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


particle said...

Thank you for such thoughtful and accurate writing!

Anonymous said...

Indeed, marvelous article!

Jeffrey R. said...

Hello, I'm doing some research on Brazilian culture for a project I am currently working on and I would appreciate it if you could help answer a few questions. In Brazil, I know that there are many different types of music styles. I was wondering what the most important cultural aspect of the music? Also, I was wondering if you would happen to know where the style of dancing involved with the music came from and why it is important in Brazilian music? Thank you for any information you can give.