João Gilberto (1931-2019) was a legendary Brazilian guitarist and singer who was a pioneer of Bossa Nova music. Gilberto partnered with Brazilian songwriter Antonio Carlos Jobim (1927 – 1994) and American saxophonist Stan Getz on popular Bossa Nova recordings in the 1960s, including the hit record The Girl From Ipanema (1962) Their mix of traditional samba with contemporary jazz created a new style of music that quickly caught on in the USA. In 1965, their album Getz/Gilberto won Grammy Awards for Album of the Year, Record of the Year, Best Jazz Instrumental Album, and Best-Engineered Album.
Getz/Gilberto went on to become one of the bestselling jazz records of all time, selling more than two million copies in 1964. The Girl From Ipanema has become a standard in the Jazz and Pop worlds. It remains the second-most recorded song in history behind The Beatles‘ Yesterday.
The sway of Gilberto’s guitar and his unhurried vocals underpinned with longing as he sings The Girl From Ipanema in Portuguese played on my sound system when I heard that he died on Saturday, July 6, in Rio, gone at 88-years-old. Gilberto’s recordings have created a lasting image of a sensuous and sophisticated Brazil.
Since its appearance on the album Getz/Gilberto, The Girl From Ipanema, written by Jobim, with lyrics by Vinicius de Moraes and, in English, by Norman Gimbel, has been recorded by everyone from Frank Sinatra to Amy Winehouse, including The Supremes, Peggy Lee, Shirley Bassey, Sergio Mendes, Eartha Kitt, Herb Alpert, Ella Fitzgerald and Oscar Peterson, among many, many others.
You might think that the music of Gilberto sounds like it might belong in the “Easy Listening” category. it is often used as parody of “Elevator Music”, but it is much richer than that. It really is unusually calm, and even at fast tempos, Gilberto’s voice is hushed, thin, and quiet. His rhythm guitar anchors the music with accompaniment that can seem almost hypnotically repetitive. His songs are that sublime mix of contentedness and yearning common throughout Brazilian music. But beneath that pleasant palette, Gilberto brought a quiet, a lithe, strikingly modern approach to rhythm and melody that became the blueprint for Bossa Nova.
Gilberto deserves to be remembered as the patron saint of understatement.