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'Getz/Gilberto' Turns 50


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In early 1963, the bossa nova was still a novelty in the U.S.—something like “cha-cha-cha lite." Yes, a year earlier Stan Getz had released Jazz Samba—which became a hit album with a hit single, Desafinado—and Dave Brubeck had released Bossa Nova USA. But both albums were really jazz interpretations of the real thing being recorded with gusto by Brazilian artists in Rio de Janeiro for labels like Odeon and Philips. The album that would change everything by transforming the bossa nova from a foreign fluke to a national sensation wouldn't be released until March 1964—a full year after it was recorded. That album was Getz/Gilberto (Verve), which this spring celebrates its 50th anniversary and has just been released digitally in mono for the first time along with stereo.

As I write in new release's liner notes, one of the most beautiful and timeless albums ever recorded was the result of a series of wonderful accidents. And the bossa nova craze that followed was the product of artist reluctance, battling egos and jazz and pop's search for a common formula that would appeal to young adults too old for the Beatles and too young for Al Hirt. The title I put on the notes says it all—Disquiet Nights of Reluctant Stars.

Back in late 1953 and early '54, West Coast jazz saxophonist Bud Shank and Brazilian guitarist Laurindo Almeida along with bassist Harry Babasin and drummer Roy Harte recorded a pair of Brazilian-themed 10-inch albums. The music pre-dated bossa nova but it was a relaxed jazz interpretation of Brazilian music at the time. When musicians in Rio like Joao Gilberto, Luiz Bonfa and Antonio Carlos Jobim heard those albums and other West Coast jazz recordings, particularly those by trumpeter-singer Chet Baker, they tried to bring the same sort of cool vulnerability to the samba, with drummers mixing the brush and stick together to soften and surf-up the beat.

By 1957 and '58, the bossa nova had become a youthful folk movement in Rio. It was performed in the coffee houses and wine bars along the Beco das Garrafas, or “Bottles Alley," where bossa artists like those mentioned above and Johnny Alf performed and patrons sat and listened instead of danced. In 1959, the music gained global recognition when the music of Jobim, Bonfa and Gilberto was featured on the soundtrack of the French film Black Orpheus.

The Cuban Revolution of 1959 only accelerated the bossa nova movement. Fearful that Cuban-style Communism would take root throughout Latin and South America, the U.S. State Department began forging close cultural and commercial ties with countries like Brazil. In 1961, the U.S. government sponsored a three-month concert tour by a group of jazz musicians to South America.

When jazz guitarist Charlie Byrd returned from the tour in '61, he had a stack of bossa nova albums on his lap. In New York, he played them for Verve producer Creed Taylor, who in turn urged a newly signed Stan Getz to give a listen. Getz did and grudgingly agreed to record Jazz Samba in February 1962. But according to vibraphonist Gary Burton, who would join the Stan Getz Quartet in early 1964, Getz was unhappy with the results, despite the album's moderate success. Gary told me that Getz didn't feel the recording had the right authentic groove and wanted to record with bona fide bossa nova musicians like the ones he heard on Byrd's albums.

That opportunity came in November 1962, when a bossa nova concert was staged at New York's Carnegie Hall. According to Monica Getz, Stan's wife, Joao Gilberto and his wife Astrud stayed with the Getzs at their home in suburban New York, where, Monica said, she heard Astrud sing for the first time. Stan Getz didn't perform at the concert, which was purely for Brazilian musicians and a rather miserable show thanks to poor production and miking. When you listen to the album today, which remains largely a bore, you realize that Creed Taylor's vision for the bossa nova was miles ahead of the concert promoters in terms of how to leverage and package the Brazilian sound for the American market. The Brazilians on stage clearly thought that the music's future rested in a rhythmic folk form rather than exploiting its melodic excitement. Creed realized early that the bossa nova's success hinged on its ability to generate hits—catchy songs that could be combined with jazz, played on the radio and hummed by listeners.

Following Jazz Samba in '62, Creed had recorded Big Band Bossa Nova with Getz, but without gaining much traction. It was brassy and inventively arranged by Gary McFarland, but the album failed to capture the imagination of its intended market. In February '63, after the bossa nova concert at Carnegie Hall, Getz recorded Jazz Samba Encore! with Luiz Bonfa and other Brazilian bossa nova artists who had lingered in New York after the concert. Getz/Gilberto was next in March as Creed moved rapidly to stay a step ahead of other labels and catch Brazilian artists before they headed back to Rio.

Getz/Gilberto was recorded over two days at Phil Ramone's A&R Recording in New York on 48th St. off Sixth Ave. At first, Joao Gilberto didn't show up for the session. Fearful of public spaces, Gilberto was holed up in his hotel room nearby. So Creed sent Monica Getz, his house host, to fetch him. When she went up to his room, Gilberto was playing his guitar in the dark. She eventually coaxed him into a cab and they traveled two blocks to the studio.

While Monica Getz was away on her mission, Creed told me, the rest of the band rehearsed. That's when he heard Astrud singing along in the control room. Eager to capture one or two singles from the session to support the album when it was released, Creed had Norman Gimbel write English lyrics to The Girl From Ipanema. Gimbel's lyrics were in Creed's pocket at the session. Since Joao didn't speak a word of English, Creed suggested that Astrud give the song a shot in English. The rest of the group was ambivalent and agreeable. [Above, Stan Getz and Astrud Gilberto]

Once Joao arrived, it was settled that Astrud would sing Ipanema and Corcovado, which already had English lyrics by Gene Lees. When the two-day recording session was completed, Creed put the tapes on the shelf. He wanted Jazz Samba Encore!, recorded earlier, to have more running room to rack up sales. In the meantime, Creed made a strategic decision. He used Astrud's recording of The Girl From Ipanema as a demo to coax Sarah Vaughan into recording the song to build an advance audience for Ipanema in the jazz market. Releasing a single of an unknown song by an unknown singer like Astrud Gilberto was just too risky.

But as the late Phil Ramone told me when I interviewed him in 2010, Vaughan sat on the single. She wasn't taken by the song or Astrud's uncertain, out-of-tune girlish voice. (Eventually Vaughan would record the song as The Boy From Ipanema in the summer of '64, but not until after versions by Peggy Lee and Ella Fitzgerald came on the heels of Gilberto's hit release.)

But by the end of 1963, before Getz/Gilberto's release, Creed had a bigger problem. The bossa nova albums he was releasing by Getz were good but they weren't catching on in significant enough numbers with jazz or pop fans. For the release of Getz/Gilberto, Creed would need more lift, so he urged Getz to form a working quartet that would tour in support of the album. [Pictured above, Stan Getz and Gary Burton]

Uneasy about drifting further into the pop universe and being viewed by his core fans as a sell-out, Getz reluctantly agreed but hired vibraphonist Gary Burton, bassist Gene Cherico and drummer Joe Hunt. With this quartet, Stan knew he could perform the bossa Creed needed as well as the jazz he wanted to play. By the time Getz/Gilberto was released in March 1964, the quartet was in sync.

Within months after its release, Getz/Gilberto hit #1 and The Girl From Ipanema became a #1 summer single. The bossa nova was finally a national sensation in the States, grabbing its fame just before the Beatles' first tour in August '64 and the rhythm would soon be featured on thousands of albums and singles. As I write in my liner notes: “When Getz/Gilberto clinched four Grammy Awards—album of the year, record of the year (for Ipanema), best instrumental jazz performance (for Getz) and best engineered recording—a wave of American bossa-themed jazz albums, pop singles and movie soundtracks followed. Overnight, Astrud Gilberto was viewed as a Pan-American cross between Audrey Hepburn and Sophia Lauren, with a dash of Annette Funicello."

By the summer of '64, “Gilberto" on the album's title came to mean Astrud, not Joao. Gilberto's accidental stardom was somewhat reluctant. Nudged into service in March 1963, Asturd's voice was technically amateurish but she managed to win hearts with her lush innocence and unpretentious charm. Getz also was a reluctant star, keeping the bossa nova at arm's length until he finally realized that it paid the bills.

Friction between Getz and Astrud Gilberto only grew on tours, as Getz became frustrated with Gilberto's lack of musicianship and young audiences' admiration for her. An affair between Getz and Gilberto didn't help. As Gary told me:

“Astrud was an intuitive singer who knew a handful of songs. The format was that she’d sing and Stan would noodle softly behind her and then take a solo. One night in 1966, he was walking around behind her noodling as she was singing. At one point, he put the bell next to her and blew a steamship whistle, which startled her and produced a yelp. She lost her place. A tune or two later, Stan turned to me before my solo and said, 'Go to the key of G.' We made a modulation to change keys smoothly. The problem was going back to Astrud’s key. By then, she was accustomed to hearing the song in G and had difficulty finding the notes in the new key. It took her two or three lines to find the right ones. Stan was just grinning.  He had a mean, cruel streak and was angry about her perceived ingratitude."

But drama and personality clashes aside, Getz/Gilberto remains one of my favorite recordings. It's beyond music for me, like the sound of rain or the sea. It's perfect, organic and heartfelt and remains so today. As Gary recalled: “Back in the spring of '64, I lived in New York on 73d St. just off Central Park West. I had my window open to the the street. At about 6 a.m. you’d start to hear street noises, like the guy who sang opera as he delivered groceries. As I’m listening that morning, I heard someone walking along whistling the bridge to The Girl From Ipanema—a week after the single was released. That's the moment I knew the song was going to be huge." [Photo above, from left, Astrud Gilberto, Creed Taylor, Sammy Davis Jr. (the emcee) and Monica Getz at the Grammys in 1965]

JazzWax tracks: I don't make a dime off sales of the 50th anniversary edition of Getz/Gilberto. I just wrote the liner notes. But I can tell you this: It's one of the brightest and intelligent remasterings of the album I've heard. The mono sounds fantastic, providing a tight focus on the instruments and vocals, while the stereo sounds breezy and crisp compared to earlier releases. You'll find Getz/Gilberto: 50th Anniversary here.

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This story appears courtesy of JazzWax by Marc Myers.
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