11 Jul JOAO GILBERTO – THE BOSS OF THE BOSSA NOVA
Born in Juazeiro, Bahia, Brazil, singer/song writer João Gilberto will always be the legend of bossa nova. While Antonio Carlos Jobim set the standard for the creation of bossa nova in the mid-’50s with songs like “The Girl From Ipanema” and “Desafinado”, it was Gilberto who brilliantly reimagined (and, arguably, defined) the genre.
From an early age, music was a part of Gilberto’s life. His grandfather bought him his first guitar at the age of 14. During high school, Gilberto teamed up with some of his classmates to form a small band. Gilberto, who led the band, was influenced by Brazilian popular songs, American jazz, and even some opera, among other genres. After trying his luck as a radio singer in Salvador, Bahia, the young Gilberto was recruited in 1950 as the lead singer of the vocal quintet Garotos da Lua (Moon Boys) and moved to Rio de Janeiro. A year and a half later, he was dismissed from the group for his lack of discipline as he would often show up late to rehearsals or not at all.
For seven years, Gilberto’s career was at a low ebb. He rarely had any work, was dependent on his friends for living quarters, and fell into chronic depression. Eventually, in 1955 he was rescued from this rut by Luiz Telles, leader of the vocal group Quitandinha Serenaders, who took him to Porto Alegre in southern Brazil. In this provincial town João Gilberto blossomed musically. Next he spent eight months with his sister in Diamantina, Minas Gerais, where he sequestered himself and played day and night in a little bathroom (because of the improved acoustic), forging a personal style for voice and guitar that would come to be known as bossa nova.
The first bossa nova song, titled “Bim-Bom”, was written as Gilberto watched passing laundresses on the banks of the São Francisco River balance loads of clothes on their heads. Just after this time Gilberto’s father, upset by João’s bizarre singing style and refusal to take “normal” work, committed him to a mental hospital. In a psychological interview there, Gilberto stared out the window and remarked, “Look at the wind shaving the trees.” The psychologist replied, “But trees have no hair, João,” to which Gilberto responded, “And there are people who have no poetry.” He was released after a week. The next year (1956) he returned to Rio and struck up old acquaintances, most significantly Antonio Carlos Jobim, who was by then working as a composer, producer and arranger with Odeon Records. Jobim was impressed with Gilberto’s new style of guitar playing, and set about finding a suitable song to pitch the style to Odeon management.
The bossa nova style, which Gilberto introduced in 1957, created a sensation in the musical circles of Rio’s Zona Sul, and many young guitarists sought to imitate it. It was first heard on record in 1958 in a recording of “Chega de Saudade”, a song by Jobim and Vinicius de Moraes. Gilberto had first accompanied singer Elizeth Cardoso as her guitarist in a recording of this song, explaining his vision for the new style, but Cardoso would have none of his singing advice and sung it in the standard way. However, shortly after this recording, João Gilberto made his own debut single of the same song, in the new style, followed by the 1959 LP, Chega de Saudade. The song turned into a hit, launching Gilberto’s career and the bossa nova craze. Besides a number of Jobim compositions, the album featured older sambas and popular songs from the 1940s and 1950s, all performed in Gilberto’s distinctive style. This album was followed by two more in 1960 and 1961, by which time the singer featured new songs by a younger generation of performer/composers such as Carlos Lyra and Roberto Menescal.
By 1962, bossa nova had been embraced by North American jazz musicians such as Herbie Mann, Charlie Byrd, and Stan Getz, who invited Gilberto and Jobim to collaborate on what became one of the best-selling jazz albums of all time, Getz/Gilberto.
THE MASTER OF THE BOSSA NOVA
THE COMPLETE 1958-61 RECORDINGS
This CD presents all of Gilberto’s master recordings as a leader from his early years, including his three initial LPs in their entirety, as well as rare tracks like his original versions of “Manhã de Carnaval”, “O Nosso Amor” and “A Felicidade”, originally issued on a 7-inch disc. The latter two, which were first comprised into an edited-medley to fit the 7-inch format, appear here as originally recorded, in their complete form.
“João Gilberto’s debut LP, 1959’s Chega de Saudade”, wrote All Music Guide critic Richie Unterberger, “was one of the most important bossa nova recordings, and credited by many as the album that, more than any other, launched bossa nova as a major popular music genre. The dozen songs add up to a surprisingly short playing time of about 23 minutes, but introduce several of bossa nova’s most beloved trademarks: breezy, soothing melodies and vocals; tight arrangements with seamless blends of clipped guitar strokes and light orchestration, and, of course, the bossa nova rhythm. The most popular of these songs (‘Chega de Saudade’ and ‘Desafinado’) had already been released as singles in 1958, but though they might be the most memorable tracks, the album maintains a consistently high standard (if a fairly similar mood throughout).”
Unterberger’s enthusiasm is shared by AMG reviewer Alvaro Neder, who wrote: “The most essential albums recorded by João Gilberto are his first three, Chega de Saudade (1959), O Amor, o Sorriso e a Flor (1960), and João Gilberto (1961). All three remain extremely up-to-date and share in common a superb standard of quality in compositions, arrangements (mostly designed by Tom Jobim), and Gilberto’s performances at the guitar and voice. The second LP recorded by João Gilberto, O Amor, o Sorriso e a Flor, included the ‘Samba de Uma Nota Só’ (‘One Note Samba’) by Tom Jobim/Newton Mendonça, which was immediately successful the previous year with the release of the single ‘Samba de Uma Nota Só’ and became a classic of bossa nova. Gilberto also interpreted ‘Outra Vez’ (Jobim), which had been recorded by Dick Farney and Elizete Cardoso with quite different results. It was the first time that Gilberto recorded the other classics, ‘Só em Teus Braços’ (Jobim), ‘Se é Tarde, Me Perdoa’ (Carlos Lyra/Ronaldo Bôscoli), ‘Meditação’ (Tom Jobim/Newton Mendonça), ‘Corcovado’, ‘Discussão’, and ‘Outra Vez’. ‘Um Abraço no Bonfá’ is one of the few instrumental tracks recorded by Gilberto.”
Critic Richard S. Ginell added the following review about the American edition of the same album (Gilberto’s second LP), which was titled Brazil’s Brilliant João Gilberto: “This vitally important record introduced João Gilberto, Antonio Carlos Jobim and thus, bossa nova to the United States in 1961, a year before Stan Getz scored a hit with ‘Desafinado’. Twelve of Gilberto’s more than three-dozen bossa nova recordings for EMI-Odeon in Brazil were included, as per the record label practices of the time –and having been issued on Capitol’s international Capitol of the World series, it was not too easy to find. Yet here were some of the earliest examples of the fusion between samba and cool jazz, the rhythmic impulse coming from Gilberto’s guitar style and the melodies written for his articulate, intimate voice. Several Jobim standards-in-waiting –‘One Note Samba’, ‘Corcovado’, ‘Meditation’, ‘Outra Vez’– were heard for the first time in North America on this LP. Not only that, Jobim provided the lightly-seasoned orchestral backings, coming up with counter-melodic ideas for strings, horn and flutes that were integral parts of his compositions (later to be elaborated upon by Claus Ogerman and other arrangers). Shortly after bossa nova took off, this album was reissued on Capitol’s regular pop series as Gilberto and Jobim.” It must be noted that a second (orchestral) version of “Este Seu Olhar” exists, recorded the same day, which was included on the American version of the LP instead of the original one (which presents only Gilberto backing himself on guitar). This “alternate” version, much inferior to the one issued on the original Brazilian LP (reissued on this CD), has not been included here due to time limitations. All original liner notes are reprinted below, with the liners from the American editions following those from the early Brazilian ones (which have all been translated from Portuguese).
Original liner notes: CHEGA DE SAUDADE (translated from Portuguese)
João Gilberto is a “bossa nova” player from Bahia. He is 27-years old. In a very short time, he has influenced a whole generation of arrangers, guitar players, musicians and singers. Our major concern in this “long-play” album was not to get Joãozinho perturbed by arrangements which could in any way limit his freedom, his natural skill, his personal and unique way of being, and his spontaneity. Joãozinho contributed actively on each of our arrangements contained on this “long-play” album; his intuitions, his ideas, are all there. When João Gilberto accompanies himself, the guitar is a part of his being. When the orchestra backs him, the orchestra also becomes a part of Gilberto. João Gilberto does not underestimate his listening public. He thinks there’s always space for a new, different and pure thing which –even if it doesn’t appear that way at first–can become, as specialists say, highly commercial. Because all people understand love, musical notes, simplicity and sincerity. I believe in João Gilberto, because he is simple, sincere, and extraordinarily musical.
P.S. –Caymmi is of the same opinion.
Antonio Carlos Jobim
Original liner notes: THE WARM WORLD OF JOÃO GILBERTO [American edition of CHEGA DE SAUDADE]
To be asked to write liner notes for The Warm World of João Gilberto was to be asked to perform a labor of love. I knew every note of this brilliant album before Atlantic arranged to issue it in the United States. I owe the company a debt for making it available here: the copy I brought back from Latin America late in 1962 is all but worn out.
I first heard it in Santiago, Chile, played for me by the respected Chilean jazz critic Pepe Hosiasson. The young intellectuals of Latin America had adopted João as a symbol of taste, lyricism, and intelligence. Not long after that, I encountered the two principal figures of the bossa nova movement. At the Rio de Janeiro home of arranger-composer Antonio Carlos Jobim, to my mind the most brilliant writer of songs to be produced by any country in the last 40 years, I met João.
This album is, if you will forgive so pallid a term, the real thing. Almost all the bossa nova to which the American public has been exposed has been false and shallow, with a few noteworthy exceptions. Most American musicians still don’t have the knack of playing it. They say, “Well, it’s our impression of bossa nova, and if it’s good music, what’s the difference?” Jazzmen are quick to condemn the music of foreign jazzmen IF they’re not producing the “true” thing, but they cannot accept a similarly rigorous standard applied to their defective bossa nova.
In the case of “Desafinado”, the travesty has been total. An American jazzman transcribed it off the LP here enclosed and got the chord changes wrong. When it was just recorded in this country, the melody was also wrong –to say nothing of the rhythmic feeling. Because the public now knew the wrong version, the U.S. publisher, indifferent to the wishes of Jobim, its composer, printed it. And the English lyric had little to do with the original Portuguese lyric, which is an amusing plea by a boy to his girl, who has absolute pitch, to accept his little out-of-tune expression of love. But more is meant: the girl is a perfectionist and a conformist, and the boy is asking why, because he cannot get in touch with a dubious world, he should be considered unfit for her love. Below the humor there is sadness: the song is a poignant plea on behalf of all the gentle nonconformists on this confused and weary planet. Here is a song of a deep subtlety that American popular music cannot even approach.
When João came with Jobim to New York in 1962, the one person he wanted to meet was Gerry Mulligan, whom he told (through interpreter Jobim): “It was through listening to your baritone that I learned to sing.”
João and Jobim remain key figures in Brazil’s bossa nova movement. And bossa nova is essentially a fertile hybrid (in zoology and most art, hybrids are usually sterile) of West Coast Jazz and the samba. “You could call bossa nova ‘cool samba’ and someone in Brazil did”, Jobim told Mulligan and me one night. “The authentic Negro samba is very primitive. They use maybe 10 percussion instruments and maybe four or five singers. They shout and the music is very hot and wonderful.”
“Bossa nova is cool and contained, on the other hand. It tells a story, including the lyrics, trying to be simple and serious and lyrical.”
“When you are hot, you lose your consciousness of the thing. Swedish jazz is a copy of American jazz. Ours is not. Ours comes out of its own musical heritage… We listened very much to Gerry – João, Antonio de Souza, our drummer, and I. We felt that Brazilian music until now had been too much a storm on the sea, and we wanted to calm it down for the recording studio.”
Jobim has had an enormous impact on some arrangers, reminding them of the virtues of simplicity. He will never use a three-note background melody where one note will do. He will never harmonize the background writing when unison voicings are sufficient. Listen to the single horn line behind the opening passages of “Chega de Saudade”, and then the extraordinarily discreet use of strings and his own piano later in the tune. Or listen to the flute on “Rosa Morena”, which João, by the way, pronounces “Hosa Morena” in his Carioca accent. Jobim could have used full orchestra: he elected to use only João’s guitar, Antonio de Souza’s drums, and a single flute. Note also the echo-like use of another voice in “Lobo Bobo”.
As for João, he is extremely shy and gentle, as his voice suggests, and quite unpredictable. He neither smokes nor drinks because, as he told a “friend”, “I don’t have much voice, so I have to take care of it.” His voice is indeed small. But his is fundamentally a recording conception, and no singer in the world has grasped the implications of the LP as fully as João: he understands that it is an intimate medium of communications. But that isn’t all of it. By reducing the volume of singing, João conserves breath, and the result is that he sings lines of incredible duration. For fun, try counting how many –or rather, how few– times he breaks the line for breath during a song. João’s phrasing is the most astonishingly relaxed I’ve ever heard– his lines of melody seem to float up out of him. And his sense of timing is uncanny. It leaves musicians awed. João swings like no singer I know, and it took me a while to figure out why.
First of all, because he controls breath so carefully, he can put his notes anywhere he wants them. And he places them in subtle rhythmic relation to what he is playing on guitar. He leans his voice against the guitar chords, sometimes anticipating, sometimes delaying. Whatever he does, the guitar and voice pull against each other to produce exactly the rhythmic tension-and-release he wants. It would be impossible to swing vocally the way he does if he were not his own accompanist. The co-ordination between voice and guitar is like that of the two hands of a pianist.
Jobim and João have made three superb albums together. Two of them are now available on Atlantic –the other is The Boss of the Bossa Nova (Atlantic 8070). The third, João Gilberto, is on Capitol. The present disc is one of the greatest vocal LPs ever made, and constant listening has not diminished its freshness for me. I hope it gives you as much joy as it has me.
Original liner notes: O AMOR, O SORRISO E A FLOR (translated from the Portuguese)
In January, I could no longer resist it and I traveled up the mountain. Everyone knows how abundant water was in 1960. How much it rained! I got into the cabin, put on some old trousers, and waited for the serenity nine hours of sleeping without nightmares provide us.
The bad weather and the mud kept everyone at home. But it was nice that when the days seemed a bit clearer, in the early morning, me and my son, still in our pajamas, went out to see the ants work cutting the roses of the garden. But alas! When the sun was just starting to shine, it began raining again and we had to run inside.
One night, when I was about to turn the lights off, I heard the motor of a car fighting to climb the entrance ramp. João Gilberto and his wife were arriving. We had arranged for them to come but, due to the bad weather, we didn’t expect them to make it, and least of all in a cab!
He told me later, close to the fireplace, that he had used a tractor to push the car. He was exhausted and he rested for two entire days.
After that, we started working. Running away from the living room, where the kids –captive because of the rain– were playing, we went into one of the dorm rooms, which provided with wooden walls, had excellent acoustics. There, away from the city and the telephone, we worked calmly for about ten days. Once in a while the work was interrupted by the child who entered the room with a chick of the native tico-tico or of the coleiro birds which had “fallen” from the nest. At that time of year, the edge of the roof was full of nests of little birds. On other occasions, the ladies came in with strong coffee and cookies, and they stayed for a while.
When the weather improved and the sun was shining brightly in the sky, we went for a bath at the small cascade and walked a bit by the surrounding area.
Then Joãozinho departed, and a few days later I received a message: the material for the disc had been assembled and Aloysio had set a date for recording it. And then the madness began: studio, copies, musicians.
And everything had originated in an ambiance of peace, among little birds!
P.S. –The kids will love “O Pato” [The Duck]
Antonio Carlos Jobim
Original liner notes: BRAZIL’S BRILLIANT JOÃO GILBERTO [American edition of O AMOR, O SORRISO E A FLOR]
It was January –the dead of summer. Christmas had been sweltering, but now the heat of the first month was driving people out of Rio to the cooler hills (and rains) of the Brazilian countryside.
At his country place in the mountains, top Brazilian arranger and band-leader Antonio Carlos Jobim was host to his friend, the phenomenal young singer-guitarist João Gilberto (pronounced Joe-OW-oh Jeel-BEAR-toh.) Four about ten days, they worked on arrangements, played with the children, poked around the garden, watched the rain, drank coffee with their wives and polished the arrangements. Six of the tunes were by Jobim –and one (the only instrumental on this album) was by Gilberto.
Gilberto (born in the state of Bahia in 1931) is probably the finest Latin jazz guitarist in Brazil today and one of the country’s best singers. In his individually cool, subtly rhythmic style he conveys a mood of masculine intimacy, a dance-inspiring vitality, for which Brazil, land of the samba and coco, can smile with pride.
The result of those days in the mountains is this friendly collaboration, recorded soon after, when the weather cooled off just enough for everyone to go back to the city. But most of the work was done, as Jobim says, “in an atmosphere of peace and birds”.
Dave Dexter, Jr.
Original liner notes: JOÃO GILBERTO [also issued as BOSSA NOVA!] (translated from Portuguese)
João Gilberto knows where he wants to go, and he will always be unsatisfied. He goes to the impossible to share his artistic message with the most heterogeneous audience, but in the end he is not satisfied with himself.
For the recording of this album –in which he combined his genius with the talents of Antonio Carlos Jobim and Walter Wanderley–, our best merit was letting Gilberto do whatever he wanted.
And that’s what he did. He listened to the repertory, changed some chords, and collaborated on many other aspects. But he wasn’t satisfied with the album. He, who knows where he wants to go… A place of eternal spring, a world with a single language where everything is a poetic truth and where the truth is poetry itself.
Our own humble opinion is that the Shangri-lá of his audience is far more modest and accessible. For that reason, we are certain that this album will please you.
Original liner notes: THE BOSS OF THE BOSSA NOVA [American edition of JOÃO GILBERTO]
João Gilberto is more than a father figure in Brazil. He is the flesh-and-blood progenitor of bossa nova in that country. Gilberto stands at the very heart of the music. His singing carries the quality of heart, the sweet, sad understanding of human affairs that is at the very core of this highly intimate, musical style.
The release of this LP is a most important event for the bossa nova movement. It is only the second record by this Brazilian star made available in the United States. Atlantic will also release another album by Gilberto in the near future.
As the mass of bossa nova material, imported and domestic, builds in this country, this album and the one to follow are bound to become more and more important. After listening to this set, it is abundantly clear that Gilberto and the other early bossa nova musicians like Antonio Carlos Jobim and Luiz Bonfá were not so much interested in creating a novelty dance craze as they were in developing a new mode of expression.
True, bossa nova is based on the samba rhythm, but this came naturally, for the samba is to Brazil what the fox trot is to this country. In Brazil bossa nova was revolutionary not only in rhythm but also in musical structure, philosophy of lyric and subject matter. It is in these areas that Gilberto has made his most significant contributions.
At heart, João Gilberto is a poet. Whether one understands Portuguese or not, the listener is immediately taken with the sound of Gilberto’s voice. His inflection, his timbre outline the fleeting impressions a human feels, sees and imagines. The lyric sound of his songs speaks quietly of sadness, joy, and the inevitable mixture of both that makes up day-to-day existence.
Gilberto’s own life began in June, 1931. He was a singular youth, who spent much of his time alone and with books. He first took to music at boarding school where he heard a vocal group rehearsing. He did not try to perform himself until he returned to his local town from school. In his home town of Juaseiro in the state of Bahia, he joined a local band and played drums. Later, he taught himself guitar and joined the ranks of professionals in Bahia where he performed as a solo act.
While appearing in Bahia, Gilberto was heard by a member of the Garotos da Lua, a highly regarded vocal group of Brazil. He joined them and sang with them until the group was disbanded. Gilberto then went on the road as a single and slowly developed the style of singing and the guitar rhythm so intrinsically identified with bossa nova.
Herbie Mann pretty well summed up the effect Gilberto has had on his listeners when he introduced the artist at the Village Gate in New York’s Greenwich Village: “I knew there was something honest and warm in this music”, said Herbie, “when I first heard the singing of this man, the papa of bossa nova, João Gilberto.”
Jack Maher, Billboard