Sunday, December 30, 2012

The Girl from Ipanema: 50 Years Old in 2013

The song "Garota de Ipanema" had its 50th anniversary in 2012, while the English-language version, "The Girl From Ipanema," celebrates that landmark in 2013.

Tall and tan and young and lovely, "The Girl From Ipanema" is also a survivor. The iconic tune has been recorded by a multitude of jazz greats and pop legends, as well as crooners of lesser talent, appeared on the soundtracks of remarkably diverse movies, ridden elevators from Shanghai to Chicago as a Muzak standard, and been subjected to innumerable lounge renditions. Through it all, it has endured as a global favorite and is the second most recorded song in the world according to Performing Songwriter magazine, trailing only "Yesterday" by the Beatles. The song's original version, "Garota de Ipanema," with music by Antonio Carlos ("Tom") Jobim and Portuguese lyrics by Vinícius de Moraes, was first performed in 1962 and celebrated its fiftieth anniversary in 2012. Meanwhile, Stan Getz and João Gilberto's debut recording of "The Girl From Ipanema," which added English lyrics, turns fifty in 2013.

Hêlo Pinto, the OG
(Original Girl) from Ipanema

"Garota de Ipanema" made its debut in August, 1962 at a club in Copacabana called Au Bon Gourmet, during a show that ran for several weeks and featured the first and only joint performances of bossa nova's three most important figures—Jobim, the poet-lyricist-singer de Moraes and guitarist-singer João Gilberto (who invented the bossa nova beat on the guitar and is the genre's greatest interpreter). They were backed on stage by Otávio Bailly on bass, Milton Banana on drums, and the Os Cariocas vocal group. Bossa nova was four years old in Brazil and had run a little off track with its own success; the show's participants and its producer Aloysio de Oliveira hoped to remind audiences about the style's fundamental strengths with the all-star event. The concerts garnered rave reviews and nightly packed the room, which could just barely squeeze in three hundred patrons. "Garota de Ipanema" was received with cries of "how beautiful!" The Au Bon Gourmet sessions were also a launching pad for several other tunes that are now classics: Jobim and de Moraes debuted "Só Danço Samba"; Jobim launched "Samba do Avião"; and Vinícius introduced "Samba da Benção" and "O Astronauta," which he had written with Baden Powell.

Vinícius, Tom, João and
Os Cariocas at Au Bon Gourmet

"Garota de Ipanema" made its Brazilian recording debut in January of 1963, with separate releases by vocalist Pery Ribeiro and the instrumental group Tamba Trio. Its monster global success was yet to come, however.

The inspiration for the song was a beautiful, tanned teenaged girl named Heloisa ("Helô") Eneida Menezes Paes Pinto who lived on Rua Montenegro in Ipanema and used to “sway so gently” past the Veloso bar on her street as she made her way to the beach or around town. Jobim and de Moraes were regulars at Veloso, where they gathered to chat and down copious quantities of beers and scotch. They didn't fail to notice the young woman's charms as she passed by, often whistling in appreciation and calling out to her, as did other male patrons, all to no avail.

Hêlo at the beach in Rio

They turned their appreciation of the young woman into a song, but didn't compose the tune on napkins at Veloso, contrary to many reports. Rather, Vinícius penned the lyrics in Petropolis, in the mountains north of Rio. Jobim composed the music on the piano in his Ipanema apartment on Rua Barão da Torre. The song, which had a working title of "Menina Que Passa" (Girl Who Passes By), was originally intended for a musical comedy called Dirigível (Blimp) and initially had a different opening verse.

The next month, bossa nova really took off overseas, thanks to jazz saxophonist Stan Getz and guitarist Charlie Byrd's Jazz Samba album. It had been released in April 1962 and the album and its instrumental hit single "Desafinado" (by Jobim and Newton Mendonça) entered the Billboard pop charts in September. Jazz Samba ultimately hit no. 1 and stayed on the charts for seventy weeks. Jazz and pop musicians released a flood of bossa-themed albums. Getz quickly followed up with Big Band Bossa Nova and Jazz Samba Encore, making the pop charts with both.

Jobim, Getz and Gilberto
at the recording session

By March of 1963, the bossa nova craze was starting to lose steam in the U.S. but many good recordings with the style were still being made. Getz had long wanted to play with Gilberto and Jobim and invited them to New York to record an album. Getz/Gilberto had the small stellar lineup of Getz (saxophone), Gilberto (guitar and vocals), Jobim (piano), Milton Banana (drums), and Tommy Williams (bass). It was a dream lineup and a chance for Getz to go straight to the source of bossa nova and play with its two greatest musical figures: João and Tom. Yet it wasn't all smooth sailing. Getz still wasn't getting bossa nova quite right and Gilberto the perfectionist was impatient with him, saying things in Portuguese to Jobim like, "Tom, tell the gringo he's a moron," according to Brazilian journalist Ruy Castro. But Getz biographer Donald L. Maggin claims that Stan and João shared a great rapport, and that a major problem arose the first day when the naturally shy and reclusive Gilberto refused to leave his hotel room to go to the recording session. It reportedly took hours of pleading by Getz's wife Monica to get him to the studio. In any event, it all came together, especially after Getz downed a few shots of whiskey, and the memorable LP was cut on March 18 and 19, 1963.

Getz, Milton Banana, Jobim,
Creed Taylor, João and Astrud

Two of the album's tunes, "Corcovado" and "The Girl From Ipanema," featured the light, gentle vocals of João’s wife, Astrud Gilberto, who had practiced singing with João and performed at informal bossa gatherings but was not yet a professional. Getz claimed it was his idea to include her on the album and that Tom and João opposed it; Ruy Castro wrote that it was Astrud's idea; Tom said that it was his and João's inspiration; and, Astrud herself was quoted as saying that it was all her husband's idea. In any event, it worked far better than anybody could have hoped for. Some Brazilian musicians still cringe at her somewhat amateurish performance on "The Girl From Ipanema," but it's hard now to imagine the song having become such a success without her cool, slightly awkward, innocent yet sexy vocals. Astrud sang about the girl from Ipanema and for many listeners was the girl in the song.

Norman Gimbel wrote the English lyrics for "The Girl From Ipanema," which were inspired by the original Portuguese words by Vinícius but were not a translation. He also cut out two syllables (and two repetitive notes) from the opening phrase, going from "Olha que coisa" (five syllables) to "Tall and tan" (three syllables), as noted by Jobim biographer Sérgio Cabral, who claimed Tom wasn't bothered by it. Gimbel himself noted, in an email sent to me, that "I simplified [the music] by taking out some notes from the original to give it 'edge.' "

Lyricist Norman Gimbel

Gene Lees, the English-language lyricist for several famous Jobim songs and a noted jazz essayist, wasn't happy with the adjustments. In one of his books he wrote, "The opening line contains five notes; Gimbel reduced this to three…which completely destroys the swing."

However, Gimbel felt the change was part of what made the song a huge worldwide success, along with the English lyrics, which "told a universal story in a fun international (American) way," said Gimbel. In both versions, the observer admires the beauty of the pretty girl walking by and is sad that she isn't his. In the Portuguese lyrics, he doesn't think about doing anything about it. But in the American version, the observer wishes he could talk to her.

                         But I watch her so sadly
                         How can I tell her I love her
                         Yes I would give my heart gladly
                         But each day, when she walks to the sea
                         She looks straight ahead not at me

Vinicius's lyrics are more of a poetic lament, a meditation on youthful beauty. Gimbel tells a tale of a one-sided, frustrated romance and his words are more about the girl herself.

Gimbel mentions the words "the girl from Ipanema" during the song, while the Brazilian lyrics mention that she has a "golden body from the Ipanema sun" but don't ever call her the "girl from Ipanema." Her appearance is less abstract and more tangible in the English version. Instead of "look, what a beautiful thing, so graceful" (Vinícius) we have "tall and tan and young and lovely" (Gimbel), which creates a more striking impression.

Gimbel managed to both evoke the celebratory/melancholy mood of the original song and successfully imprint a character in the public imagination. The original lyrics are more subtle and poetic, but the direct English words were probably essential to the song's enormous global success.

Tall and tan and young and lovely
The girl from Ipanema goes walking
When she walks she’s like a samba
That swings so cool and sways so gently

João and Astrud's vocals were both included in "The Girl From Ipanema" track on Getz/Gilberto. João sings the Portuguese lyrics, Astrud sings the English lyrics, Getz delivers a sublime sax solo, Jobim follows with a short piano solo, and then Astrud's voice and Getz's sax close it together. It is the greatest performance of the song, but when it came time to release the single, producer Creed Taylor cut out João's vocals entirely, leaving only the English lyrics and reducing the song's length to just over three minutes.

Astrud and Getz perform the abridged
version of "The Girl From Ipanema"

Taylor kept the album on the shelf for a year, not wanting to compete with Jazz Samba, which was still riding high on the charts. As a result, the song—with the title "The Girl From Ipanema" but in an instrumental form—made its U.S. debut in 1963 on Jobim's album The Composer of "Desafinado" Plays, which had been recorded two months after Getz/Gilberto but released immediately.

Getz/Gilberto (Verve, in 1964)

Verve released Getz/Gilberto only in March 1964 and "The Girl From Ipanema" single in April of that year. Both hit the pop charts in June. “The Girl From Ipanema” bridged the language gap with the U.S. audience and the breezy song won the Grammy Award for Record of the Year in 1964 (awarded to Stan and Astrud) and went to number 5 on the Billboard singles chart. With one suave stroke, it altered Brazil's international image. One might have previously pictured Carmen Miranda, coffee and the Amazon when thinking of Brazil, or perhaps even Brasília and modernist architect Oscar Niemeyer. Now, "The Girl From Ipanema" was a new symbol of the country, with its casual sophistication and the implicit evocation of beachside Rio's easygoing charm in the early '60s. Astrud's participation in the song made her an instant star and provided her with an international singing career, although she didn't earn a penny from the hit single or the album.

Stan Geta (left) and Astrud Gilberto (at microphone)

Most importantly, "The Girl From Ipanema" opened the minds of listeners across the world to the richness of Brazilian music. Its smooth syncopation and graceful lyricism made it into a standard. Unfortunately, in the 1960s and '70s it was so overplayed that in the United States “The Girl From Ipanema” began to epitomize pop corniness. In 1980, it was heard as elevator music in the comedy The Blues Brothers. Happily, time has dissipated the excesses of commercialization and the song’s definitive version (the unabridged track from Getz/Gilberto) is again a delight to hear: cool, seductive, and wistful.

The album Getz/Gilberto garnered three other Grammys (Best Album, Best Instrumental Jazz Performance (Small Group), and Best Engineered Recording (Non-Classical) as well and went to number 2 on the pop charts. It failed to reach number 1 only because the Beatles were making pop music history that year. Getz/Gilberto spent an extraordinary ninety-six weeks on the charts, fifty of them in the Top 40. It has never gone out of print and deserves its success: the album is a great marriage of Getz's sensuous, lyrical saxophone with João and Tom's sublime bossa nova.

The Garota de Ipanema bar/restaurant (formerly Veloso)

Helô became nationally famous in 1965 once Jobim and Vinícius revealed her as the inspiration for the song. Jobim was smitten by the young woman and proposed marriage to her several times, all in vain. She married her boyfriend, an engineer, became Helô Pinheiro, and had four children. She became a friend to the famous songwriters, although remained an unattainable muse for them. Today the Veloso bar is named Garota de Ipanema, after the song. The street it faces, Rua Montenegro, is now called Rua Vinícius de Moraes.

Also See:

Getz/Gilberto (Original Recording Reissued)

The Brazilian Music Book
by Chris McGowan (Kindle)

The Brazilian Sound (3rd edition)
by Chris McGowan and Ricardo Pessanha

Monday, July 2, 2012

Carol Saboya: Belezas

Brazilian vocalist Carol Saboya, known for her clear, sweet, pitch-perfect voice, often brings a jazz interpretation to a bossa nova and MPB repertoire. Along those lines, she has just released Belezas, devoted to songs by Ivan Lins and Milton Nascimento, MPB icons who are two of Brazil's greatest composers. Nascimento's "Bola de Meia, Bola de Gude," "Tristesse," "Anima," and "Tarde," and Lins's "Velas Içadas," "Doce Presença," and "Abre Alas" are among the twelve selections, five of which include English-language lyrics. Hendrik Meurkens, a German harmonica player who has collaborated with many Brazilian musicians, is featured on "Doce Presença." Saboya's father, the keyboardist-composer Antonio Adolfo, produced and arranged the album. The backing lineup consists of Adolfo (piano), Jorge Helder (bass), Claudio Spiewak (guitar), Rafael Barata (drums and percussion) and Dave Liebman (saxophone on two tracks). While Carol has released eight albums in Brazil and Japan to date, this is her first U.S. release.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Blame It On the Bossa Nova: Jazz Samba Turns Fifty

by Chris McGowan
(published April 17, 2012 in The Huffington Post)

 Stan Getz and Charlie Byrd’s album Jazz Samba, which launched the bossa nova craze in the United States, celebrates its 50th anniversary this month. It was a phenomenal success after its release in April 1962 and has achieved an enduring popularity. Jazz Samba was a musical milestone and, alas, an example of musical injustice: the vital contributions of drummer Buddy Deppenschmidt and bassist Keter Betts, both part of Byrd’s trio at the time, have long been downplayed. The album wouldn’t have sounded the same without them, and perhaps would never have been made.
Jazz Samba’s first track, “Desafinado,” is a beautiful composition by Antonio Carlos Jobim and Newton Mendonça; it opens with a compelling bass line by Betts, adds understated, intriguing percussion from Deppenschmidt and Bill Reichenbach, and then takes off with Getz’s inspired, sublime sax playing. “Desafinado” reached no. 15 on the Billboard Top Twenty chart for pop singles, stayed on the charts for sixteen weeks, and won a “best solo jazz performance” Grammy for Getz. 

The album eventually made it to the no. 1 position on the Billboard pop chart, the only jazz instrumental album to have ever achieved that feat. Jazz Samba stayed on the charts for seventy weeks and sold half a million copies within eighteen months. It was more jazz than bossa, but the new sound struck a nerve.

“I knew it was something that would have a lot of public appeal. I didn’t know it would inspire bossa nova neckties,” Byrd recalled in my book The Brazilian Sound. Bossa conquered the United States with its fresh sophistication, bridging popular music and “art” music. After the huge success of Jazz Samba, jazz and popular musicians were eager to explore and/or exploit the new sound. Cannonball Adderley, Quincy Jones, Coleman Hawkins, Dizzy Gillespie, Herbie Mann, Ella Fitzgerald, Herb Alpert, Tony Bennett, Nat King Cole, and Miles Davis were among the many who recorded bossa nova songs or bossa-inspired albums in the early 1960s. Elvis Presley even sang “Bossa Nova Baby” and Eydie Gormé released the hit song “Blame it on the Bossa Nova.” 

Bossa nova was a new type of samba that emerged in Brazil in the late 1950s. Guitarist João Gilberto took the genre’s rhythmic complexity and pared it down to the bare essentials, transforming it into a different kind of beat, an infectious rhythm on the guitar. His singing, meanwhile, was soft, smooth, and precise with no vibrato. Both voice and guitar were simultaneously melodic and highly rhythmic, as he syncopated sung notes against guitar motifs. Meanwhile, bossa’s chords were complex, with influences of jazz and classical music; the genre’s greatest composer, Antonio Carlos Jobim, added his own harmonic originality. 

The first bossa album in the U.S. was João Gilberto’s LP O Amor, o Sorriso e a Flor, released by Capitol Records in 1961 as Brazil’s Brilliant João Gilberto. It laid an egg. American audiences weren’t yet ready for unadulterated bossa nova, sung in a whispery voice by Gilberto in Portuguese. However, the Charlie Byrd Trio was touring Brazil that year, sponsored by the U.S. State Department, and they reacted quite differently when they heard Gilberto’s albums. Byrd, drummer Buddy Deppenschmidt and bassist Keter Betts were enraptured by the new style. While in Brazil, Deppenschmidt and Betts bought Gilberto’s first two discs and spent many hours trying to learn the new style. When they returned to the U.S., they continued practicing, and eventually started performing bossa nova songs with Byrd at the Showboat Lounge in Washington, D.C.

The 1961 tour of Latin America: Buddy Deppenschmidt, Charlie
Byrd and Keter Betts on the left and Ginny Byrd on the far right.

According to Deppenschmidt, he was the first to suggest that the trio record a bossa nova album and he and Betts spent months trying to convince Byrd to do it. According to Elana Byrd (Charlie Byrd’s sister-in-law), it was the idea of Charlie’s wife Ginny. Byrd eventually talked to Stan Getz about doing a joint album of bossa songs and played him a Gilberto record. Getz liked the music and the concept. He went to A&R executive Creed Taylor at Verve, who gave it a green light.

Byrd and Getz were the first Americans to release an album of bossa nova songs. Byrd picked the songs, provided the musicians, did the arrangements, and set up the recording session. Getz flew down from New York to Washington, D.C. for the day with Verve’s Taylor, who produced the album. Jazz Samba was recorded in about two hours on February 13, 1962 at the All Souls Unitarian church in D.C., with Buddy, Keter, drummer Bill Reichenbach, and guitarist/bassist Joe (Gene) Byrd. 

The recording of Jazz Samba (with Stan Getz, Joe Byrd,
Charlie Byrd, left to right). Courtesy of Buddy Deppenschmidt.

In a 1963 Downbeat article, Byrd recalled, “Buddy Deppenschmidt deserves an awful lot of credit for his part in the album; he spent so much time working on getting the exact rhythmic thing down.” Yet despite the huge success of Jazz Samba, Deppenschmidt received all of $150 for his playing on it (he left Byrd’s band later in 1962). While Byrd took Verve’s parent company MGM to court in 1964 for a fairer share of the album’s royalties, Deppenschmidt waited much longer, until 2001, to sue Verve and its then parent, the Universal Music Group; according to the drummer, he reached a settlement with them around 2004. His and Betts’ vital contributions to the conception and realization of the album were largely ignored until June 2004, when JazzTimes published David Adler’s article “Stan Getz and Charlie Byrd: Give the Drummer Some.”

Interestingly, Jazz Samba is not actually bossa nova, as Byrd and Deppenschmidt have both acknowledged. It’s “jazz bossa” with a group of jazz musicians interpreting bossa nova. And it works, especially because of the superb rendition of “Desafinado.” Jazz Samba still feels innovative and is charged with the excitement of artists discovering a new world. Jazz Samba ultimately helped establish bossa nova as a global genre, which has been a gift for music lovers everywhere. Its songs (especially Jobim’s) are part of both the jazz and pop canons now. And bossa nova is still one of the most artful, uplifting and seductive musical styles in the world.

More: Another Side of Jazz Samba: An Interview with Buddy Deppenschmidt 

Also see: The Brazilian Sound: Samba, Bossa Nova and the Popular Music of Brazil

Monday, February 6, 2012

Michel Teló Catches Global Fame

Sertanejo universitário
star Michel Teló has scored a global hit with the single "Ai Se Eu Te Pego" (“Oh, if I Catch You”), which has gotten millions of views at You Tube. Since September, the song has been listed #1 in at least nine European countries, according to the Feb. 4 Fox News Latino article Brazil's Michel Telo Becomes an International Country-Western Star, which quotes my Brazilian Sound co-author Ricardo Pessanha. I find the song annoyingly simple and repetitive, with an uninteresting melody. But simple + repetitive + a sexual theme often translate into worldwide success. Showing lots and lots of beautiful women in the audience for the music video, a few making provocative gestures, boosts online hits and sales as well.

Nara Leão: Everything!

The late singer Nara Leão was the "musa" of bossa nova and an important figure in the transition from bossa to MPB. Through the generosity of her family, every one of her songs from every one of her albums can now be heard for free on the Nara Leão website, which is in Portuguese. All the lyrics are included as well. Go straight to the songs here: Nara Leao discography.

Sergio Mendes and Carlinhos Brown Get an Oscar Nomination

Sergio Mendes and Carlinhos Brown teamed up last year on the music of the animated film Rio, and the partnership of the Brasil '66 veteran and the idiosyncratic composer-percussionist from Bahia once again yielded successful results. The two have been nominated for an Oscar for Best Song for "Real in Rio," which was co-written by Siedah Garrett, John Powell and Mikael Mutti. 

John Powell contributed the soundtrack and Mendes was executive music producer for Rio, which also includes the songs "Let Me Take You to Rio (Blu's Arrival)" by Brown, Ester Dean and Mikael Mutti; "Fly Love" by Brown and Garrett; "Funky Monkey" by Garrett, Brown and Mutti; "Sapo Cai" by Brown, Mutti and Mendes; "Valsa Carioca" by Mendes; and, "Forró da Fruta" by Brown and Mutti, as well as "Samba de Orly" by Toquinho and Chico Buarque (performed by Bebel Gilberto) and "Hot Wings" by, who co-produced the album Timeless with Mendes in 2006.

Sergio Mendes and Carlinhos Brown collaborated on the noteworthy Brasileiro in 1992. which showcased Brown and fused MPB and Rio samba with axé music and funk. The record won the Grammy Award in 1993 for Best World Music Album (the Brasileiro liner notes are here).

Carlinhos Brown

Sergio Mendes