Artist: Stan Getz and Joao Gilberto
Released: Verve Records, 1964
This collection of vinyl that once was my father's but now belongs to me is more than just a sentimental link to a man I never knew. What he amassed over twenty years or so now stands as something of an archive of jazz history. It isn't unique -- I'm sure there are thousands of people like me who have collections that were passed down from jazz lovers like my father -- but it's still important.
Some of the records I've already written about -- and lots yet to come -- are obvious classics. Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Billie Holiday, Dave Brubeck, and more are well represented, and if you look at someone's list of the "best jazz records of all-time," you can be sure that ninety percent of them are in my collection. (There is, however, one glaring omission, something I'll write about at some point.)
But it's the unexpected records that have been the most interesting. I'd never heard of Chico Hamilton, for example, until I pulled out his record and discovered it had been recorded twenty minutes from my house.
And there's today's record. I was familiar with Stan Getz, but I knew nothing about Joao Gilberto until I started spinning their collaboration. When I first began this project my idea was that I would take out a record on Sunday morning and write about it in the moment as I listened for the first time. That plan didn't last long. Now I typically listen to the record all week before doing some research and eventually writing about it over the weekend. It's a much deeper experience, and the immersion has been wonderful.
Listening to Getz/Gilberto over the past several days has been interesting. The music has slowly grown on me, becoming more interesting with each passing day. Getz's tenor sax is smooth and relaxing, and Gilberto's lyrics are melodic syllables devoid of meaning, unless you speak Portuguese, but rich in emotion.
This is consistently ranked as one of the best jazz albums of all time, and probably not just because of what we hear on the record. The cover exclaims, "America's top jazz tenor joins Brazil's great young singer in the most exciting album of the year." Indeed, this album began the explosion of bossa nova, not just in the United States but around the world. It's an easy listening genre that fits nicely into the background of a dinner party but is still worthy of a close listen with a set of headphones.
You might not think you know bossa nova, but I assure you that you do. The opening track of this record is one of the most famous songs ever recorded, "The Girl from Ipanema." It's estimated that it has been recorded more times than any pop single save the Beatles' "Yesterday," and I'm certain that everyone reading this could easily hum along and perhaps sing some of the lyrics.
Tall and tan and young and lovely
The girl from Ipanema goes walking
And when she passes
Each one she passes goes, "Ah."
The song and those lyrics are so ubiquitous that they've become a cliché, but this was the first recording. Joao Gilberto sings the first few verses in Portuguese, but then Astrud Gilberto, his wife and the only bilingual Brazillian in the studio at the time, finishes with the familiar English lyrics. It's a time capsule from another century, but it swings in any era.
The lyrics were written by Vinicius de Moraes (Portuguese) and Norman Gimbel (English). Gimbel's verses aren't direct translations of what Moraes wrote, but they extend the theme. Moraes was inspired by an actual girl, Helô Pinheiro, who often walked past a bar he frequented, drawing the attention -- and whistles -- of the patrons. Years later, Moraes wrote that she was "the paradigm of the young... golden teenage girl, a mixture of flower and mermaid, full of light and grace, the sight of whom is also sad, in that she carries with her, on her route to the sea, the feeling of youth that fades, of the beauty that is not ours alone—it is a gift of life in its beautiful and melancholic constant ebb and flow."
Moraes was not the first to write about fleeting beauty. In William Shakespeare's "Sonnet 18" he writes to a (possible) love interest, one who possesses beauty so pure that not even time can steal it away.
And every fair from fair sometimes declines,
By chance, or nature's changing course, untrimmed;
But thy eternal summer shall not fade...
Like Moraes centuries hence, Shakespeare found inspiration in beauty. His muse might have been a young man in London while Moraes's was a teenage girl in Rio de Janeiro, but the message is the same. Some things are timeless; some beauty never fades.
It's clear, however, that Moraes wasn't familiar with the sonnet, or at least that he wasn't as bold as the Bard. In Shakespeare's closing couplet he reveals the secret behind his inspiration's immortality:
So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.
Shakespeare knew then that his sonnet would live forever and keep that moment in time alive, along with his subject's beauty. Four centuries later, we know he was right. Moraes might not have had such aspirations when he wrote his lyrics, but the result has been the same. Thanks to his original lyrics, Gimbel's English addition, and the work here of Getz and both Gilbertos, the girl from Ipanema will always be "Tall and tan and young and lovely." Always.
The Girl from Ipanema
Para Machucar Meu Coração
Só Danço Samba
O Grande Amor