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The Lounge Pianist Who Invented Samba Funk

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He has performed for a number of celebrities, like Paul Newman, Joe Namath and Elizabeth Taylor. Those he remembers most vividly have been musicians: Tony Bennett, Frank Sinatra, McCoy Tyner, Herbie Hancock, George Benson, John Denver. He once persuaded the bop pianist Tommy Flanagan to sit down at his bench and play “Autumn in New York.” Billy Joel, observing Salvador one evening, told him that he had “a hell of a left hand,” Salvador recalled.

Recently, though, things have been tough for Salvador, who turned 80 in mid-September. While he is in relatively good health, Maria, who is 82, suffers from dementia. Salvador is her main caretaker, which is difficult to manage, he said, given his demanding schedule.

About six days a week, he catches an afternoon train to Penn Station, takes a subway to Brooklyn, puts in his time at the River Café, and usually goes back the same way he came, sometimes getting home around 2 a.m.

At the restaurant not long ago, Salvador was working his way through “I Know Why (and so Do You),” popularized in 1941 by Glenn Miller. He paused for a moment and looked up from the keyboard. “I learned that song in Rio Claro,” he said, as ferries idled on the river and the Manhattan skyline shimmered in the distance.

Lately, Salvador, who became an American citizen in 2000, has told friends and acquaintances that he wants to focus on his first love — jazz — again. He would like to perform at the Village Vanguard, he said. His on-again, off-again group, the Dom Salvador Sextet, released one album, “The Art of Samba Jazz,” in 2010, and occasionally performs at venues like Joe’s Pub and the Django.

There have been a few bigger triumphs, too. In 2015, Salvador performed at Carnegie Hall to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Rio 65 Trio. A live recording of the show was released in Brazil in August and the album is scheduled to come out next year in the United States.

The drummer Duduka da Fonseca, who played at the Carnegie Hall show, released a tribute album to the pianist, and a documentary about Salvador’s life is currently in the works.

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