Agence France-Presse - 8/15/2008 4:03 PM GMT
Brazil celebrates half-century of silky Bossa Nova music
Bossa Nova, Brazil's unique mix of jazz and samba, celebrates 50 years this month with shows by one of the genre's pioneers, Joao Gilberto, who brought "The Girl from Ipanema" to the world.
The three concerts by 77-year-old Gilberto in Rio and Sao Paulo sold out within an hour of going on sale Thursday, testifying to the lasting appeal and inspiration of both the silky music and the singer's hypnotically breathy performance.
Gilberto -- the surviving member of the trio behind Bossa Nova that also counted composer Tom Jobim and poet Vinicius de Moraes -- has not sung in public in Brazil for five years.
His reputation, though, has never diminished, ever since August 1958 when his singular voice and guitar playing appeared on "Chega de Saudade" (Enough Longing, or, more commonly in English, "No More Blues"), a tune by Jobim and Moraes.
That was the first track to lay out the cool, intimate harmonies of Bossa Nova that add complexity to samba's more basic rhythms, giving it a jazz evolution whose impact has been felt over decades.
US jazz greats Stan Getz and Charlie Byrd fell under its sway and added to its popularity.
But it was a 1962 worldwide hit by Gilberto, with his then-wife Astrud and Getz, that became the Bossa Nova standard.
"A Garota de Ipanema", adapted to English as "The Girl from Ipanema", was picked up by many singers, including Frank Sinatra.
It was said to have been inspired by a tall, beautiful 15-year-old girl who frequented the Ipanema cafe where Jobim and Moraes hung out, and who "When she walks, she's like a samba / That swings so cool and sways so gentle."
In 1963, the English version of the song raced up international charts. "We only lost to the Beatles. And there were four of them," wryly remarked Jobim.
Back when Bossa Nova started, it epitomized the indolence and desire for change among Brazil's youth, especially the middle class.
Soon, it found a larger audience through the soundtrack in the 1959 French-directed Brazilian movie "Black Orpheus", which helped turn the page on the Hollywood-peddled image of Brazil as a tropical song-and-dance set inhabited by Carmen Miranda in a fruit hat.
Bossa Nova spread everywhere from the mid-1960s, from Copacabana apartments to New York jazz clubs.
"Listening to Joao Gilberto was like a revelation. I listened to 'Chega de Saudade' for hours and hours without pause and I just couldn't believe that someone could sing like that," said one of the more prominent disciples of the genre, Caetano Veloso.
In 1962, Gilberto, Jobim and other Brazilian musicians such as Carlos Lyra, Sergio Mendes and Luiz Bonfa performed in New York's Carnegie Hall in a high-profile Bossa Nova concert. US legends Miles Davis and Dizzie Gillespie were in the audience.
In Rio de Janeiro today, Bossa Nova has been supplanted by other genres, notably other samba variations and US-style hip-hop or rock.
But it can still be heard, a persistent note characterizing Brazil's iconically beautiful seaside city.
"Today, there are a lot more albums than 40 years ago. It (Bossa Nova) is not at the top of the charts, but it is still a style picked up by people of all ages," said Ruy Castro, an author of several books on music.
Lyra, the singer and composer who appeared in Carnegie Hall 46 years ago, was less generous.
"If somebody asks me today where they can hear Bossa Nova in Rio, I say 'nowhere'. The music is more popular in Japan and Europe than in Brazil," he said.
A Garota de Ipanema (The Girl from Ipanema)
Performance by Sitti Navarro*
The Girl from Ipanema
*Filipino Bossa Nova Artist