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BOSSA NOVA—A MUSICAL UTOPIA 

FRANK SINATRA WAS introducing “The Girl from Ipanema” on the SiriusXM channel appropriately called “Siriusly Sinatra.” He said his accompanist would be Antônio Carlos Jobim, the guy who invented bossa nova. 

Frank Sinatra and Antônio Carlos Jobim. Image from npr.org

It’s rare that an individual can be so definitively associated with birth of a musical genre. Who, for example, invented jazz? 

Come to think of it, there is a story of how jazz cornetist Joe “King” Oliver got his nickname: He said (or is this apocryphal?), “I had me some cards printed up.” 

On the other hand, there’s musicological evidence linking Antônio Carlos Jobim with the birth of bossa nova. In researching SimanaitisSays “Swine Studio’s Fordlandia,” I encountered Karel Veselý’s essay “Music as Utopia and Dystopia: Bossa Nova, Motown, and Techno in the Shadow of Fordlandia.”

Catalog for Studio Swine’s Fordlandia, published by the Fashion Space Gallery and Centre for Fashion Curation, London College of Fashion, 2016.

Karel Veselý is a researcher at Soapbox Labs and at the Czech Republic’s Brno University of Technology. He has co-authored scads of papers about language and neural networks. 

Here are tidbits about bossa nova gleaned from Veselý’s essay.

Brazil’s 1955 Presidential Election. “Juscelino Kubitschek,” Veselý wrote, “took office the following January, and the subsequent economic boom helped him infect the entire country with his optimism. The flagship program of his immense Plan of National Development (Plano de metas) was the building of a new capital city, Brasilia.” 

“The rising Brazil of President Kubitschek,” Veselý continued, “required a new, optimistic, light-footed, and modern music, which it found in bossa nova. “

Gilberto and Jobim. The samba-canção (samba song), melancholy with bittersweet lyrics of unrequited love, gave way to bossa nova. Veselý wrote, “The genre’s spiritual father was the young guitarist João Gilberto, who came from the countryside at age 27 in the same year that Kubitschek took office. His distinctive, airy guitar style and soulful vocals caught the attention of Antônio Carlos Jobim, a pianist, composer and producer, two years his senior, who had been pondering how to move Brazil’s music into a new era.”

Above, João Alberto Prado Pereira de Oliveira, 1931–2019, Brazilian singer, songwriter, and guitarist. Image, 2006, by Tuca Vieira from Wikipedia. Below, Antonio Carlos Brasileiro de Almeida Jobim, 1927–1994, Brazilian composer, pianist, guitarist, songwriter, arranger, and singer. Image, 1965, from Arquivo Nacional via Wikipedia.

No More Blues. In 1958, Jobim recorded “Chega de Saudade” (loosely, “No More Blues”) and Gilberto made it famous in a 1959 album. Veselý said that the album “ignited a musical revolution that combined the syncopated guitar rhythms of samba with the complex melodies of cool jazz. The music of Gilberto and Jobim mixed the Modernism of American jazz with the repetitions of Brazilian tradition, the grand ambitions of Kubitschek’s Brazil with the country’s past.” 

A Beach Girl. Veselý wrote, “Bossa nova (‘the new trend’) first took root amongst Rio’s youth population, known as cariocas, in the bohemian neighbourhoods of Copacabana, Leblon, and Ipanema.”

This last locale was made world famous by the song “Garota de Ipanema,” (“The Girl from Ipanema”), which won a 1965 Grammy for Record of the Year. 

In 2012, The Guardian talked with the real-life girl from Ipanema.

Concluding Details: “The city of Brasilia,” Veselý wrote, ‘was officially opened in 1960, but Kubitschek’s dreams of his country’s unending prosperity were slowly beginning to crumble…. In 1964, the Government was overthrown by a U.S.-supported military coup, and Kubitschek, fearing for his life, fled the country.”

Veselý continued, “But the soundtrack from his era continued to spread throughout the world, and to this day bossa nova remains perhaps the most popular modern Brazilian musical genre in the world, and it will forever evoke the optimistic utopian era in which it was born.” ds

 © Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2022

3 comments on “BOSSA NOVA—A MUSICAL UTOPIA 

  1. Mark W
    March 3, 2022

    Though it (like the rest of my youth) is far in the past now, at least the girl from Ipanima really was lovely.

  2. Phil Pilcher
    March 3, 2022

    The poet Vinicius De Moraes, who wrote the lyrics to “Chega de Saudade” and other bossa nova classics, also played a large role in moving traditional samba toward a more modern sensibility. Also, the quiet guitar accompaniment and soft vocal delivery of bossa nova were in part a response to the cramped apartments where Jobim and others gathered after the clubs that they were playing in closed. The neighbors would not tolerate loud music in the wee hours, so they adapted.

    Another piece of trivia: Stan Getz, saxophonist on “Girl From Ipanema” recorded “Desafinado” and other bossa nova tunes in 1963. The resulting album “Jazz Samba” remains the only instrumental jazz record to reach number one on the Billboard chart.

  3. Bob DuBois
    March 3, 2022

    Speaking of the originator of jazz, it originally wasn’t “jazz”, but “jass”. I forget when the change in spelling took place.

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