Jobim, Master Therapist
(January 25, 1927 - December 8, 1994)
The day after Jobim died I was in a store, trying, as usual, to ignore their Muzak. Suddenly they started playing "Ipanema" in one of those murderously perky arrangements. It was so awful, especially coming after all the recent gorgeous airplay of his work, that I didn't know whether to laugh or cry "some tribute!" I thought. But then I realized that it truly was: it was proof that Jobim's music had thoroughly pervaded our culture, from the top all the way to the bottom.
Millions of words have been written about why his songs will be covered forever, and why they're still fresh four decades after they were written. His signature harmonies continue to inspire jazz musicians, and his soft, tropical sound is known and loved all over the world. But Jobim's influence is more than musical: he was also a therapist, dispensing a wise perspective on dealing with pain.
Jobim knew that music and pain are related; he once said that, "to be a musician in Brazil, you must be blessed with a strong dose of suffering otherwise you'd never have a reason to leave the beach." He himself had to leave it after breaking his back; perhaps his legacy of 400+ songs was the result.
These songs are always poignant; but while they acknowledge suffering, they soften its edges with the gentle hope of swing. After all, his most famous tune "Ipanema" for all its bounce, is really a testament to unrequited love. "Triste" (sad) is danceable; "Felicidade" (happiness) is wistful; and even when he dips into melancholy, he never wallows there. "Insensatez" describes the classic blues moment of ending a love affair, but Jobim gives it tenderness and lilt.
In fact, even being a little off-key "Desafinado" can be an advantage. "People who are always in tune," he once said, "are never in love." Jobim embraced the shifting imbalance in life, showing us the impossibility of being purely sad or purely happy. Like a good therapist, Jobim illuminates the play between opposites; like a master therapist, he integrates them into a coherent whole. All psychological insights should be this beautiful.
Note: One of the best compilations of words and music is on Antonio Carlos Jobim: The Man from Ipanema, a 3-CD set which includes 55 tracks from the Verve and A&M vaults, as well as essays and lengthy interviews with Jobim, Oscar Castro-Neves, and Creed Taylor (Polygram, 1995).