THE DOZENS: ESSENTIAL BOSSA NOVA by Judith Schlesinger

Bossa nova never was a dance, despite the 1963 hit “Blame it on the Bossa Nova” (“the dance of love”). It was a musical style derived from the samba canção, the Brazilian urban pop known for its infectious rhythm and dramatic lyrics. Born in Rio’s upscale jam sessions in the late 50s, bossa nova had both a stronger backbeat and a lighter push. Its vocals were cooler, and its harmonies blended the subtlety of jazz with the impressionism of Debussy and Ravel. Some Brazilians objected to this ‘dilution’ of their native music, while others considered it their most valuable export since coffee.

“We never bothered to figure out what ‘bossa’ really meant,” said Antonio Carlos Jobim, who used the term ‘new wave’ when in the U.S. Without his luscious melodies and early collaborations with Stan Getz and João Gilberto, the whole craze might not have happened. Other creation stories nominate the 1953 meeting between Bud Shank and Laurindo Almeida, Gilberto’s debut album (1959), or the first Brazilian Carnegie Hall concert (1961), disorganized as it was. One thing is certain, however: today, nearly five decades after its birth, it’s rare to hear a set of mainstream jazz that doesn’t include a bossa nova.

Here are twelve essential bossa nova tracks.


Stan Getz: Insensatez (How Insensitive)

Track

Insensatez

Artist

Stan Getz (tenor sax)

CD

Jazz Samba Encore (Verve V6-8523)

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Musicians:

Stan Getz (tenor sax), Luiz Bonfá (guitar), Antonio Carlos Jobim (piano), George Duvivier (bass), Tommy Williams (bass),

Paulo Ferreira, Jose Carlos (drums), Maria Toledo (vocal)

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Composed by Antonio Carlos Jobim and Vinicius de Moraes

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Recorded: New York, February 8, 9, 27, 1963

Jazzsambaencore

Rating: 93/100 (learn more)

This track is the gleaming gem of an otherwise lackluster album. One of Jobims most recorded compositions, this Insensatez has a lugubrious Portuguese vocal by Maria Toledo that is saved by Stan Getzs background commentary. Getzs solo is dynamic, building to a passionate wailing, while Jobims eloquent piano is simplicity itself. The legend goes that since Jobims hands were too small to comfortably span an octave, he avoided intricate chording and developed his signature one-fingered style of improvisation. Whatever its origins, this technique makes him the Basie of bossa nova.

Reviewer: Judith Schlesinger


Stan Getz: Two Note Samba

Track

Two Note Samba (Samba de Duas Notas)

Artist

Stan Getz (tenor sax)

CD

Jazz Samba Encore (Verve V6-8523)

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Musicians:

Stan Getz (tenor sax), Luiz Bonfá (guitar),

Paulo Ferreira, Jose Carlos (drums), Maria Toledo (vocal)

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Composed by Luiz Bonfa

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Recorded: New York, February 8, 9, 27, 1963

Jazzsambaencore

Rating: 83/100 (learn more)

This album was recorded about a year after the phenomenal Jazz Samba in an obvious attempt to make lightning strike twice. It didnt. Reasons include the rather mournful voice of Maria Toledo on six of ten tracks, which suffers in comparison with the light breathiness of Astrud Gilberto (who had become the bossa nova standard). The title Two Note Samba may amuse anyone who knows Jobims One Note Samba, but despite a bridge that makes a clear parallel to the original, Bonfas melody lacks the same wit, interest and staying power. Not even Getzs tenor can make it memorable.

Reviewer: Judith Schlesinger


Stan Getz: The Girl from Ipanema

Track

The Girl from Ipanema

Artist

Stan Getz (tenor sax)

CD

Getz/Gilberto (Verve V-8545)

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Musicians:

Stan Getz (tenor sax), João Gilberto (guitar, vocals), Astrud Gilberto (vocals), Antonio Carlos Jobim (piano), Tommy Williams (bass), Milton Banana (drums).

Composed by Antonio Carlos Jobim and Vinicius de Moraes

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Recorded: New York, March 17, 18, 19, 1963 released 1964

Gilberto

Rating: 90/100 (learn more)

The bouncy Girl from Ipanema is Jobims most universally recognized composition; one of the most recorded tunes of all time, its also been Muzaked deeply into the public mind. The vinyl debut of Ipanema features vocals by both Joao Gilberto and his then-wife, Astrud; Joaos two-minute part was edited out of the hit single, while Astruds girlish, amateur vocal catapulted her into a career. This version sounds less dated than the one Jobim would soon record with strings (on his first album as leader), but too many bad performances have dulled the original sheen of this tune.

Reviewer: Judith Schlesinger


Stan Getz: Corcovado

Track

Corcovado

Artist

Stan Getz (tenor sax) and João Gilberto (guitar, vocals)

CD

Getz/Gilberto (Verve V-8545)

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Musicians:

Stan Getz (tenor sax), João Gilberto (guitar, vocals), Antonio Carlos Jobim (piano), Tommy Williams (bass), Milton Banana (drums), Astrud Gilberto (vocals),

Composed by Antonio Carlos Jobim with English lyrics by Gene Lees

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Recorded: New York, March 17, 18, 19, 1963

Gilberto

Rating: 95/100 (learn more)

What do Perry Como, Miles Davis, and James Galway have in common? Theyve all covered Jobims Corcovado -- only Ipanema and One Note Samba have been recorded more often. This version features the exquisite blending of Astrud and Joao Gilberto, Stan Getz and Jobim on a sensuous melody. This winning formula, repeated throughout the LP, kept Getz/Gilberto on the charts for 96 weeks; nearly 40 years later, the album entered the Grammy Hall of Fame. Also known as Quiet Nights, this track was the epitome of relaxed bossa nova cool.

Reviewer: Judith Schlesinger


Antonio Carlos Jobim: Chega de Saudade

Track

Chega de Saudade

Artist

Antonio Carlos Jobim (piano, rhythm guitar)

CD

Antonio Carlos Jobim The Composer of Desafinado, Plays (Verve V-8547)

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Musicians:

Antonio Carlos Jobim (piano, rhythm guitar), Jimmy Cleveland (trombone), Leo Wright (flute),

George Duvivier (bass)

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Strings arranged by Claus Ogerman. Composed by Antonio Carlos Jobim and Vinicius de Moraes

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Recorded: New York, May 9 and 10, 1963

Albumcoverjobimplays

Rating: 94/100 (learn more)

This melody swings through a series of upward shifts, conveying optimism and hope. In the original lyrics by Vinicius de Moraes, Jobims poet partner, the singer has had enough of saudade (sa-oo-DA-dgee), that idiomatic mix of emptiness and longing that roughly equates to the blues in English. This was the first Jobim tune that Joo Gilberto ever recorded, and the title of his 1959 debut album; for many, Chega de Saudade marks the true beginning of bossa nova. This instrumental version features Claus Ogermans string arrangements; never soppy or overbearing, they provide a lush cushion for Jobims one-finger piano.

Reviewer: Judith Schlesinger


Joo Gilberto: Bim Bom

Track

Bim Bom

Artist

João Gilberto (guitar, vocals)

CD

Getz/Gilberto #2 (Verve V-8623)

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Musicians:

João Gilberto (guitar, vocals), Keter Betts (bass), Helcio Milito (drums).

Composed by Joo Gilberto

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Recorded: Carnegie Hall, New York, October 9, 1964

Getzgilberto2-thumb

Rating: 94/100 (learn more)

While Jobims is the name most people associate with bossa nova, he himself attributed its creation to Joo Gilberto. Gilbertos approach represents a clear break from the comparatively unsophisticated samba tradition. His style, which remains unique and instantly identifiable, is composed of his soft, smooth voice, with its signature lack of vibrato; his graceful rhythm guitar; and his impeccable time, which enables him to tinker with phrasing without sacrificing any swing. Essentially a one-man band, Gilbertos singular artistry makes the bass and drums nearly superfluous on his playful little tune.

Reviewer: Judith Schlesinger


Stan Getz: Here's That Rainy Day

Track

Heres That Rainy Day

Artist

Stan Getz (tenor sax)

CD

Getz/Gilberto #2 Stan Getz Joao Gilberto Recorded Live at Carnegie Hall (Verve V-8623)

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Musicians:

Stan Getz (tenor sax), Gary Burton (vibes), Eugene Cherico (bass), Joe Hunt (drums).

Composed by Jimmy van Heusen

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Recorded: Carnegie Hall, New York, October 9, 1964

Getzgilberto2-thumb

Rating: 96/100 (learn more)

This album was a sequel to the first Getz/Gilberto record, which received nine Grammy nominations as well as great commercial success. But its not really #2, since theres no Jobim or Astrud, and Getz and Gilberto never play together. In fact, this seems like two entirely separate albums -- one strictly jazz, and the other Brazilian; even the liners barely mention Gilbertos trio. Nestled in this confusion is arguably the most beautiful version of Rainy Day that Getz ever recorded: his playing is exceptionally tender, while Burtons shining vibes are the perfect complement to his velvety tone.

Reviewer: Judith Schlesinger


Herbie Mann: Consolao

Track

Consolao (aka Consolation)

Artist

Herbie Mann (flute)

CD

Herbie Mann and Joao Gilberto with Antonio Carlos Jobim (Atlantic 8105)

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Musicians:

Herbie Mann (flute), Baden Powell (guitar),

Gabriel (bass) Juquinha (drums)

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Composed by Baden Powell and Vinicius de Moraes

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Recorded: Rio De Janeiro, Brazil, October 15, 1962

Albumcoverherbiemann-gilbertojoao-antoniocarlosjobim-recordedinriodejanerio

Rating: 93/100 (learn more)

Herbie Mann was on that 1961 State Department tour that was just supposed to bring American jazz to Brazil; instead, it brought bossa nova back to North America. Mann soon returned to Rio to make an album, and recorded this track with its composer, guitarist Baden Powell de Aquino. Incongruously named after the British founder of the Boy Scouts, Baden Powell mixed indigenous Brazilian rhythms with elements of jazz and Django. His signature sound is dark and mysterious, which fits this hypnotic composition perfectly. Mann soars over the extended chorus, making it the longest track on the record.

Reviewer: Judith Schlesinger


Herbie Mann: One Note Samba

Track

One Note Samba (aka Samba de Uma Nota So)

Artist

Herbie Mann (flute), João Gilberto (guitar), and Antonio Carlos Jobim (piano, vocal)

CD

Herbie Mann and Joao Gilberto with Antonio Carlos Jobim (Atlantic 8105)

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Musicians:

Herbie Mann (flute), João Gilberto (guitar), Antonio Carlos Jobim (piano, vocal),

Uncredited bass, drums and strings

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Composed by Antonio Carlos Jobim

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Recorded: Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 1964

Albumcovermanngilberto

Rating: 95/100 (learn more)

Aside from the cleverness of a tune built upon a single note, this song is notable as one of the few for which Jobim wrote both the music and the English lyrics. He often disliked the translations made from the original Portuguese, and reportedly studied English in order to block the worst of them. Jobims homespun singing is more endearing here than usual, since his accent often teeters on Noo Yawkian, but his scatting is seriously jazzy. This might be the best version of One Note Samba he ever made, with Herbie Mann providing sweet support.

Reviewer: Judith Schlesinger


Stan Getz & Charlie Byrd: Samba Triste

Track

Samba Triste

Artist

Stan Getz (tenor sax) and Charlie Byrd (guitar)

CD

Jazz Samba (Verve 314 521 413-2)

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Musicians:

Stan Getz (tenor sax), Charlie Byrd (guitar), Keter Betts (bass, guitar),

Buddy Deppenschmidt, Bill Reinchenbach (drums)

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Composed by Baden Powell and Billy Blanco

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Recorded: Washington, D.C., February 13, 1962

Jazzsamba

Rating: 90/100 (learn more)

This track appeared on the pioneering, hugely successful Jazz Samba album because guitarist Charlie Byrd wanted to include a minor-keyed samba. Stan Getz takes this relatively simple tune and makes it memorable with the aching melancholy of his horn. Samba Triste was the first commercial success for its composer, Baden Powell (1937-2000), who is still considered one of Brazils greatest guitarists. Like Jobim, Powell wrote songs with the poet Vinicius de Moraes Consolao being one of their most famous but Powell was more focused on native Brazilian culture and his melodies are darker than Jobims.

Reviewer: Judith Schlesinger


Antonio Carlos Jobim: Meditation

Track

Meditation

Artist

Antonio Carlos Jobim (piano, rhythm guitar)

CD

Antonio Carlos Jobim The Composer of Desafinado, Plays (Verve V-8547)

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Musicians:

Antonio Carlos Jobim (piano, rhythm guitar), Jimmy Cleveland (trombone), Leo Wright (flute),

George Duvivier (bass), Edison Machado (drums)

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Strings arranged by Claus Ogerman. Composed by Antonio Carlos Jobim

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Recorded: New York, May 9 and 10, 1963

Albumcoverjobimplays

Rating: 93/100 (learn more)

This Verve album, Jobims first as leader, was quickly assembled to capitalize on the meteoric success of Girl from Ipanema and Desafinado. Meditation is a simple but nicely balanced tune; covered by talents as disparate as Andy Williams and Frank Sinatra, and Dexter Gordon and Paul Horn, it long ago moved out of the novelty bossa nova category into designation as a jazz standard. In fact, of the dozen songs on this album, probably ten have achieved that status, forming the core group of Jobim classics. The instrumentation here, especially Jimmy Clevelands trombone, is particularly expressive.

Reviewer: Judith Schlesinger


Stan Getz: Desafinado

Track

Desafinado

Artist

Stan Getz (tenor sax) and Charlie Byrd (guitar)

CD

Jazz Samba (Verve 314 521 413-2)

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Musicians:

Stan Getz (tenor sax), Charlie Byrd (guitar), Keter Betts (bass),

Buddy Deppenschmidt, Bill Reinchenbach (drums)

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Composed by Antonio Carlos Jobim and Newton Mendonca

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Recorded: Washington, D.C., February 13, 1962

Jazzsamba

Rating: 98/100 (learn more)

Desafinado first appeared on the 1962 Jazz Samba album that launched the bossa nova craze and stayed on the charts for 70 weeks. The song was created to mock the off-key singers in Rio (Desafinado means out of tune), but its famous blue note made it jazz. Like the album, the single became a massive hit, and brought Stan Getz a Grammy for Best Jazz Performance. Getz swings hard over Charlie Byrds insistent rhythm, while maintaining a sexy tropical feel. Always elegant and fresh, this remains the definitive version of the tune.

Reviewer: Judith Schlesinger


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