The Story of Bossa Nova is a remarkable story. The film Black Orpheus introduced bossa nova to the world. In 1958, Frenchman Marcel Camus expanded on a musical play to create an unparalleled cinematic experience. Set in Rio during Carnaval, there was nothing like Black Orpheus which quickly became an international favorite.
An unceasing stream of Brazilian rhythms flow through the entire movie. Like the magic in the film, bossa nova is shown as the force moving all of life in Rio de Janeiro. Brazilian composers including Antonio Carlos Jobim shaped the smooth, spellbinding music. The score featured a new form of samba named bossa nova (“new wave”) by its creator, Joao Gilberto.
Bossa nova was born into his hands on the shores of the Sao Francisco River. Gilberto watched laundresses gracefully balancing loads of laundry on their heads passing by him on their way to the river to wash clothes. He tried to imitate their swaying steps rhythmically using the soft tones of his guitar.
The Story of Bossa Nova rightfully opens with “Chega de Saudade.” When Jobim met with Gilberto and heard his work, a lifelong collaboration with bossa nova began. The beat clarified the rhythm of samba, allowing space for the modern harmonies Jobim was working with. Jobim revised a song he had written to work in the new rhythm, and “Chega de Saudade” is recognized as the song that really launched bossa nova.
Back in 1958, when “Chega de Saudade” was first played for an important client in the Odeon record company offices, he pulled the record off the turntable and smashed it. The Odeon sales staff pleaded reason, saying the music was modern and young people would like it. He reconsidered and the beat began building. The bossa nova was not as popular in Rio at the time as might seem from the film. When first appearing in Brazil in the late ‘50s, the music was rejected by critics and generally ignored by the public. Taken up first by white middle class youth in Rio, bossa nova eventually was accepted in Brazil because the music was adored in other countries.
West Coast jazz aficionados early embraced the cool sound as emotionally similar to their own music. L.A.‘s Stan Getz won several major hits for bossa nova, especially when his velvety sounds combined with those of Joao and Astrud Gilberto for the famous “Garota de Ipanema” (Girl from Ipanema).
Bossa nova described by Jobim is a sophisticated distillation which “removed the excess of percussionists.” Played with a light touch, the constantly moving rhythm stammers and delays as other parts move forward. Bossa nova demands dexterity to play but is harder yet to sing. The vocal style developed by Joao is a demanding use of breath, exhalations and whispers of soft Portuguese. Performed well, bossa nova is a trip to paradise for the listener.
The Story of Bossa Nova features 20 of the best-known songs in their original versions. The record celebrates Antonio Carlos Jobim, the best-known name in bossa nova and a prolific composer. Odeon’s history with bossa nova started near the beginning, and there is a wealth of Jobim’s work in the EMI-Odeon catalog. Forty years after its inception, bossa nova is now regarded as a hallowed tradition in Brazil. The Story of Bossa Nova is presented with genuine love for the music and its creators.
// Notes from the Road
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