Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music



A musical form developed in Brazil in the late 1950s, sweeping the world and entering the currency of popular music. In retrospect, songs such as those of pianists Johnny Alf (b Alfredo José de Silva, 19 May 1929, Rio de Janeiro; d 4 March 2010, Santo André, near São Paulo) and João Donato (b 17 August 1934, Rio Branco in the state of Acre) and guitarist Luiz Bonfá (b 17 October 1922; d 12 January 2001) had been pointing the way with a new sensibility. The term was used in 1958 in a news-sheet about a concert at the Grupo Universitário Hebraico; the word 'bossa' had long been used by Brazilian musicians to describe anyone who was doing something different and impressive.

Among many developments, one of the most important was the way singer/ guitarist João Gilberto found new rhythms to play on his instrument (he gave Bonfá as an influence); there was a desire on the part of Brazilians to diversify samba rhythms and a gathering reaction against the tyranny of the accordion in favour of the guitar, which has dominated Brazilian popular music ever since. Other factors were the impact of cool jazz from the West Coast of the USA and of certain pop records, such as Peggy Lee's 'Fever' and Julie London's 'Cry Me A River' (which was accompanied by a solo guitar played by Barney Kessel), and the emergence of new songwriting talents, notably composer Tom Jobim and lyricists Vinícius de Moraes and Newton Mendonça. The classic bossa nova song was 'Chega de Saudade' ('That's Enough Nostalgia') by Jobim and Moraes, on an album of the same title '58 by João Gilberto (Ruy Castro's book on the subject has the same title, published in São Paulo '90). Other important songs '58-63 were 'Só Danço Samba', 'Samba do Avião' and 'Garota de Ipanema', all by Jobim and Moraes; Jobim's 'Corcovado', 'Samba de Bêncão' by Baden Powell and Moraes, and the apologia for bossa nova, 'Desafinado' ('Out Of Tune') by Jobim and Mendonça ('If you insist upon classifying/My behaviour as anti-musical/I, even lying, must argue/That this is bossa nova, this is very natural...Deep in our breasts there silently beats/In the breasts of the desafinados/A heart also beats'). Bossa nova was of course not out of tune, but used the harmonies of U.S. jazz of the period, then little known in Brazil.

Other important musicians in the early bossa days were songwriters Ronaldo Bôscoli, Roberto Menescal and Carlinhos Lyra; singers Jorge Ben with his bossa-samba rhythms, Nara Leão (until she joined the 'music of protest' camp) and initially the young Roberto Carlos. Guitarist Bola Sete (b Djalma de Andrade, 16 July 1928, Rio; d 14 February 1987) came to the USA '59, played at the Monterey Jazz Festival with Dizzy Gillespie, made albums of his own and with Vince Guaraldi; percussionist Airto (Moreira) and his wife, vocalist Flora Purim, were among those who brought a Brazilian influence to the West Coast scene. Guitarist Baden Powell (b Baden Powell de Aquino, 6 August 1937; d 26 September 26 2000) wrote 'Samba Triste' ('Sad Samba') '59 with Billy Branco, sessioned on bossa nova albums and wrote a great many songs with Moraes, including 'Samba de Benção' ('Blessing samba') featured in the film A Man And A Woman '66. Guitarist and songwriter Oscar Castro-Neves (b 15 May 1940, Rio; d 27 September 2013, Los Angeles) played at a historic Carnegie Hall concert, toured with American stars and made a career composing for film and television.

Of the U.S. musicians who played bossa nova, tenor saxophonist Stan Getz was the most successful, his hit albums of the era still selling today. The version of 'Garota de Ipanema', 'The Girl From Ipanema', recorded by Getz and João Gilberto, with English lyrics by Norman Gimbel and sung by Astrud Gilberto, was an international hit and won a Grammy in 1965. Many of the Brazilians achieved worldwide fame: Baden Powell made many albums in Europe, and Luiz Bonfá came back with Non-Stop To Brazil '89 on Chesky, while Tom Jobim made an album and a half with Frank Sinatra, among the best of Sinatra's later work. Bossa's international success vitalized Brazilian music, soon called MPB (música popular brasileira), whose eclectic experimentation included just about everything.