BOSSA NOVA II: WATERS OF MARCH
When my two daughters were young, I used to look forward to Friday night. The school week was done for all of us and we could kick back and relax. After dinner, I would sit at my computer in the living room nook and put together a playlist of tunes ranging from Queen to Parliament/Funkadelic to 80s pop to Harry Nilsson's "Lime in the Cocoanut" to my fave--"The Purple One"--Prince. A dance party would ensue and my girls would try out all their newest dance moves and stylings while I acted as DJ. We had a lot of fun.
One of the things I enjoyed doing while I sat at my music library was creating a playlist of different covers of the same song. The deepest dive I ever took examined the many iterations of a "list song" by Antonio Carlos Jobim, the godfather of the Bossa Nova sound that exploded on the music scene in the early 1960s and who is among the subjects of my last blog post on Bossa Nova. "Aguas de Marzo" or "Aguas de Marco" or "Waters of March" is a lighthearted tune by Jobim that captures the essence of Brazil's rainy season in March when rushing waters leave detritus everywhere in its wake. In 2001, a Brazilian poll voted it the best Brazilian song of all time! Like "list poems", "list songs" repeat sequentially a combination of images or items that somehow call to mind a larger whole from the sum of its parts. Here are the lyrics to "Aguas de Marzo":
A stick, a stone, it's the end of the road It's the rest of a stump, it's a little alone It's a sliver of glass, it is life, it's the sun It is night, it is death, it's a trap, it's a gun
The oak when it blooms, a fox in the brush A knot in the wood, the song of a thrush The wood of the wind, a cliff, a fall A scratch, a lump, it is nothing at all
It's the wind blowing free, it's the end of the slope It's a beam, it's a void, it's a hunch, it's a hope And the river bank talks of the waters of March It's the end of the strain, it's the joy in your heart
The foot, the ground, the flesh and the bone The beat of the road, a slingshot's stone A fish, a flash, a silvery glow A fight, a bet, the flange of a bow The bed of the well, the end of the line The dismay in the face, it's a loss, it's a find
A spear, a spike, a point, a nail A drip, a drop, the end of the tale A truckload of bricks in the soft morning light The sound of a gun in the dead of the night
A mile, a must, a thrust, a bump, It's a girl, it's a rhyme, it's a cold, it's the mumps The plan of the house, the body in bed And the car that got stuck, it's the mud, it's the mud
A float, a drift, a flight, a wing A hank, a quail, the promise of spring And the river bank talks of the waters of March It's the promise of life, it's the joy in your heart
A snake, a stick, it is John, it is Joe It's a thorn on your hand and a cut in your toe A point, a grain, a bee, a bite A blink, a buzzard, a sudden stroke of night
A pin, a needle, a sting, a pain A snail, a riddle, a wasp or a stain A pass in the mountains, a horse and a mule In the distance the shelves rode three shadows of blue And the river bank talks of the waters of March It's the promise of life in your heart, in your heart
A stick, a stone, the end of the road The rest of a stump, a lonesome road A sliver of glass, a life, the sun A knife, a death, the end of the run And the river bank talks of the waters of March It's the end of all strain, it's the joy in your heart
In an article about the song's origin, the author writes: "The story goes that Jobim wrote the song during a visit to his family rancho, in the interior of Rio de Janeiro state amid a steady rainstorm which had turned the roads and landscape to mud. He had become frustrated with the difficulties the rain was causing for the construction of a new boundary wall along his property line. The skies rained from above while chaos reigned below, as plainly stated in the lyrics: “It’s the mud, it’s the mud…” With plenty of time to contemplate the situation, Jobim created a modern parable for daily life." (https://www.connectbrazil.com/the-waters-of-march-the-story-behind-the-song/
The Portuguese lyrics have a somewhat different sound, as you will hear, but you can at least see the essence of the tune as a series of connected images that appear to be brought forth in scattershot style. The rains of March mean the end of summer, so the imagery in the lyrics creates a mood of things coming to an end, whether the calendar year or life or love. Perhaps a metaphorical rebirth will renew the "promise of spring". Perhaps not. It seems to me that this ambiguity is at the heart of Bossa Nova music. Below is the original recording with Antonio Carlos "Tom" Jobim joined by Elis Regina, a popular Brazilian vocalist. I love the back-and-forth between the two singers. They are enjoying each other's company and playing off each other's style. There is a shared laughter near the end of the song, but you can still hear a little bit of the wistful quality I love in Brazilian music. Listen to any or all of the recordings below. Each is unique.
This first was recorded in 1972. The film of it was added later.
Here is the cover version sung and played by Joao Gilberto, another Bossa Nova icon, with saxophone deity Stan Getz sitting this one out.
And here is the version that became a big hit in America, with Joao Gilberto and his wife Astrud Gilberto accompanied by the big sax sound of Stan Getz. You can hear the jazz influences that run through most Bossa Nova songs in the chord progressions employed by Getz at the song's coda.
Here is a unique cover by the Antigua Quartet, a jazzy and creative rendition with some delicious scat singing by vocalist Elsa Mohr.
This brief clip shows the playful nature of the song, as Daniel Jobim joins New Jersey guitar virtuoso John Pizzarelli in a cover of his grandfather's classic song, recorded a few years ago at a jazz club in London.
I wouldn't want to leave classical music interpretations out! Here is singer Rosa Passos accompanied by cellist Yo-Yo Ma, live in Brazil!
A couple of decades ago, the "Red Hot" series of albums was released, highlighting versions of different types of musical styles. "Red Hot + Rio" focused on alternative takes on Bossa Nova music. So, here we have David Byrne, leader of the Talking Heads, joined by Marisa Monte in a hard-driving, cement-mixer version of the song.
And here are Al Jarreau and Oleta Adams, the former one of the smoothest voices in contemporary jazz history and the latter a gospel-raised popular vocalist during the 80s. You can hear how appealing it is to record this song as a duet with one singer playing off the other.
Each singer tries to make the song his or her own. Here we have Canadian singer Emilie-Claire Barlow in a live recording from a few years ago, with a big saxophone accompaniment, much as Astrud Gilberto had with Stan Getz fifty years earlier.
You can hear the excitement in the audience when the first notes of "Waters of March" kick in and they realize that Jane Monheit is going to sing a favorite song.
Lisa Sanchez and the Jon Eriksen quartet gave us a sensitive cover of the tune with a strong percussion influence and some changes in tempo.
There are even multiple Hip/Hop versions recorded by rap artists, although I have yet to find a video version of one. Here is a link to a song clip: https://music.apple.com/mx/album/%C3%A1guas-de-mar%C3%A7o-single/1538455617
Speaking of unusual interpretations, how about this one, by Mina Agossi, the French vocalist, who makes the song unrecognizable?
I wouldn't want to leave out the great Brazilian jazz pianist Eliane Elias, here accompanied by a capella group Take Six.
And if you like mash-ups, here is Jessica Molaskey singing Joni Mitchell's "The Circle Game" with her husband, guitarist John Pizzarelli, throwing in a little Jobim to spice things up.
Finally, I should mention that my daughter Rachel and I saw the Brazilian samba singer, Bebel Gilberto, the daughter of Joao Gilberto, at the Blue Note in NYC some years back. What a pleasure! Here is a brief excerpt of her rendition:
Needless to say, I could add many more "takes" on this wonderful song. There was even a really bad Coca Cola commercial in the 80s that riffed on this song.
I never get tired of hearing how the song is renewed by each artist who accepts the challenge of interpretation. Hope you enjoyed. I'll add more when I can!