This music that is so favored by jazz musicians as an improvisational vehicle, is alive and well in the world of jazz. You might be hard pressed to find any jazz perfomance that does not include at least one or two of Jobim's songs on their playlist. Jobim's modification of the Brazilian samba was skyrocketed by Stan Getz and Charlie Byrd with the Verve 1962 album, Jazz Samba, which included one of Jobim's best known songs, Desafinado. It was followed by the 1963 Getz,Gilberto, Jobim & Astrud album with Girl from Ipanema on it. It wasn't long before Dizzy Gillespie, Gerry Mulligan, Miles Davis, Gil Evans and even Frank Sinatra were performing his compositions. That was just the beginning. They are enjoyed equally well when performed by trio or full jazz big band. Jobim's songs never lose their appeal.
Tom (Jobim's life-long nick name), developed the bossa nova sound from the inspiration of the passionate street sambas that were played throughout Brazil. Bossa nova is another path down the samba road; more concise, less noisy, washed, filtered and smoothed with a delicate, sophisicated beat. The lyrics are poetic, both sly and heart-wrenching, with their influences drenched in Brazilian-Portuguese culture. It is forward moving and incredibly structured, but oh so natural sounding to the ear.
Many lyrics to Jobim's songs were written by Vincius de Moraes. Some lyrics are so personal in nature, like in Insensatez (How Insensitive), you say, "Yeah, that is exactly how my lover treated me" You find Brazilian humor in other lyrics. Jobim explained that the lyrics to Desafinado (meaning off key) were a joke--fun poked at traditional older singers and songwriters who criticized bossa nova composers. The traditionalists said that these new songs were hard to sing. They said they were "crooked": Desafinado contains a melody note that is a flatted fifth, one of the hallmarks of bebop. In F, the second chord of the song is G7?5, with the melody landing on the D-flat. This note drove conventional Brazilian singers crazy, Jobim said. As explained, the whole bossa nova controversy reminds one of the bebop vs. moldy fig animosity in jazz.
Most of the Portuguese lyrics were translated into English by Gene Lees. Some of their reconstruction was approximated, but nevertheless fairly close to the orginal. Desafinado is about a girl of flawless character who looks down her nose at her boyfriend, who is singing the song. Thus, the first verse goes:
Every time I sing, you say I'm off key,
Why can't you see how much this hurts me?
With your perfect beauty and your perfect pitch,
You're a perfect (pause for a silent rhyme) terror.
When I come around,
Must you always put me down?
One thing Jobim admitted was if he had stayed in Brazil, he wouldn't have made it past the corner bar, where he would be sitting around drinking beer. However, with the urging of a Brazilian diplomat who had a vision to promote Brazilian music on the world stage, on November 22, 1962, Jobim flew his prominent Brazilian musicians to New York to do a concert in Carnegie Hall. Everything that could go wrong at the concert did. A hideous review and the harsh New York weather sent most of his entourage beating a path back to Brazil. But, Jobim and Joâo Gilberto stayed to survive the cold and do their first album with Stan Getz. From that moment on, bossa nova took root in becoming a full-blown love affair in the United States.
I remember seeing him for the first time on televison. I think it was on one of those Frank Sinatra weekly shows. He played the guitar rather than the piano. Lord, he was so handsome and his music put me to bed with love sickness. That was shortly after FAS did his fantastic 1967 Reprise album FAS and ACJ with Jobim's popular Corcovado featured. Of course, not wanting to knock the Chairman of the Board off his pedestal, I much prefer hearing Tom and Astrud Gilberto with Stan Getz do Corcovado. It is a Jobim classic that describes the scene out a window that overlooks the beautiful mountain, Corcovado (meaning hunchback), and the sea--a dream of spending the rest of his life with the woman he loved viewing this beautiful landscape in quiet solitude. But hey, if Frank loved it, you know it is good. Astrud Gilberto, and later, Elis Regina, sang on many of Jobim's albums and their duets with him are extremely beautiful in the romantic Portuguese.
It is essential to hear the translated lyrics to such wonderful compositions as Aguas de Marco (Waters of March), Vivo Sonhando (Dreamer), Chega de Saudade (No More Blues) Anos Dourados (Looks like December) Triste (Sadness) and O Grande Amor (A Grand Love) to help you appreciate Jobim's compositions further. The music and lyrics compliment one another.
While the bossa nova cooled down in the early sixties, Jobim returned to his home in Brazil, but still came to New York to record many outstanding albums. He started touring again in 1985 with rave reviews and just as it happens with those truly gifted few, they are not truly recognized for the outstanding contributions and innovations they gave to the world of music until later in life. Such was the case with Antonio Carlos Jobim.
When Jobim died of a sudden heart attack in New York on December 8, 1994, the world was a little colder for it. His body was flown to Galeâo, Brazil and the casket, drapped with a Brazilian flag, was carried throughout the city for four hours to a parade of hundreds of crying followers. He was laid to rest in Sâo Joâo Batista Cementary overlooking Corcovado in a tomb near his friend and lyricist, Vinicius de Moraes.
The Gershwin of Brazil's outstanding musical contribution to jazz in the twentieth century is an essential must-have for your jazz library. After you have bought your Verve Jazz Master #13 and hear a small sampling of Jobim's artistry you will be hooked. You can then wind your way down the samba path all the way to two excellent discographies, Man from Ipanema and Girl from Ipanema. Just don't forget to catch the Wave along the way.
Bibliography: The Gene Lees Jazzletter, April and May 1995