© Copyright 2010 Anne Sete
I grew up in Catonsville, Maryland. I spent summers with my parents and my brother Jay at my Grandmother and Grandfather’s farm in Chestertown, Maryland. I graduated from Samuel Ready School in Baltimore, Maryland, in 1959, and went to Pennsylvania State University for three years, where I majored in theatre and English.
I married when I was in my junior year of college, and the marriage only lasted two years, at which time we both realized we had made a mistake, so we divorced amicably.
I moved to California in 1964 and moved in with one of my college roommates from Penn State, Marsue Porter, who was living in an apartment in San Francisco. Later, in 1965, we moved into a beautiful 2-bedroom apartment in Sausalito. I worked as a secretary for Kraft Foods and commuted to San Francisco every day by bus.
About a month after I arrived in my new apartment, Bola moved in next door. The summer was warm and balmy and Bola would practice his guitar with his apartment door open. I would hear him playing as I walked by.
One day I stopped at his door and said hello, introduced myself, and he invited me in. Thus began a lifetime friendship and romance that continues to this day, even though he has died many years ago. I still feel his presence of love and light surrounding me.
Bola was playing with Vince Guaraldi at the time I met him in 1965.
I have been making notes for a book about Bola for many years, and hope that you will enjoy my memories of this magical time.
Bola had originally been brought to the United States in 1959 by the manager of the Sheraton Hotel Chain, Mr. Watson. Bola played cocktail hour, from 6 to 9 pm. At 9 pm he would go to his room and change his clothes (he was living at the hotel, and was paid room plus board plus salary and tips), and would venture out into the San Francisco North Beach scene.
I loved it! Here I was, a country girl from Pennsylvania, hobnobbing with all that North Beach had to offer --- jazz, beatniks, interesting people up and down the streets. I felt like a free woman in Paris!
Max Weiss, who was a regular dinner visitor at the Sheraton Palace, brought Vince to the Sheraton Palace for Vince to see Bola perform. Max was a local San Francisco bohemian character who was managing Vince at the time.
Max was a true North Beach character. He had a standard outfit of pink socks and sandals (no matter how cold it was). He also wore some kind of fur hat, much like a Russian cossack hat. It may have been that his family had come to America from Russia. Max was balding and shaved his head, so he wore the hat to keep his head warm. Plus it gave Max a kind of bohemian "je ne said quoi" ambiance. Max had very thick glasses. He was fun and funny. Everybody knew Max. I heard that Max had a brother who was a music lawyer; and that he brother’s name was Nate. I never met Nate.
Bola and the other musicians wore business suits and ties when they performed. This formality was mixed in with the ultra originality of dress being exhibited in North Beach by the local Beat crowd and the emerging hippie elements.
Max Weiss had the idea of having Vince and Bola do a show together. Vince and Bola played several private parties together, then began performing on weekends after Bola’s 9 pm shift at the Sheraton Palace was over. Eventually Vince and Bola became so popular that Bola gave notice to the Sheraton, and moved to Sausalito. I believe Vince and Bola played several shows at the Trois Coleurs hotel in Berkeley. I will check my reviews from that time and will correct that information if it is incorrect.
I remember Vince and Bola playing at the El Matador. The club would hold 300 to 400 people. The sign on the club marquee would only say “VINCE AND BOLA”. People would be lined up for blocks waiting to get in.
This was the 60s in San Francisco. It was a bohemian atmosphere, with City Lights Bookstore on a side street off of Broadway. Lawrence Ferlinghetti would be reading poetry at the bookstore. There were all kinds of jazz clubs up and down Broadway (the main street thru North Beach), where the jazz greats would come thru to play: Miles Davis, West Montgomery, Buddy Rich, etc. It was in the middle of the jazz era and also the middle of the Beat era, overlapping and integrating their various points of view.
Vince and Bola would play three 45-minute shows together: 9 to 10 pm, 11 pm to 12 pm, and a short show from 1 until about 1:30 pm. In between shows Bola would go over to the other clubs and watch Miles, or Wes, or whoever was in town, play. The different jazz clubs would stagger their starting times so the audiences could hear at least some of the other clubs' shows. Whenever Bola or other musicians would go to visit another club, the music would liven up. Often musicians from various clubs would visit and sit in and play with other musicians. It was an exciting time!
Bola and I would arrive at the club about 8:30 before the performance at The El Matador. There was a parking lot next to the El Matador where Bola parked. The parking attendant would take Bola’s car, Bola would take his guitar and his footstool, and we would go into the club thru the back entrance.
The back room where the musicians waited and practiced prior to performing would be called The Green Room today. However, the back room was far from that. It was actually the storeroom, with a small bathroom that was used by the customers, the employees and the musicians. The musicians (and visitors, like me) would be sitting on cases of liquor. I believe at that time that Vince was dating a very tall blonde named Gretchen. She would also be backstage with the group.
Bola would be tuning up his guitar, while the musicians would be talking among themselves about last-minute changes to the set. There was a single light bulb hanging from wires in the center of the room.
You could hear the noise of the crowd through the curtain that covered the opening between the nightclub and the back room. You could hear the sound of laughter, conversations getting louder and louder, the clinking of glasses. All of it contributed to the excitement of the crowd waiting to hear the music.
The crowds loved Vince and Bola. At few minutes after 9 pm, the owner would announce, “Ladies and gentlemen, Vince and Bola”. There would be loud clapping, whistling and welcoming clapping, many people stomping their feet on the floor. Smoking was allowed, so in addition to the room being very dark, there was a layer of smoke wafting up toward the ceiling.
The bar was on the right hand side as you entered the club. The "regulars", or "melandros" (as the Brazilians would call them) would all be hanging out around the bar. I don't think you had to pay a cover charge if you only stood at the bar. Lots of lovely ladies hanging around the bar. Lots of alcohol.
The stage had already been set up. Vince's piano had been tuned and tested. The bass was on its stand, and the drums were waiting to be played. Bola's stool and his guitar stand were like visitors on stage.
Vince and his two side men would come from behind a curtain (from the store room), up three stairs, and onto the small wooden stage. Vince would be carrying a cocktail glass, that he would put onto he piano. He would sip it from time to time. He would very tailored suits, and he would open his suit jacket so everyone could see the red silk lining. It was very show biz.
The Vince Guaraldi Trio would play for about twenty minutes, then they would leave the stage and Bola would come forth.
Bola would come from behind the curtain carrying his guitar in one hand and his footstool in the other. Bola would sit on the chair on the stage, with his left fool on his footstool. He would pretend to be tuning up his guitar until the crowd quieted down, so quiet that you could hear a pin drop. Then Bola would play two classical guitar pieces. Next would come a Brazilian piece, samba in nature and spirit, perhaps "Girl From Ipananema", which the crowd loved.
Then Bola's solo set was over. Bola would start in by playing several bars of a Brazilian samba piece, Vince’s sidemen would return quietly to the stage (bass and drummer). They would begin playing softly behind Bola.
Then Vince would join the group. After the Brazilian samba piece was finished, and the clapping died down, Bola would open the Black Orpheus Medley. Then Vince and the sidemen would join in.
The Black Orpheus Medley would get a standing ovation every time. When Vince and Bola played together, there was an amazing intuitive musical connection. Vince would look at Bola and Bola would begin to solo. At that point Vince would improvise supporting chords. After Bola had soloed for 32 bars or so, then Bola would nod to Vince and Vince would take the lead, while Bola supported Vince’s solo with improvised chords. It was magnificent to hear and watch.
The bassist and the drummer also took turns soloing, and both Vince and Bola would support them. Everybody looked and sounded good.
Sometimes the sidemen jokingly called Vince and Bola twins. Of couse everybody would roar with laughter! Hey were born one day apart, both in July.
Vince and Bola were very careful about how they put the show together. After all, they were playing three sets a night, six nights a week. Everybody had a chance to solo so the other musicians could rest. Likewise, songs were chosen to pace the physical abilities of the musicians.
After the last show, after the night club closed, Bola and I would go across the street to Mike’s Pool Hall. We had a standing order: pastrami and salami sandwiches, on rye, with cole slaw and hot mustard to go, with a half a pickle on top with a toothpick holding the whole thing together. The sandwiches were about four inches thick. They were wrapped in waxed paper, then the whole thing wrapped in brown butcher wrap paper. We would go back to Bola’s apartment in Sausalito, eat half a sandwich, then go to sleep. By now the sun was coming up in Sausalito.
Bola and Vince also played at the Trident nightclub in Sausalito. The Trident was originally owned by the Kingston Trio as an investment. It was later bought by the Kingston Trio's manager, Frank Werber. Lou Ganapoler was the club manager. He and his wife Belle brought balance and harmony to the club.
The shows at the Trident were a whole different milieu. First of all Sausalito is a sunny little jewel nestled across the Richardson Bay from San Francisco. It sits right on the water. Sail boats and yachts would come into Sausalito from all over the Bay Area. These visitors would get off their boats, walk up the stairs to the Trident dock, and sit at a table for a wonderful afternoon of music and magic by the Bay.
After several years of playing together, I think both Bola and Vince decided they wanted to move on to other things. Vince was having a huge hit with his original song "Cast Your Fate To The Wind". Bola had been building a base of Brazilian music followers who wanted to hear more of him.
Vince and Bola made several albums together for Fantasy Records: Vince Guaraldi and Bola Sete Live at El Matador (1966), Vince Guaraldi / Bola Sete and Friends 1963), and Vince Guaraldi and Bola Sete From All Sides (1963). All are considered classics and still sell well, so Vince and Bola continue to be enjoyed forty years after they originally played together.
By now it was about 1967 or so. Bola and I continued to date, though it was not an exclusive relationship. Bola was on the road a lot, criss-crossing the USA; New York, Chicago, Detroit, Atlantic City, Dallas, Oklahoma City, Phoenix, then up the California coast (San Diego, Laguna Beach, Los Angeles, San Francisco) until back in Sausalito. He would be gone sometimes three or four months at a time.
Bola had started his Brazilian trio, still managed by Max Weiss. The other members were two well-known Brazilian musicians, Sebastiao Neto, on bass, and Paulinho on drums.
Sebastiao Neto was married to a Brazilian, Anna, they eventually had two children (boys) and moved back to Brazil. Paulinho was married to a famous Brazilian singer. Paulinho left Bola to go to work for Jose Feliciano. I believe Paulinho's wife was used as an opening act for Jose for a while. When Paulinho left to work with Jose, Claudio Sloan was the drummer for The Bola Sete Trio.
This group lasted until about 1970. Around 1969 I told Bola that I had changed my mind about getting married again. Bola said that he had not. So we decided to remain non-romantic friends, which we did. We would call each other on the phone, have dinner when he was around, and go to the beach together.
I was visiting my mother who lived in Pennsylvania over the 1969 Christmas holiday. Bola gave me a call and said that he had changed his mind . . . and he asked me to marry him. I was totally surprised! I had kind of closed the door on that possibility and was actually dating other people with an eye towards a committed relationship.
Bola and I agreed we would meet and talk when I returned. Which we did. We both loved each other and both wanted it to work out, which it did.
Later on, after we had been married for several years, I asked Bola "what did I do that made you change your mind about getting married to me". I thought I had done something that influenced his decision. Bola said ,"there was nothing you could do to change my mind. Many years before I had locked up my heart and I had taken the key out to the middle of the ocean and thrown it in. I was the one who had to go retrieve the key from its resting place on the bottom of the ocean. I had to unlock my heart and let you in."
Bola and I were married on February 14, 1970, in Beverly Hills, California. My mother was there. She knew my favorite flowers were violets, so she looked in every flower shop in Beverly Hills until she found me a bouquet of violets for my bridal bouquet. Also in attendance was my college roommate, Marsue Porter. What a wonderful turn my life had taken!
Bola had some money saved up, so we decided to drive to Mexico for our honeymoon. By this time Bola had a two-year old Labrador named "Tuei". So we bought a Ford station wagon, left enough money with a very close friend to pay the mortgage and all the bills while we were gone. We were on our way.
Bola was still a Brazilian citizen, so he was travelling on a foreign passport. We got a Visa from the Los Angeles Consulate, good for a year.
Bola had left Brazil in 1959 to come to the United States to work for the Sheraton Palace Hotel chain. He kept in regular contact with his many Brazilian friends. Several times he wanted to go back to visit his five sisters and his three children (from a liaison when he was in his early twenties). However, he was advised that the current government had declared many musicians, artists, and dancers as "national treasures". The government would support them after the government pulled their passport.
So while the national treasures would be taken care of, they would be totally dependent on the good graces of the government in power, and the national treasures would have no personal freedom. So Bola never returned to Brazil from 1959 until his death in 1987.
So, we packed up a bunch of stuff, including one of Bola's guitars, clothes, money, travellers cheques, and maps, and headed south. Bola did all the driving. We started in Sausalito and ended up on Acapulco. The whole adventure took one year from start to finish.
On our way down, Bola stopped in Mexico City and we went to the local night clubs. There we found out that several musicians whom Bola knew from the USA were living in Acapulco, including a horn player named Luis Gasca.
Once we arrived in Acapulco, we looked up Luis Gasca, who recommended a place with little cottages that were mostly rented by musicians and tourists. Every day we would get up early (before it got too hot), do meditation and yoga. Then someone would come by with fresh fruit, which would be our breakfast.
We would go to the beach with the dog and swim until about 10 am in the warm, warm, warm water. Then we would go to Acapulco fresh market and either buy things to make lunch with or eat at a local restaurant. By now it was noon or one o’clock. Back to the cottage to eat lunch and take a siesta.
We will get up around 4 pm and go back to the beach, swim and enjoy the beautiful weather. Then we would go to town to the edge of town where someone had built a set of bleachers. We would all sit on the bleachers and watch the amazing sunset.
Then it was a drive back to Acapulco for dinner and the night life.
The Acapulco night consisted of nightclubs for tourists. Lots of great music, drinks, and dancing.
Then back to the cottage for bed.
After many months of this we decided to make the long drive home. It was wonderful to be back in the USA!
Bola decided he wanted to get a group together, so he hired four sidemen and we began booking him in all the California nightclubs where he used to work with his Bola Sete Trio. By now, however, the scene had started to change. People were more into rock and roll and less into jazz or Brazilian samba music. Plus, the expenses of keeping five musicians on the road had its monetary toll.
Alas, the group disbanded.
Bola had contracts signed for the five piece band. I called each one of the clubs and told them the five piece band no longer existed . . . did they want Bola to fulfill the contract by giving a solo guitar concert.
Every single club said yes. And that is how Bola’s solo guitar career began . . . another fork in the road.
Bola played all over California giving solo guitars.
After playing for several years giving solo guitar concerts, Bola’s health began to deteriorate. He began staying home more and recording in his home studio.
Bola died in 1987.
I set up a record company to produce and sell his solo guitar music. George Winston and Howard Johnston have been my most loyal support team in helping me to keep Bola’s music alive. I could not have done any of this without their help.
Bola left about 100 original compositions.
His love, light, and spirit continue to bless all of us on the planet.
Love, love, love,