Fine Without the Fame : Brazilian Dori Caymmi doesn’t have his father’s renown, but happily crafts compelling music out of the spotlight.

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; <i> Zan Stewart writes regularly about jazz for The Times</i>

Tales about the destruction of the Amazon rain forest, about the lives of the rural Indians of Brazil, about love and its rewards, all delivered with a sweeping, compelling lyricism--this is the music of Brazilian songwriter-guitarist-arranger Dori Caymmi.

Caymmi, 51, has been writing his songs for 30 years, and though he’s the son of one of Brazil’s most famous songwriters--Dorival Caymmi--fame has not reached his doorstep. And that’s just fine by him.

“Music is beautiful, but I’m not in the music business,” says Caymmi, sitting on the patio of the Woodland Hills home he shares with his wife, Helena. “Business is a very aggressive word. Then you’re interested in your career, being rich, famous and all those things. I never do stuff thinking, ‘They’re going to play this on the radio’ or ‘The reviewer’s going to think this is nice,’ or whatever. I’m interested in being remembered with a little contribution, with harmonies and melodies. That’s my goal; I think so.”

Many people say Caymmi, who performs with his sextet tonight through Sunday at Le Cafe, has succeeded. One is Quincy Jones, whose Qwest Records label has released the guitarist’s two most recent albums: 1991’s “Brasilian Serenata” and 1993’s “Kicking Cans.” Another is Dale Jaffe, who owns Le Cafe.


“His records don’t sell in the hundred thousands, but he has some big fans,” Jaffe says. “His songs are very deep, from the heart, and they also have a lot of Brazilian musical history in them.”

Caymmi was born in Rio de Janeiro and was raised in a fertile musical atmosphere. Musicians who are now well-known, such as Antonio Carlos Jobim, Joao Donato and Joao Gilberto--all of whom revered the elder Caymmi as one of the fathers of modern Brazilian popular music--were regular visitors, and a teen-age Dori wanted to learn from them.

“I grew up with all those guys, and probably I was a pain in the neck,” Caymmi says. “I was drinking everything that they are playing and saying, ‘Do it again, teach me that, I wanna learn that, how come you play this chord, how come and how come and how come?’ ”



Caymmi’s music today has the plush, multicolored opulence of a thick, hand-knotted carpet. This sumptuousness comes partly from the guitarist’s arranging skills and partly from his individual instrumental style, discovered when he was 15.

“I saw my father play all his life a very unique kind of guitar,” he begins. “Then I was very impressed by Joao Gilberto, with the samba rhythm, and Baden Powell, who was more classical. Then I fell in love with the instrument and started to play chords by myself, little by little.

“And then I discovered some unique sounds I could play on the guitar that I’d never heard before. I would make clusters that gave the guitar a bigger sound, something more orchestral, and warmer and bigger than the normal guitar. It opens a big horizon in front of you, musically. So when I play the chords I say, ‘Man, I found something for me personally.’ I had my style.”

Caymmi moved to the United States four years ago so that he could record and tour more, which he has done. He would like more people to understand his music, but he’s faced with a language barrier.


“There are lots of people who think that Portuguese is a very lovely, charming language, especially when you sing it,” he says. But since many people don’t speak it, Caymmi says, “to scat some vocals with no lyrics is the only way. As you can hear, my English is not fantastic to sing. I don’t feel comfortable. And the Portuguese is weird for listeners, so I have to work in the middle. So I do ‘Blah, blah blah blah.’ Always I use the vocals trying to mix with the instruments.”

Asked to describe his music, Caymmi says, “To me it’s rhythm, melody and harmony, but in Brazil, they add something called energy. . . . Well, your music comes with energy, or it doesn’t. If you really feel the music, you say, ‘Yeah!’ It doesn’t mean I have to be onstage jumping and dancing and kicking butts. This is not aerobics; it’s just music.”

Where and When

What: Dori Caymmi’s sextet--Gary Brown (bass), Claudio Slon (drums), Bill Cantos (keyboards, vocals), Romero Lubambo (guitar) and Teco Cardoso (saxophones).


Location: The Room Upstairs at Le Cafe, 14633 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks.

Hours: 9 and 11 tonight through Sunday.

Price: $12 cover, two-drink minimum.

Call: (818) 986-2662.