When Yo-Yo Ma first discovered the great Rosa Passos, he sent her a letter saying, “I’ve fallen in love with your voice.”
Soon the cellist had recorded the Brazilian singer-songwriter’s inimitable interpretation of two bossa nova songs by Tom Jobim on his CD “Obrigado Brazil” and then toured the world with her. On May 10, the Berklee College of Music echoed his esteem, granting Passos the same honorary doctorate of music they awarded to Duke Ellington, Sarah Vaughan and Shirley Horn.
Known as “the female version of João Gilberto,” Passos’ exceptionally warm, sensual and intentionally understated delivery is as unique and instantly recognizable as Billie Holiday’s.
There is remarkable soul to the voice. Blessed with seemingly perfect pitch and impeccable timing, Passos caresses both melody and lyrics to get to the heart of the matter. To put it simply, she’s so hard to resist that it’s impossible to imagine why anyone would even try.
Passos released her first record of her own compositions, “Recriação” (to lyrics by Fernando de Oliveira) in 1979, seven years after her song “Multilados” won first prize in the University Festival in the state of Bahia. She then took a long break to devote herself to raising a family.
In 1991, her first CD, “Curare,” found her in top form. Six years later, after she released the CD “Pano Pra Manga,” she was invited to perform in a Brazilian night at the Hollywood Bowl. Performances all over Europe and South America, as well as in Japan, Cuba (with Ivan Lins and Chucho Valdez) and the United States, quickly followed.
Although Passos has been singing for a long time, her voice remains blessed with the freshness and promise of youth. Aftertwo CDs with Ma, a fabulous Chesky collaboration with bassist Ron Carter (“Entre Amigos”), and a solo debut on Sony Classical (“Amorosa”), she is recording with Telarc.
Repertoire from her two recent CDs, “Rosa” (a solo outing with voice and guitar), and the just-released “Romance,” will play heavily in Sunday’s appearance with SF Jazz.
“I want people to know all the affection I have for the music I sing,” Passos explained by phone with her sister acting as translator. “I want to share the Brazilian music that I give from my heart to my public.”
Then, in a rare venture into English, she came to the phone and half-whispered, in the sweetest little girl voice imaginable, “I am so happy to be able to come to San Francisco.”
As are we.
IF YOU GO
Presented by SF Jazz
Where: Herbst Theatre, 401 Van Ness Ave., San Francisco
When: 7 p.m. Sunday
Tickets: $25 to $58
Contact: (866) 920-JAZZ or wwwsfjazz.org