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Beginning his musical discovery very early, at six he already played a little violão and cavaquinho. With a group formed with his brothers, Leo (drums), Ico (bass), and Mário (piano), he performed in 1954 at Rádio Difusora, Petrópolis, RJ. The musicians interested in renewing Brazilian popular music were bringing classical influences from Ravel, Debussy, and others, incorporating altered chords into the bittersweet samba-canção of those times, and Castro-Neves was taken by it. Johnny Alf, deeply influenced by American jazz, was presenting his unusual piano playing at Cantina do César, where Castro-Neves would go to learn from him, as would all musicians who would be known as bossa nova proponents. In 1959, the nascent bossa nova was still called alternative names such as Festival de Samba Moderno (modern samba festival) in university presentations, and Castro-Neves joined those events in the first wave. On Carlos Lira's first album, recorded in 1960 for Philips, Castro-Neves's "Chora Tua Tristeza" (with Luverci Fiorini) was included. Forming a new group, along with his brothers Ico and Leo, he performed at the Teatro Record's (São Paulo SP) Festival Nacional de Bossa Nova. They also performed at the Noite do Sambalanço at P.U.C. university (São Paulo SP). Gaining strength, the nascent movement caught the attention of Philips' executives, who released the album Bossa Nova Mesmo with Castro-Neves's "Chora tua Tristeza" (interpreted by his group) and "Menina Feia" (recorded by Lúcio Alves). He and his group also accompanied other artists on that album. In 1962, he took part in the historic Carnegie Hall Bossa Nova Festival, with a group formed of Percy Wilcox (guitar), Ico, and Roberto Ponte (drums). He then became friends with Paul Winter, with whom he would record his own solo album, Oscar!, debuting on Winter's label Living Music. Still in 1962, Castro-Neves recorded an LP for Audio Fidelity with drummer Milton Banana (O Ritmo e o Som da Bossa Nova), which included some of his own compositions. He performed at 1964's historic concert at Zum-Zum nightclub, together with Vinícius de Morais, Dorival Caymmi, and Quarteto em Cy. The show, directed by Aluísio de Oliveira, was recorded and released by de Oliveira's Elenco. The seminal show, O Fino da Bossa, was presented at São Paulo's Teatro Paramount, which would generate the TV series presented by Elis Regina under the same title, and had Alaíde Costa singing Castro-Neves's "Onde Está Você," scoring a hit with it. Castro-Neves's group was also recorded live on some tracks and released in 1965 on several LPs, such as Bossa Nova no Paramount, O Fino da Bossa RGE, and A Bossa Nova no Carnegie Hall (Audio Fidelity). He also composed and directed the music for Roberto Farias' movie Toda Donzela tem um pai que é uma Fera and Millor Fernandes/Flávio Rangel's play Liberdade, Liberdade. Tom Jobim included Castro-Neves's song "Morrer de Amor" (with Luverci Fiorini) on his 1966 album Tom Jobim Apresenta. Castro-Neves then headed for the States, where he joined Sérgio Mendes' Brasil '66 group. Hired by A&M through Herb Alpert, they had immediate success in blendin a commercial pop vein, Brazilian, jazz, and American popular styles. When Castro-Neves joined them, they had already recorded three albums and he took part on all the subsequent ones, departing from their fourth album, Fool on the Hill, until 1981.
As an arranger, Castro-Neves worked for Quincy Jones, Flora Purim, Laurindo Almeida, and others. In 1970, when João Gilberto and Miúcha were living in Mexico City, he arranged João Gilberto in Mexico. In 1973, he recorded for Odeon the LP $Alaíde Costa & Oscar Castro-Neves. In 1982, he arranged and directed the soundtrack for Bruno Barreto's movie Gabriela, Cravo e Canela and also for Blame It on Rio. He worked with Yo-Yo Ma on the cellist's chart-topping Tango album and played on David Darling's Cycles (ECM). He was a conductor, producer, and arranger for Ottmar Liebert's best-selling Leaning into the Night album. Together with Paul Winter, they produced Winter's albums Common Ground and Missa Gaia. Since 1992, he has promoted Brazilian Music Nights at the Hollywood Bowl. He also owns Kennis Enterprises studio. His discography in the U.S. includes Tropical Heart, More Than Yesterday, Maracujá, Brazilian Scandals, Oscar!, Big Band Bossa Nova, and Big Band Bossa Nova. ~ Alvaro Neder, Rovi