He invented Bossa Nova

Music history’s still where you find it

It wasn’t too long after I got a computer that I started clawing together information about pop music. For decades I’d heard songs that A I wasn’t hearing any more, except on oldies stations. And I wanted to know more about those bands and what became of them.

At the time (of the Commodore 64), there wasn’t much to be found. History was buried in used bookstores, in hard-to-find, dog-eared, pulpish books with yellowing pages. Elsewise it was museumed on the back of vinyl albums — unavailable unless you owned (or knew someone with) a big collection, or worked at a radio station that hadn’t tossed everything out or been slammed shut by nervous college admins.

The internet hasn’t changed that very much. There’s a LOT more pop music history to be found, and heard, but it’s much more scattered — still found where you find it. I found this in The Urban Dictionary (of all places):

In the late 1950s and early ’60s, songwriters like the classically-trained Antonio Carlos “Tom” Jobim and the soft-voiced guitarist João Gilberto created a smoother, jazz-influenced version of the Samba — which itself was a product of the nation’s poorer classes. Middle-class Brazilians preferred the newer sound, which was dubbed Bossa Nova, or “The New Way.” Bossa Nova is velvet sophistication atop a feathery five-against-four rhythm, and is most famously epitomized by Gilberto’s “Girl from Ipanema.”

But before we get to that, let’s catch a glimpse of the era Bossa Nova landed in. Sherman, set the Wayback Machine to 1960. And, here we are.

To most Americans in the early 60s, the Caribbean and South America are pretty much out of sight, out of mind. We don’t know it but, musically, that’s about to change. Massively. Forever. Looking around in spacetime, we see a few earlier examples (!not all!) of Latin music made/recorded by charting artists.

Before Bossa

Stan Kenton’s 1947 cover of The Peanut Vendor (by the composer of ‘Guantanamera’)

In 1951 TV comedy “I Love Lucy” introduced us to volatile Cuban character Ricky Ricardo. His theme song Babalu, first published in 1939, was written by Lecuona, composer of mysterious 1929 song Siboney, longing for habanera.


Cuban Perez Prado started a Mambo craze with instrumental Cherry Pink in 1955.

Richey Valens dropped La Bamba.

Harry Belafonte sang his Day-O song about working on banana boats on 1956 album Calypso.

Thanks to US#2 Walk, Don’t Run, Tacoma surf-rock instrumentalists The Ventures chart with 1939 song Perfidia.

The dance craze (*there* is a whole ‘nother topic) caused Chubby Checker to introduce us to The Limbo (‘how low can you go?’).

Jamaica is about to become independent, and to export Ska to the UK — where the Beatles are still the Quarrymen — paving the way for Reggae.

After Bossa

A mysterious Michigan garage-band will top the US charts with a Vox organ and 69 Tears.

Latin rock group Santana will appear at Woodstock in August of ’69 and blow everyone away. They already have a brand-new debut album in a can. Good idea! (They will reap again with Abraxas in 1970.)

In 1970 folk-rockers Simon and Garfunkel will reprise 1913 Robles song El Condor Pasa, adding a haunting peruvian flute sound. They will enjoy an international #1 hit; it becomes possibly the best-known Peruvian song. (Wikipedia says 4000 versions exist.)

He invented Bossa Nova

The word ‘bossa’ dates to the 1930s, means trend, flair, charm; it became part of Rio’s artistic beach culture of the 1950s. 1959 sees the release of what’s considered the first bossa nova album: Chega de Saudade (‘enough longing’) by 28-year-old Brazilian singer-guitarist João Gilberto. Chega

The music is a fusion of samba and jazz, commonly played on guitars with nylon-strings (invented out of necessity during WW2). Gilberto wrote the first example, Bim-Bom, in 1956.

In 1962 Brazilian songwriter-pianist Tom Jobim’s bossa nova song, The Girl from Ipanema is first recorded. Girl In 1964 a version sung in English by João’s wife Astrud Gilberto charts at US#5 — setting it up to become one of the most recorded songs of all time. It wins the 1965 Grammy for Record of the Year, and turns ‘bossa’ into a major thing.

Gilberto’s albums include many songs by Jobim and Vinicius de Moraes. In 2001 the debut album is inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame and wins the Latin Grammy Hall of Fame Award. ( Website ) Jobim, Wave

See also: Sérgio Mendes, Os Mutantes, Xuxa, Rita Lee

Bossa consumes Jass

Top-selling US jazz musicians quickly leaped on Bossa Nova and started riding it around the world. Fortunately, because the marketplace easily turned Ipanema into elevator music (a classic joke in Blues Brothers) … and a major earworm.

In 1962, on album Jazz Samba, Stan Getz and Charlie Byrd turn Jobim’s Desafinado into a major hit (easy-listening US#4,UK#1) which earns Getz a Grammy.

Another album, Getz/Gilberto (mostly Jobim songs), goes big in 1964, becoming the first Grammy Award-winner (Best Album, Best Jazz, Best-Engineered) from non-American artists. AllMusic: Latin jazz

Some Bossa/Jazz videos of recordings from the era:

Dizzy, Chega, France 1962 Miles, Corcovado, 1963 Ella, Stardust Bossa, 1962 Dizzy, Desafinado Corea, Burton, Chega 2011 Getz, Chega, 1976