Saturday, August 9, 2014


1964, the year of the great musical invasion of the U.S.  Ah yes, you're thinking, the British Invasion, The Beatles and all that.  Bah, that was nothing.  The real invasion came from Brazil.  That was the year the inventors and stars of the bossa nova landed in the U.S., the new wave of music stars including Sergio Mendes, Joao Gilberto and Antonio Carlos Jobim.  Bossa nova was their new style, based on the samba rhythm.  It was already a favourite among jazz players in the States, but now the musicians who made it had landed right in their midst, ready to play.

Sax player Stan Getz was no stranger to the samba, and had even made the hit album Jazz Samba with guitarist Charlie Byrd in 1962, who had been to Brazil.  It had been a surprise #1 album on the pop charts, igniting the public interest in the laid back, warm sounds.  Getz was now paired up with the brilliant but reclusive guitarist/singer Gilberto to make an album in New York, and Jobim was along for the ride, to provide authentic piano.  The songs were almost all Jobim's after all, and the key Brazilian rhythm section of bassist Sebastiao Neto and drummer Milton Banana came along too.

Getz's sax fit in perfectly with the easy swing of the bossa nova stars.  He played brilliantly, smooth and warm and understanding the gentle touch needed.  On this wonderful remaster of the album, you can hear the clack of the keys, the force of his breath, the microphones turned up so much to capture the quiet playing.  Jobim weaved his magic in and around the players, choosing only the most pleasing notes, leaving great spaces for the music to breath.  Gilberto's delicate plucking providing the vision of Rio found in the music, not the wild carnival times but the languid pace in the heat, the beauty of the tropics.

And then, a stroke of luck.  Gilberto had been singing most of the lyrics, in Portuguese.  But producer Creed Taylor, who was the mastermind of the session, had hired Norman Gimbel to write English lyrics to one of the songs, in case a way was found to record them.  Setting up for the sessions, Taylor heard Gilberto's 22-year old wife Astrud singing the original Portuguese.  She was familiar with English, and was able to handle the job.  It was a smash.  Her subtle, shy take, the first professional vocal she had ever done, captured the imagination of the world, and the song The Girl From Ipanema was a huge hit.

How big?  Remember that British Invasion?  Silly pop music, said the Grammy voters.  Instead, The Girl From Ipanema won Record of the Year, Getz/Gilberto took Album of the Year, and Getz himself won Best Instrumental Jazz Performance.  Sorry, Beatles.  Blame it on the bossa nova.

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