleasure. So far, I have done over four hundred programmes. Besides that, I am writing my memoirs, which will bear the title ‘Jazz and other music’ – because jazz was my first love. Part of the reason I am doing this is because I feel there are not enough books about Portuguese light music. It is important to preserve this history. Maybe my book will encourage other musicians to do the same.”
For his contribution to Portuguese music, in 2005, Jorge Costa Pinto was rewarded with the Medal of Honour of SPA, the Portugal’s Association of Composers, Authors, and Music Publishers.
Jorge Costa Pinto in the Eurovision Song Contest
Pinto: “It was a good system to have one conductor to lead the orchestra for all songs. Later, in the 1970s, they changed that and invited composers and arrangers to conduct their own work. This led to ridiculous situations. One time, a singer took part in the Festival RTP with a piece he had composed and arranged himself. While he sang his song, he frantically moved his arms to indicate to the orchestra musicians what to do. This guy (Jorge Palma, Festival RTP da Canção 1975 – BT) didn’t have the slightest idea about conducting – and he made a fool of himself. Why not have one professional conductor, invited by RTP? In 1966, I was probably invited by producer Manuel Jorge Veloso to be the musical director for the Festival da Canção. By that time, I had worked on many television programmes as a drummer and band leader. What’s more, I was one of Portugal’s leading studio arrangers. I thought the festival was an interesting job. Of all the songs that took part, just two had an arrangement I had written, one of which was ‘Ele e ela’ by Madalena Iglésias. It was the songwriter, Carlos Canelhas, who asked me to write it. In later years, when I was musical director, I refused such requests, because I wanted to remain neutral, but, in 1966, I made an exception for Carlos, a very nice guy.”
Probably the most contemporary song in the competition, ‘Ele e ela’ was proclaimed the winner of the competition. “It was a normal, typical light music song,” Jorge Costa Pinto comments. “Not an important song, but it made the charts and is still widely known today. The funny thing is, when it is performed nowadays by other artists, the musical arrangement always includes the intro which I invented for it. It was the first orchestration for a song in Portugal to have such a rhythmical intro. One can hear the jazzy undertones. It explains at least part of the success of the song in Portugal, not to mention Madalena Iglésias, who was a good professional; she knew how to interpret songs correctly and attractively. She was the right singer for this tune.”
Having won the Festival da Canção, ‘Ele e ela’ won the right to represent Portugal in the international festival final, held in Luxembourg. Jorge Costa Pinto was the conductor of Portugal’s delegation. Asked about his memories of rehearsing with the orchestra in Luxembourg, he says: “The orchestra was good. When I was about to start the first rehearsal, one of the trumpet players suddenly screamed: “Hey, Jorge, how are you?!” At first, I did not recognise him, but it turned out he had been a member of the orchestra which I had conducted the year before at the Palm Beach Casino in Cannes. Right before I left for Boston for my summer courses at Berklee College, I did a short tour with an English jazz ballet ensemble who I had worked with in a revue in Lisbon for which I wrote the music, ‘Boa noite, Lisboa’. As they were pleased with my style of conducting, they invited me to accompany them to Venice and subsequently to Cannes. I stayed on the French Riviera for about a month before leaving for the United States. It was a funny coincidence that one of the musicians in Luxembourg had been in the Palm Beach orchestra. It gave us the opportunity to renew our friendship. Otherwise, the rehearsals were just fine.”
“We had one day off in Luxembourg”, Pinto continues, “which we used to go on a little daytrip to several towns and castles in Luxembourg. Our delegation consisted of just a couple of people, TV producer Manoel Veloso, Madalena Iglésias, Carlos Canelhas, and myself. I also took the opportunity to attend several other rehearsals. I recall the Italian singer Domenico Modugno made a terrible scene. Being a big star, he was one of the favourites to win the festival – and his behaviour reflected that, in a bad way (In the end, Modugno’s ‘Dio come ti amo’ finished dead-last, scoring not a single point – BT). The lad who won the festival for Austria, Udo Jürgens, was very sympathetic. After he won, I had a short conversation with him which I recorded to be broadcast later on Portuguese radio. In spite of not winning (‘Ele e ela’ finished thirteenth in Luxembourg – BT) we had a nice time. Back in Lisbon, we were received at the airport by a considerable crowd. These people felt we had done our country proud.”
After three editions of working with other musical directors, RTP commissioned Jorge Costa Pinto to take care of the 1970 edition of the Festival da Canção. The competition was held in spite of the fact that the Portuguese broadcaster had already taken the decision not to take part in the international festival; apart from misgivings about the voting system, it was widely felt in Portugal that the previous year’s contestant, Simone de Oliveira and her song ‘Desfolhada’, had been done an enormous injustice by the international jurors. Therefore, the 1970 winner, Sergio Borges, never had any illusions about presenting his winning song ‘Onde vais rio que eu canto’, to a pan-European audience.
“That was a good song,” Pinto recalls. “It was written by Carlos Nóbrega e Sousa who composed many interesting melodies. The orchestration by Joaquim Luís Gomes was good as well. Though he was much older than me, Gomes was a good friend and a capable musician. I recorded some of his compositions with the SABC Light Orchestra in South Africa. These were the days when there were usually several very good songs contending for first place in the Festival da Canção. I remember one other entry which I thought was even better, ‘Canção de madrugar’ (interpreted by Hugo Maia Loureiro, it came second behind Sergio Borges – BT). Of course, I never told anyone at the time of my own preferences. As the musical director, I maintained a strict neutrality towards all competitors.”
According to Jorge Costa Pinto, the fact that Portugal did not send a representative to the 1970 Eurovision Song Contest in Amsterdam was one of the reasons he was invited to be the chief conductor of the Festival da Canção in 1971 again. Now that Portugal returned to the international festival, those responsible at RTP felt he deserved the opportunity to represent Portugal in Eurovision for a second time. The winner of the 1971 Portuguese pre-selection was ‘Menina’, a song composed by Nuno Nazareth Fernandes and performed by Tonicha. Pinto: “It was an easy, simple song influenced by folk music. Tonicha, whom I had worked with in the recording studio in the past, was a beautiful girl. Though I personally preferred Paulo de Carvalho’s ‘Flor sem tempo’, which finished second, ‘Menina’ was a wise choice. In several ways, it stood out from average Eurovision melodies.”
In spite of his mildly positive judgement on the song and, on top of that, the fairly good score for ‘Menina’ in the international competition (obtaining 83 points and a ninth place in the voting), Jorge Costa Pinto does not really have the best of memories of the 1971 Eurovision Song Contest final, held in Dublin. “The arrangement of ‘Menina’ had been done by Augusto Algueró from Spain. Probably, Tonicha’s producer believed someone from Madrid would have a better idea of European listeners’ taste than a Portuguese arranger. After Tonicha won the selection in Portugal, her record company (Movieplay – BT) made a request to RTP to have me replaced as a conductor by Algueró. RTP, however, backed me and turned them down. However, I was aware of the fact that Tonicha and her entourage were unhappy about having to make do with me. In Dublin, they were quite disappointed about the number of votes they received. Looking for reasons as to why we hadn’t fared better, Tonicha’s husband, who was also her manager, accused me of having counted in the orchestra in a tempo that was too slow – slower than on the record version of ‘Menina’. He didn’t put it directly to me, but I heard from others that he had made these allegations. It was complete nonsense, but, apparently, it was the easiest way out for them. They didn’t want to blame the singer or the songwriters, so let’s have a go at the conductor instead! What can you do? That is life, I suppose.”
Proof is lacking, but there is some reason to believe that the row between record company and broadcaster was the cause of RTP changing their format for the 1972 Festival da Canção; in the following years, for each entry in the competition, the orchestra was led by the conductor of the participating team’s choice – in most cases, the arranger of the piece. As a result, some foreign arrangers made appearances as conductor in Portugal’s pre-selection, including Richard Hill (UK) and Rafael Ibarbia (Spain). Although he never arranged any Festival da Canção entry in the 1970s or after, Jorge Costa Pinto participated in one more edition of the contest, in ’73. He led the orchestra for the two songs composed and performed by Fernando Tordo, ‘Carta de longe’ and the eventual winning entry, ‘Tourada’. For both songs, the arrangement was by Pedro Osório.
Pinto, explaining why he conducted Fernando Tordo’s songs in the Portuguese pre-selection: “I hadn’t worked with Tordo before, but I was approached by my old friend Luiz Villas-Boas, who was the producer of the 1973 Festival da Canção. He told me Fernando had been admitted to the competition with two songs, but lacked a record company to support him. Allegedly, he could be very unfriendly with producers and publishers – many of them felt he was a terrible person. Well, I was willing to take the risk. Fernando signed a contract to release ‘Tourada’ and ‘Carta de longe’ with my company, Tecla. I would take care of producing the two songs – and I could have done the arrangements as well, but I told Fernando he should record the song with his friends – the musicians he usually worked with – as long as he allowed me to be his conductor in the festival. I felt this was only right; I made a gamble investing my money in him and his compositions. We agreed, and so Fernando’s friend Pedro Osório took care of the arrangements – Pedro was a fine arranger and he did a good job. He must have felt somewhat unhappy that I conducted his arrangement, but we never discussed this.”
Was Jorge Costa Pinto surprised when the song ‘Tourada’ (translated as ‘Bullfight’) – the lyrics of which (by José Carlos Ary dos Santos, a left-leaning artist like Fernando Tordo himself) it is claimed contain surreptitious criticism of the Estado Novo government which was still in power in Portugal in ’73 – was chosen to represent Portugal in the international festival? “Not really, because, as a song, ‘Tourada’ stood out. The melody is somewhat jumpy; not a typical Eurovision song. Especially in those days, it was something new, unheard of before. More important than that, however, were the lyrics. A metaphor about the Caetano government? No, there is no metaphor! You are mistaken. ‘Tourada’ means ‘bullfight’ and the song was intended to vent criticism of bullfighting. I agreed with the lyrics one hundred percent. I have always felt it is a barbarous relic of bygone times. Fernando wrote his song to support those who, back then, were trying to ban bullfighting in Portugal.”
In Luxembourg, Fernando Tordo’s rendition of ‘Tourada’ was awarded with a tenth place amongst seventeen participating acts. Maybe because it was ‘his’ second time in Luxembourg, Jorge Costa Pinto does not have many memories of this edition of the Eurovision Song Contest: “At a contest such as Eurovision, the schedule was usually quite hectic: airport, hotel, rehearsal, hotel, rehearsal, hotel, show, hotel, airport, and back to Portugal. That was how it was, essentially! I remember one thing: Luiz Villas-Boas, the RTP producer who was with us in Luxembourg, told me after one rehearsal how the musicians in the orchestra were gossiping amongst each other about how good or bad the guest conductors were. According to him, the musicians thought I was one of the good conductors in the festival. As you can imagine, I was flattered. It is always nice to receive a compliment from colleagues. And coming back to Fernando Tordo, I never quite understood why others found him so cumbersome. Throughout our Eurovision project in ’73, the working relationship between him and me was good – and we are still friends today. He was a special guy, he was an artist, he was young – but then, I was young too!”
According to Jorge Costa Pinto, did the Festival RTP da Canção change as a result of the Carnation Revolution and the ensuing political developments? “To my mind, yes – a lot! Until 1974, the festival was democratic. All Portuguese songwriters were invited to submit their work, and they could choose the singers of their preference. The arrangers and conductors were appointed by the TV producer. After the revolution, there was no longer democracy. In many cases, a selected group of songwriters of left-leaning political sympathies was invited. If you didn’t belong to that group, there was no possibility of getting your song in the competition. Particularly in the first years after the revolution, there was much favouritism. Composers such as José Luis Tinoco were practically assured of their place in the final – and often with more than one song. It was quite disgusting. Later on, in the eighties, politics slightly withdrew to the background. I was a juror several times. In 1984, I gave maximum points to Maria Guinot and ‘Silêncio e tanta gente’, which was an interesting and beautiful piece of music.”
In 2017, more than fifty years after the country’s first participation, Portugal finally won the Eurovision Song Contest for the first time with the song ‘Amar pelos dois’, performed by Salvador Sobral. Like many others in Portugal, Jorge Costa Pinto was surprised: “Since the countries of Eastern Europe joined the festival, the competition has changed profoundly. Light effects and dance moves are everywhere; the singers have been relegated to small details on the podium. Pre-recorded music has taken the place of the orchestra. In 2017, while I was watching the broadcast of the festival with my wife, I was puzzled. Listening shallowly, I was under the impression that the first song was repeated over and over again. When I asked my wife, she assured me these were all different songs. In terms of sound, they all sounded the same to me. Then came the Portuguese song. No dancers, no light effects, just a young lad singing an intimate love song. He was the exception. Because he was so different to the others, he won. I was hoping for a restoration of the old values of the festival after Sobral’s success, but – in vain. Even in the Portuguese pre-selection for 2018, all songs were drowned in a light show while the singer was somewhere lost on stage. I might have been naïve in hoping that one song could change the ways of the entire Eurovision Song Contest, but I felt disappointed nevertheless. But then, how can one take seriously a song festival where all music has been pre-recorded? This isn’t any longer a programme which is interesting to follow.”
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