When I was a young boy, profound changes in popular music soon had a powerful impact on me and on much of the world. Its genesis came from Rio de Janeiro in Brazil in the late 1950s, but by 1963 those innovations had transformed music globally. Throughout the first half of the 20th Century, the musical form known as samba was most influential in Brasil. Samba Carioca is a Brazilian rhythm or genre that had its roots in African music, a residual of the slave trading that affected both continents. The combining of elements of two cultures proved highly marketable because the rhythms and beats were so infectious and the themes so universal. It was largely derived from folk songs and made use of a wide variety of percussion instruments.
But it was a variation on Samba that electrified Brazilian music in 1959, thanks to the additional help of a film that introduced the "new sound" or Bossa Nova to distant shores. "Chega de Saudade", which translates as "No More Blues" or "Enough Longing" was composed by Antonio Carlos "Tom" Jobim, with lyrics by Vinicius de Moraes, and performed by Joao Gilberto. These three created what is generally considered the first Bossa Nova song. It seems a simple, little two-minute tune, but it captured that mood of feeling wistful for "what might have been". The song is now in the Grammy Hall of Fame.
The 1959 film was Black Orpheus (Orfeo Negro), a romantic but tragic film based on the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice and set during Carnaval in Rio. Much of the film was shot on that beautiful city's streets. Director Marcel Camus employed the musical talents of Antonio Carlos Jobim and Luiz Bonfa to write the soundtrack and songs for the film. The picture charmed the world and won both the 1959 Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival and the 1960 Academy Award for best foreign film. Here are two clips, starting with the film's opening credits, set to a Jobim melody. The essence of the film's mood of death and rebirth is wonderfully depicted by three children in the next segment filmed high above Rio.
In 1963, legendary saxophone player Stan Getz, from the United States, recorded an album with Gilberto and Jobim, largely using Jobim's compositions. One of those songs, "The Girl from Ipanema" had vocal accompaniment by Astrud Gilberto, the wife of Joao Gilberto. That song hit the airwaves like a howitzer shell and became the second most "covered" song of all time (after the Beatles' "Yesterday"). It went "Gold" almost instantly. I think the recording below embodies that sense of wistfulness and resignation that almost always seems to infect and undercut the joy of Bossa Nova tunes. Typical of Bossa Nova music, the melody just sort of blows with the wind and the vocals are almost whispered.
By 1964, Bossa Nova had become a craze in the United States and other parts of the world. Everyone from Frank Sinatra to Elvis Presley recorded Bossa Nova compositions. Frank devoted an entire TV special to a collaboration with "Tom" Jobim.
I love watching Frank taking a drag on a cigarette while singing! But he had huge respect for Jobim's genius, which I much appreciated. The medley above includes some of Jobim's classic tunes, including "Corcovado" ("Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars". Corcovado is the name of the mountain that overlooks Rio and is topped by the statue of Christ the Redeemer that you see at the opening of this blog post. Here is the most famous version of a song that was recorded by virtually every major music performer.
Jobim won a Lifetime Grammy award. Here are a few more of his jazz-inflected hit songs.
Just this year, Kali Uchis recorded the Jobim hit "Desafinado" for the Minions: The Rise of Gru movie! Jobim's influence will never wane it seems.
Almost all the songs adhere to the Bossa Nova tradition. They are plaintive tunes that play to the emotions of longing, unrequited love, homesickness, the beauty of nature, and the passage of time. I hope you enjoy the songs as much as I do. Below is a brief overview of the genre. In my next post, I will do a close examination of just one Bossa Nova song.