At Longreads, writer Tom Maxwell remembers Brazilian songwriter, masterful jazz guitarist, and bossa nova pioneer João Gilberto, who passed away in Rio de Janeiro on July 6th.
Gilberto almost single-handedly invented bossa nova — which translates from Portuguese as “new wave” — in the mid-1950s. He did so while isolated, during an ebb in his developing career. His intimate way of singing and playing would inspire every composer in the bossa nova genre, leading to incredible commercial success and the brief, if dazzling, resuscitation of jazz as a popular art form in America.
João Gilberto do Prado Pereira de Oliveira was born in Juazeiro, in the Brazilian state of Bahia, on June 10, 1931. From an early age he was utterly charming and only concerned with music. Singer Maria Bethânia described him as “simply … music. He plays. He sings. Without stopping. Day and night. He is very, very strange. But he is the most fascinating being, the most fascinating person, that I have encountered on the surface of the earth. João, he is mystery. He hypnotizes.”
Issued by Verve and produced by Creed Taylor, 1964’s Getz/Gilberto, the landmark LP from Philadelphia-born jazz saxophonist Stan Getz and guitarist Gilberto, helped spread the gospel of bossa nova for an American audience that was already hooked on the genre. It won multiple Grammy Awards and saw singer Astrud Gilberto’s rocketing to international fame by way of “The Girl From Ipanema” leading off the album. As Maxwell notes in his Longreads remembrance, the record hit stores not long after Getz’s and guitarist Charlie Byrd’s Jazz Samba, which stormed radio charts and sold more than a half a million copies in less than two years.
In January, I wrote about a new book on the Getz/Gilberto album and photojournalist Pete Turner’s immersive jazz album cover art.