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‘Open to beauty and truth’: Roni Ben-Hur remembers vocalist Leny Andrade

Leny Andrade and Roni Ben-Hur
James Gavin
Leny Andrade and Roni Ben-Hur

“I sing for God,” she said, and then showed me what God is. Beauty, love, caring and always honest. That’s what she sang for, making us feel the longing of a lover, the joy of a new love, the heartbreak of abandonment, the power of desire and all the other emotions the songs spoke of. But regardless of what the emotion was, it was always dressed up in beauty. The beauty of her sound, her soul, and her sincere care for all living creatures.

Leny Andrade was a great artist, a magnificent singer and a profound storyteller. She didn’t want anything to get in the way of the truth. Don’t play any fancy runs and tricky chords to show how slick you are. Don’t ever put yourself in front or above the song. Serve it with love, humility and truthfulness, or leave the band stand. That was her way.

I first met Leny when she came to hear Duduka Da Fonseca, Nilson Matta, Helio Alves and I at The Kitano, in New York. I was a huge fan of her, of course, and was so thrilled when she sat in. Not long afterwards, we spent a week together, teaching at a jazz camp. We hit it off immediately, and were having a great time hanging out, laughing our butts off, and enjoying the few opportunities we had to play together.

Not long after, she came back to New York, and wanted to visit Mark Murphy, who was at the Actor’s Home in Englewood. She thought the world of him, and he did of her. When we arrived, Mark was asleep. Leny took her shoes off, and got into bed with him. I then saw what true friendship and love is. No talking, no exclamations, just a tender look, and a closeness that showed each other that they are bonded for life. This was a powerful and inspiring part of Leny. She didn’t need to add anything to the truth, because her truth was real, honest and beautiful.

It was the same in her singing. Just tell the story was how she did it, and it was enough to conquer anyone’s heart who is open to beauty and truth.

Later on, Leny asked that I come to Rio to record with her. Motema Music took the project on, and in a short time I was on a plane to see her. We recorded for three days in a small, legendary studio. She wanted us to be in the same room, close to each other, and I got to experience the magic of her artistry. She never forced anything, or insisted on a certain arrangement. “Let’s see what happens” was her modus operandi. Without fear, and doubts. If inspiration comes, great. If not, then we’ll just have to patiently wait. We don’t control the situation. We are just vessels, ready, able and willing to receive it.

God loved her, and inspiration sought her all her life. The results were a full life, spent bringing joy to millions in over 50 countries. She is a timeless treasure, and we are so grateful for her.

Jazz guitarist Roni Ben-Hur has earned a sterling reputation as a musician and educator, renowned for his golden tone, improvisational brilliance, compositional lyricism and ability to charm peers, students and listeners alike. Eminent jazz critic Gary Giddins wrote in the Village Voice: “A limber and inventive guitarist, Ben-Hur keeps the flame alive and pure, burning in every note… He’s a guitarist who knows the changes and his own mind.” Roni – born in Israel in 1962 but a longtime American citizen, based in the New York City area – has recorded more then fifteens albums as leader or co-leader, with The New York Times praising his “crisp, fluid style” and Time Out New York calling him “a formidable and consummately lyrical guitarist.” He has developed a rare facility in both straight-ahead jazz and samba/bossa-nova styles, underscored by his work with masters in each field, from bebop piano sage Barry Harris to beloved Brazilian vocalist Leny Andrade.