One of the better-kept secrets among Brazil's bossa nova pioneers, Manfredo Fest's popularity and profile rose dramatically in the 1990s. Legally blind since birth, Fest's greatest early influence was George Shearing, but he developed his own approach apart from Shearing and other Brazilian jazz pianists, unleashing relentlessly flowing streams of bop-flavored notes against a Brazilian pulse, occasionally letting his classical roots show.
Fest's father, an émigré from Germany, was a concert pianist who chaired the University of Porto Alegre's music department. Accordingly, Fest studied classical piano as a youth, learning to read music in Braille, but after graduating from the University of Rio Grande do Sul, his tastes had turned toward jazz and samba. Fest was part of the gathering of Brazilian musicians of the late-'50s who were developing the bossa nova movement, and he made a number of trio recordings in that vein from 1961 to 1966. After emigrating to Minneapolis in 1967, Fest moved to Los Angeles where he served as keyboardist and arranger for Bossa Rio and toured with Sergio Mendes. By 1973, Fest had moved to Chicago, playing there and on the Playboy Club circuit and in 1988, he settled in Palm Harbor, FL. After recording for a few independent labels, Fest finally achieved a breakthrough in the American market upon signing with Concord Picante in the early '90s, producing a series of energetic, Brazilian-flavored, bop-grounded, small-group albums. While awaiting a liver transplant, he died October 8, 1999, at the age of 63. ~ Richard S. Ginell