Last year was the 50th anniversary of the release of “Jazz Samba.” This seminal album by Stan Getz (tenor sax) and Charlie Byrd (guitar) had a profound impact on jazz, introducing to America a Brazilian musical style known as “bossa nova,” which translates to “new trend.” The very sophisticated, seductive, cool-sounding music took America and the world by storm. The album became the only jazz instrumental album ever to become No. 1 on the Billboard pop chart, setting off a bossa nova craze that extended beyond the sensuous sounds of the music to the mundane world of commerce, where bossa nova ballpoint pens, ties and plastic raincoats were all the craze. The first track of the album was “Desafinado” (“out of tune” or “off-key”), written by Antônio Carlos (“Tom”) Jobim, it was a huge hit for Getz, earning him a Grammy.
Bossa nova evolved in the 1950s from the Brazilian samba (itself, traceable to Africa) and two Brazilian giants of the music — singer/guartist Joao Gilberto and Jobim (who was himself influenced by U.S. jazz, particularly the West Coast “Cool” sound) — are generally credited with shaping the music. By 1961 bossa nova had been around for a while, but not generally known outside of Brazil, so when Byrd and his trio mates visited Brazil in 1961 (as part of a U.S. State Department tour) and heard the music, he sought out Getz upon his return home to record a bossa nova album. Sadly, Getz and Byrd had a falling out over the success of “Jazz Samba” and Byrd sued Getz and Verve Records over royalties for the project. Verve settled with Byrd, but as could be expected, Getz and Byrd went their separate ways, never to record together again.
Getz had a wonderful warm, mellow and lyrical sound on his tenor and he was perfectly suited to the music. He wasn’t shy about hopping aboard the gravy-train and ultimately recorded many bossa nova-themed albums. Working with Astrud Gilberto, a vocalist and then the wife of Joao Gilberto, he also recorded another mega-hit, “The Girl From Ipanema” (“Garota de Ipanema”).
It didn’t take long for everyone else to get on the bossa nova bandwagon and the early 1960s saw jazz and pop luminaries such as Miles Davis, Ellla Fitzgerald, Cannonball Adderley and Frank Sinatra try to cash-in on the craze by recording bossa nova tunes and albums. Even the “King,” Elvis Presley, recorded “Bossa Nova Baby.”
The mania began to die out by mid-decade, but by then many bossa nova tunes had become part of the standard jazz repertoire with a significant and lasting impact on jazz. Before his passing in 1994, Jobim was already acknowledged as one of the most prolific and creative composers of jazz and popular music of the 20th century.
In 1989 Verve repackaged a number of Getz’s bossa nova albums into “The Girl from Ipanerma — The Bossa Nova Years” as a testament to a productive five-year period when bossa nova reigned supreme.
It wasn’t too long thereafter that Byrd followed suit with his own recording “The Charlie Byrd Trio, the Bossa Nova Years with Special Guest Ken Peplowski.” Unfortunately Getz, Byrd and Jobim are gone, but tenorist and clarinetist Ken Peplowski, who was 32 at the time of the recording, is very much with us and at the top of his game. “Pep’s” luscious, lyrical, mellow sound made the album one of the most popular recordings of the day.
Every year over the Labor Day Weekend, as part of the Vail Jazz Festival, we present special shows that focus on important artists and crucial trends and styles that shaped jazz as we know it today and this year we will celebrate the music of Brazil, Bossa Nova, and reprise Byrd’s famous album by presenting Pep and the great Brazilian guitarist Diego Figueiredo. They’ll play the great Bossa Nova hits — “One Note Samba,” “Corcovado,” “Dindi,” “The Girl From Ipanema,” “Samba D’Orpheo,” “Wave” and many more.
Howard Stone is the founder and artistic director of The Vail Jazz Foundation, which produces the annual Vail Jazz Festival. Visit vailjazz.org for more information.