Were you around when the bossa nova hit town? It’s big now and every music lover knows about Antonio Carlos Jobim and the bossa nova. But unlike some other musical subgenres that beat the door down – like the macarena, say – the bossa nova floated in from Brazil on a slow wave.
The name “bossa nova” is generally translated as “new trend.” But as is the case with so many translations, the nuances are missing. To many Brazilians, “bossa” has long been slang for something particularly fashionable or trendy but with overtones of excellence, a little like musicians today use the word “hella” to describe particularly good performers.
Linguistics aside, the bossa nova – a perfect melding of the samba and jazz – developed in Brazil during the 1950s and hit the U.S. in about 1961. The performer most linked to the early days of bossa nova in the U.S. is Joao Gilberto, and I was introduced to his music in 1963.
There was a radio station here in Bellevue operated by Mr. Kemper Freeman who is the informal Father of Bellevue. The modest Mr. Freeman used the call letters KFKF and, although the station played different kinds of music, it specialized in jazz. I got to know the deejays on the phone and in person, particularly Jay Ward, who went on to run one of Seattle’s biggest stations, and Mick Tacher who had the jazz show. I was known in our on-air conversations as Kirkland Liz.
I learned about a lot of musicians on KFKF (thank you, Mr. Freeman) who became my favorites including Charlie Byrd, who was strongly drawn to bossa nova. But Bellevue wasn’t ready for Joao in 1963 and when one of Gilberto’s first albums was sent to the station, the guys gave it to me to see what I thought. Of the hundreds of albums I’ve owned over the years, I still have a dozen or so. The Warm World of Joao Gilberto is among them.
For my money, nobody ever sang bossa nova like he did…the minute I heard it, I was hooked. His soft voice, the swaying rhythms and, as I eventually learned, lyrics of the heart.
Of course, Antonio Carlos (Tom) Jobim, the godfather of bossa nova, has become a household name among musicians (a few of them do have houses) and bossa nova is much-loved now by many. Jazz musicians made the crossover from straight jazz to the Latin beat that’s familiar to us all. Perry Como even tried it on one occasion – not with much success but with good humor from Charlie Byrd and Stan Getz who were guests on Perry’s show.
Three good movies with bossa nova soundtracks are “Black Orpheus,” “A Man and a Woman,” and “Next Stop Wonderland,” which also has Boston and really captures the romance and gentility of what I think bossa nova is about…I fall in love with this one every time I see and listen to it (often).
Anyway, for a late summer afternoon, here’s a little bossa nova. If you’ve got a sea breeze going for you, even better. If not, close your eyes (the opening words to “Wave”) and imagine…Here’s Gal Costa to sing that very song for you…https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o6ADChhquXM
And Joao with “Chega de Saudade,” (No more blues – I’m convinced.) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H5-1GwBwZ6U&list=PL7DD82281E0377FC8
A number of singers have recorded “Waters of March,” but nobody does it better than Tom Jobim himself and one of Brazil’s best-loved singers, Elis Regina. The play between them makes it as much fun to watch as to hear. The words go by quickly, but you can look up the lyrics if you want to know what they are. They’re good. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HVN8y8XZCes
As I said, bossa nova has great appeal among jazz musicians. Here’s Stanley Turrentine, one among many, on the beautiful “Triste.” Stanley gives it a little more jive than usual, but that’s the great thing about jazz, and it’s still a lovely tune. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cSz6NrH3q54
I promised Perry Como and here he is, but not until after a great rendition of “Desafinado” with Charlie Byrd and Stan Getz who kind of two-handedly made bossa nova so much a part of the our jazz scene. Perry is hammy but lovable and it’s his show, after all. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d1OxyUaw2nA
And finally, Charlie with Ken Peplowski on the lovely “Corcovado,” more commonly known as “Quiet Nights and Quiet Stars,” possibly the best-loved Jobim tune, recorded by a lot of people (some of whom should have left well enough alone, but that’s a different story.) This one’s fine. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yo2OhpcPrO8
This is a small sampling of a lot of other great bossa nova tunes…If you like the sound, check them out for yourself…