João Gilberto (1931-2019) – With the sad news on the passing of one of the most legendary and pioneering figures in Brazilian music, João Gilberto, at the age of 88, left a legacy and an indelible imprint on and became synonymous with Bossa Nova throughout the world. He is credited some with writing the first bossa nova, or new beat. This mid-20th century musical gift to the world drew on Brazil’s African-influenced samba tradition, but was performed without the usual battery of drums and rhythm instruments, and at much lower volumes. Gilberto’s intimate and nuanced style of guitar playing and singing, eventually central to the bossa nova sound, were reportedly developed in 1955 when he sequestered himself inside of a bathroom at his sister’s house so as not to disturb her family and to take advantage of the acoustics provided by the bathroom tiles.
The musician’s famous 1964 collaboration with saxophonist Stan Getz gave the world “Getz/Gilberto,” which won album of the year at the Grammy Awards in 1965. It’s still only one of a few jazz albums to do so, according to Columbia University’s Department of Music, which awarded Gilberto an honorary doctorate of music in May 2017.
The album featured their rendition of the jazz standard “Garota de Ipanema,” or “The Girl from Ipanema,” which became a worldwide hit and peaked at number 5 on the Billboard Hot 100.
That song, composed by Antônio Carlos Jobim, is believed to be the second-most recorded pop song ever, behind The Beatles’ “Yesterday,” The Wall Street Journal reported in 2012, citing Performing Songwriter magazine. Gilberto’s then-wife, Astrud, sang lead vocals on “Ipanema.”
According to Agencia Brasil, Gilberto was last onstage in 2008 for the celebration of bossa nova’s 50th anniversary.
As a reminder of the subtle beauty in his playing and writing, here is a concert recorded live by Italian radio network RAI at the Umbria Jazz Festival in Perugia Itay on July 21, 1996.
The loss goes without saying – the legacy lives on.