You have to select your Bossa Nova music very, very carefully. The five or six truly great years of the period are far outnumbered by the decades of cheap synthetic knock-offs that wafted through elevator cars, hotel lobbies and dental offices for decades thereafter. Many dismiss Bossa Nova as cheeky and vapid, and that’s not surprising, because much of it is.
But when the real deal – the music of early forces Gilberto Gil, Stan Getz and Antonio Carlos Jobim caresses your ears, you can readily understand why so many lesser talents wanted to get in on the sound.
Bossa Nova is Brazil’s own version of “cool jazz” formed primarily within the upper middle-class sections of cosmopolitan cities like Rio de Janeiro beginning in the late 1950s. The music is lazy and enchanting – piano and finger-plucked guitars with little or no drums – and the lyrics often pine dreamily about loving, dancing and indulging, but only in the suavest of styles.
Sometimes, it’s merely about escapist longings for an object of obsession out of reach, as in one of the genre’s first big hits, “The Girl from Ipanema,” a song that has been covered so many times it’s lost its own legitimacy. The title itself has been used as a punch line against the movement. Trace the song’s history however, up the chain to its origin, the 1964 album Getz/Gilberto, and you’ll find a powerfully understated version with a delicate lyrical performance that will haunt your ears for days beyond.
The 1968 album, Francis Albert Sinatra & Antonio Carlos Jobim was Frank Sinatra’s first full-steam foray into Bossa Nova, though the sound had drifted up from the South American coast years earlier. Many of the songs were written by Jobim himself, though several come from The Great American Songbook, including Irving Berlin’s “Change Partners,” which was originally written for and performed in the 1938 Astaire/Rogers film, Carefree.
Though not pure Bossa Nova (the flutes and strings are pure “add-em-ons” for the American ears), Francis Albert Sinatra & Antonio Carlos Jobim is to me, the coolest album Sinatra ever made. Take a listen to “Change Partners” below.change_partners.mp3