What is Bossa Nova?
As I said, in Vienna, Austria, I graduated as a classical singer, but my greatest passion is the bossa nova, which... Wait! Uh... You don't know, what bossa nova is?
The bossa nova, as a defined musical movement, emerged in the late 1950s. Young Brazilian musicians residing in the South Zone of Rio de Janeiro were more interested in jazz than in the Brazilian music of that time, which for them sounded very antiquated.
And in fact, Brazilian songs were then sung in a rather artificial manner, with a classical voice, as if they were opera arias. The lyrics were, so to speak, archaic as well, the words were not those used by the average citizens, specially the young ones, in their every day language. These young musicians played in the nightclubs and bars of Rio de Janeiro. Although they were jazz fans, they composed and played essentially Brazilian music, just letting consciously or unconsciously jazz elements flow more and more into their work, resulting in that their music sounded different from what most of the people were used to hear. Frequently they also gathered in each other’s house to make music or just to hear the new long play of jazz that one of them had bought. They knew they were creating some new kind of Brazilian music, but they did not have yet a homogeneous musical line that would establish an own musical movement.
In those years, a young man called João Gilberto, from the Brazilian State of Bahia, moved to Rio de Janeiro to try a career as a musician. Rio that time was the capital of Brazil and therefore the center of the artistic activities of the country. For some years he played here and there without success, not earning money even to pay the rent of an apartment, living as a guest in the apartments of other musicians or their friends.
Despaired, João Gilberto sometimes went away from Rio de Janeiro for several months. Known for his eccentricity, he sometimes locked himself in the bedroom or in the bathroom and played on the guitar the same chord for many hours in a row, obsessed with the idea of finding a new way of playing the instrument. And he found it. Not only a new way of playing, but also of singing. If until then Brazilian singers sang with an opera voice, João Gilberto started to sing quietly, in a soft and velvety way, without vibrato. He returned to Rio and went to show the other musicians his new way of playing and singing. One of the musicians that got impressed was Antonio Carlos Jobim, better known as Tom Jobim. In 1958 the singer Elizeth Cardoso recorded an album entitled “Canção do Amor Demais”, entirely with songs by Tom Jobim and Vinicius de Moraes. On this album, João Gilberto accompanied Elizeth on the guitar in two tracks: “Chega de Saudade” and “Outra Vez”. This was the first record to register João Gilberto’s new way of playing the guitar. Three months later João Gilberto recorded his own album, singing and playing, with one song by himself, “Bim-Bom”, and one by Tom Jobim and Vinicius de Moraes, “Chega de Saudade”. The bossa nova was officially born.
The youth approved the new musical style that eventually came into fashion. Almost all young musicians incorporated the different musical form that João Gilberto had developed. Radio stations started to play bossa nova and more and more records appeared, not only of singing music but also instrumental.
American and European musicians, who traveled to Brazil, started to take notice of the bossa nova and took the novelty with them to their countries. In 1962 Brazilian musicians performed at the Carnegie Hall in New York in a concert entitled “Bossa Nova (New Brazilian Jazz)”. This concert popularized the bossa nova internationally. The great representatives of this new musical movement took part in it, like Tom Jobim, João Gilberto, Carlos Lyra, Roberto Menescal and Luiz Bonfá, among others. In the audience were famous musicians, like Miles Davis, Tony Bennett, Peggy Lee and Herbie Mann. The concert was broadcast live to several American and European radio stations. As a direct consequence of that, the major part of these Brazilian musicians received invitations to perform or record in the United States. Two weeks after New York, the cream of the bossa nova musicians performed in another concert, this time at the George Washington Auditorium, after which they were welcomed at the White House by Jacqueline Kennedy.
From then on the bossa nova conquered the entire world. The song “Garota de Ipanema” (“The Girl from Ipanema”), for example, by Tom Jobim and Vinicius de Moraes, is worldwide one of the most performed and recorded songs of all times.
While appreciating some LP covers, listen here to the first records to feature the guitar beat invented by João Gilberto and which gave birth to the bossa nova music style:
Chega de Saudade (1958)
Composed by Antonio Carlos Jobim & Vinicius de Moraes
First record: Voice by Elizeth Cardoso, guitar by João Gilberto
Second record: Voice and guitar by João Gilberto