Stan Getz and Joao Gilberto | Getz/Gilberto (April 1964)
Jazz / Bossa Nova – 34:02
“That’s the most seductive music ever.”
There is a definite difficulty in listening to certain albums. The more you try to concentrate on the music, the harder you find it to keep track. Simply put, it can be too easy to drift off into a daydream while the music washes over you. It isn’t just the obvious albums; I’ve known myself to put on a hard rock album and, 30 minutes later, be shocked that it has finished without being aware of actually hearing any of the songs. But some albums are harder to listen to coldly and objectively. It is not because they bad; far from it, the music reaches deeper into your soul and touches you at another level, allowing you to glide away into your own personal world. Getz/Gilberto is one such as this.
It cannot be underestimated the importance of this album. It isn’t just the fact that it was the first non-American album to win a Grammy. In reality, it was the one which kick-started the bossa nova craze across North America. Bossa nova (which literally means ‘new sound’) was a combination of jazz and samba, which began to find popularity in Brazil during the 1950s. But it took the combination of American saxophonist Stan Getz, Brazilian guitarist João Gilberto, and composer and pianist Antônio Carlos Jobim to launch it into the stratosphere. Much of the credit must go to the brilliant writing of Jobim. But perhaps the masterstroke, the key to its massive success, all lies with the first track on the album – and the second most recorded song in the world (240 cover versions to date); the wonderful and timeless Garota de Ipanema – better known as The Girl from Ipanema.
The Girl from Ipanema was a real woman; 17-year-old Brazilian model Heloísa Pinto. Jobim and his lyricist, Vinicius de Moraes, would see the teenager walk down to the beach, past the bar where he sat, every day. It wasn’t long before inspiration hit; years later, he wrote that he had been moved by “the paradigm of the young Carioca: a golden teenage girl, a mixture of flower and mermaid, full of light and grace, the sight of whom is also sad, in that she carries with her, on her route to the sea, the feeling of youth that fades, of the beauty that is not ours alone—it is a gift of life in its beautiful and melancholic constant ebb and flow.” Originally written in Portuguese, it became a hit when it was sung in English on the album Getz/Gilberto by Gilberto’s wife, Astrud. And while the explanation by Moraes may seem overly-elaborate, there is a beauty and ethereal quality to the song.
It is this quality which continues throughout the album. The gentle strum of the Spanish guitar, matched with Getz’s saxophone, combine to create a soft and subtle sound that draws you in to a dreamlike world. There is a wonderful charm to the album, which conjures up an image of sandy beaches under a hot sun; of a paradise world, that may not exist outside of a travel agent’s imagination. Regardless, this is an album which virtually demands that you sit back, close your eyes and allow it to work its magic upon you. It exudes a calm which belies the brilliant musicianship of Getz and Gilberto. It is easy to understand why this album was the starting point of the bossa nova craze. Among the stand-outs are Desafinado, which combines the guitar with a light piano that brings a smile. It doesn’t matter that the lyrics are incomprehensible to anyone unable to speak Portuguese; the sense of the song is conveyed through the music itself.
By combining to separate sounds – jazz and samba – Getz and Gilberto have managed to not just create a whole new genre, but one that proved popular. It may have fallen into the realm of lift muzac on occasion now, but that is an unfair fate to a breathtakingly and achingly beautiful sound. In fact, the combination has even allowed me to actually like a ‘jazz’ album, even if it is one that is not a pure form of the style. Regardless, this is the perfect soundtrack to lazy Sunday mornings or warm evenings on holiday. Timeless may seem an overused word, but this is one album which has certainly lasted the test of the last 50 years.
If you have a Spotify account, you can listen to Getz/Gilberto here:
Next time: A Hard Day’s Night by The Beatles