GETZ/GILBERTO / “The Girl From Ipanema”
Ah, the “The Girl From Ipanema.” Beaches. Bikinis. Brazil. Bossa Nova. Yada, yada, yada. All the stereotypes. All the media-induced imagery. The fantasies. But as with most myths, there is also some truth there. This is the song that launched a thousand imitations of pseudo-cool Brazilian jazz. The creators, composer João Gilberto and lyricist Vinicius de Moraes, were serious musicians who worked hard at their craft. Their mix of a new Brazilian style with cool jazz was just one of those fortuitous combinations: right time, right place, right people. The session was recorded in New York City in March of 1963 with major Brazilian musicians: guitarist/vocalist João Gilberto and his wife, Astrud, also on vocals; as well as the song’s composer Antônio Carlos Jobim on piano. Getz is the headliner but his adroit obbligatos and solos not withstanding, he is really the guest in this Brazilian conclave. This is the recording that ushered in the Bossa Nova craze which would eventually engulf not just jazz but all of popular music. Perhaps the most memorable aspect of the recording was vocalist Astrud Gilberto—notice I did not write ‘singer.’ Astrud’s breathy, sotto-voiced, Portuguese-inflected English just sounded so sexy to American ears and Getz’s cool tenor saxophone was a perfect foil in support of the light, airy sound of Astrud Gilberto’s ingénue vocals. Stan Getz teaming with Astrud Gilberto was similar to, although of much less substance than, Lester Young’s expert accompaniment that buoyed Lady Day’s lyrical personal essays, similar in the sense that both defined the cool aesthetic; Prez & Lady first as originators/innovators, and Getz/Gilberto as popularizers, which is not to say that the Getz/Gilberto Bossa Nova was simply a derivative of either the West Coast Cool Jazz movement or its predecessor, the bop-inflected swing of Prez & Lady. No. To take that position would be a mistake. Think on this: within the Brazilian context, Bossa Nova, a ‘cool’ take on samba, was made hip by the wit and intelligence of its practitioners, many of whom were well-trained/well-educated musicians, not laborers making music after work, but intellectuals making music because they wanted to. No one asks to be born whomever they are and into whatever social circumstances within which they grow up. The real question is what you do with your after-birth, with your time on earth. Jobim and a number of others in Brazil decided to work seriously at music. I respect that. At another time we’ll feature Elizeth Cardoso, Luiz Bonfá, Bola Sete and some of the other important Bossa Nova artists, but right now the focus is on one particular song: “The Girl From Ipanema.” The song itself is a classic of both Bossa Nova and jazz. But you have ears and I am sure you can hear all of that. Now let us look at two totally different variations, one an update from Brazil, the other a total remake in an avant-garde jazz mode. Bossacucanova is a contemporary hip-hop-influenced, Brazilian trio consisting of DJ Marcelinho DaLua, keyboardist Alexandre Moreira and bassist Márcio Menescal (son of Bossa Nova pioneer Roberto Menescal). Their professed goal was to update both the Bossa Nova style as well as some of the classic Bossa Nova compositions. It is not surprising, then, that they would undertake a remake of “Ipanema.” I love the irony of a hip-hop influenced remake of Bossa Nova, which itself was a remake of samba (sort of like going from drinking coffee straight black, to café au lait, back to coffee with chicory). Brazilian funk artist extraordinaire, Ed Motta, the vocalist chosen to re-interpret “The Girl From Ipanema” is stylistically the polar opposite of Astrud Gilberto. Imagine a cross between George Benson and Al Jarreau but with a Roy Ayers funky kind of vibe. If the Getz/Gilberto version was a postcard snapshot of a sun-drenched day at the beach, this version is the soundtrack for an all-night bacchanalian beach party. Lyrics are not enough for the horn that is Motta’s mouth; he must make a joyful noise. Sounds just ooze out of him, escaping before they have had a chance to be fashioned into words. Pure feelings spontaneously expressed. Astrud cool in the sunshine. Ed hot in the moonlight. Makes perfect sense to me. Now what seems on the surface like it doesn’t make any sense is for Archie Shepp to play like he gives a damn about some girl from Ipanema. Back in the late Sixties when this was cut, Shepp reputation was that of a fire-breathing dragon who mixed liberal doses of Marx and Black militancy with his music. As radio-friendly as Bossa Nova was, that’s how hard Shepp was headed in the opposite direction. Hell, this cut is included on an album entitled Fire Music, and was recorded on February 16, 1965, five days before Malcolm X's assasination. On March 9, 1965, Shepp went back in the studio to cut a Malcolm tribute, which was also included on the Fire Music album. I remember when I bought the album, before I even heard it, just looking at the cover and all, I couldn't believe Shepp was recording "The Girl From Ipanema." To me at that time it seemed something like what a hip-hop head would think if Kanye West took a vow of silence after putting out a third and last album entitled The Virtues of Modesty & Humility. When I first heard this version, I fell out laughing. I never thought of “The Girl From Ipanema” as a guerilla fighter, but that was my particular limitation, for I had unconsciously bought into Bossa Nova as a genre onto itself rather than as a stylistic take on samba. Just like the West Coast sound of Cool Jazz: Shorty Rogers and Chet Baker was a softer, more mellow version of Clifford Brown and Miles Davis, well Bossa Nova had those kinds of deep, Black roots and I had never made the connection, but Shepp had. So at first I was laughing at how audacious this was, and then I was laughing at my own ignorance. New beat indeed! When you listen to Shepp—if you listen to the cut without hitting the skip button—realize a couple of important points. One, no matter how cool and sophisticated the veneer, there is a solid Black core/root to Bossa Nova. Additionally, two, and of supreme importance, do not ever forget that the ‘cool’ style is itself a manifestation of the Black aesthetic, in this case originated by folk such as Lester Young, Billie Holiday and don’t forget Nat ‘King’ Cole, who was a first-class bebop pianist! What I really like about Shepp’s version is his oblique arrangement of the melody, coming on initially with ominous brass like as if some symphonic martial music was about to be unleashed, only to be interrupted by swirling saxophone filigrees and then when the theme is dropped it is with hard drum beats and a semi-bebop flavor. Finally Shepp charges out of the gate with his gut-bucket tenor—there is nothing white and nice about this sound. I wonder what some of the Bossa Nova folk would make of this version? I guess all of this might most accurately be called “The Women From Ipanema (and elsewhere all over the Americas)!” —Kalamu ya Salaam Click here to purchase Getz/Gilberto Click here to purchase Bossacucanova's Brasillidade Click here to purchase Archie Shepp's Fire Music I spend too much money buying Brazilian music In a way, I’m glad I don’t understand Portuguese. I already spend way too much money buying Brazilian music—if I could actually understand what they were singing, I’d probably be spending a lot more. Check out this ‘literal’ translation of the first verse of “Ipanema” and notice how much more poetic and evocative it is than the English-langauge lyrics.
Moça do corpo dourado do sol de Ipanema Girl of the golden body from the sun of Ipanema O seu balançado é mais que um poema Your swaying is more than a poem É a coisa mais Linda que eu já vi passar It's a thing more beautiful than I have ever seen pass byIt’s the little things that transform good lyrics into great poetry. The first line says, essentially, “Tanned girl from Ipanema.” But the possessives (some of which is just a function of language—Spanish is the same way) create a mysticism about the girl. She isn’t golden. She is of a golden body. She isn’t merely from Ipanema. She is from the sunof Ipanema. It is as if the sun and the body are one in the same: watching this girl pass by is like watching the rising and setting of the sun. In the second line, the movements of the girl are compared to the artistry of a well-written lyric—the comparison itself appearing in (what else?) a well-written lyric. Beautifully done. The wistful mysticism expressed by the above lyrics seems to be present in something like 90% of the Brazilian music I have (and I have lots of it). As my sister Kiini (who lived in Brazil for a couple of summers) explained to me: it’s a vibe, a state of being, almost a philosophy that has no direct English equivalent. The way we Black Americans—especially Black Americans from the South—have ‘the blues,’ it seems that Brazilians have this untranslateable feeling of theirs which they call sodade. At first, the term would seem to translate to ‘nostalgia,’ except that we English speakers are usually nostalgic only for things we’ve lost. But Brazilians feel sodade for things that they’ve never had, for things that they do have and for things which they may or may not have in the future. Legend has it that there actually was ‘a girl from Ipanema.’ Supposedly, Antonio Carlos Jobim and Vinicius de Moraes used to meet at a seaside bar in Ipanema to discuss music and poetry—there they would often see a beautiful young girl named Heloísa Eneida Menezes Paes Pinto walking by on her way to the beach. Both the poet and the musician were entranced by the girl; they eventually created a song which, to read Moraes’ description, isn’t so much about the girl as it is about this concept of sodade itself. Moraes wrote: “[T]he tan girl, a mixture of flower and siren, full of light and grace but whose vision is also sad, since she carries with herself, on the way to the sea, the feeling of the youth that passes, that beauty that is not only our own – it is a gift of life in its constant beautiful and melancholy flow and re-flow'. [Translated from the Portuguese by Steven Byrd. See http://www.brazzil.com/content/view/5814/29/ for the full article.] The bar at which Jobim and Moraes used to meet, by the way, is now called Garota De Ipanema (‘Girl From Ipanema’). One other thing: not to be overly blunt, but Astrud Gilberto is virtually tone deaf. On some of her slower records, she misses notes so badly, it’s almost painful. Compare her to some of the other legendary Brazilian songstresses (Maria Bethânia, Gal Costa, Clara Nunes, Elis Regina, Flora Purim, etc.) and, honestly, there is no comparison. Then again, Astrud never actually claimed to be a singer, so I guess I shouldn’t complain too much. The story goes—if I remember correctly—that the English-language verse of “Ipanema” was actually added on after the song was fully composed. João Gilberto (who sings the first verse) couldn’t speak English, so his wife Astrud, who just happened to be present at the time, was pressed into service. I guess it proves that one doesn’t have to be a singer to be a ‘singer’; not only do I dig Astrud’s less-than-perfect performance on “Ipanema,” I also love many of her other records like “Berimbau,” “Água De Beber,” “(Take Me To) Aruanda,” and of course, “Corcovado” (AKA “Quiet Nights Of Quiet Stars”). One reason many of her performances are listenable despite her relative lack of skill is because Astrud usually stays within her very limited range—she doesn’t try to do too much. It’s only when the material is too demanding that her deficiencies really show. —Mtume ya Salaam He say, she say Ok, let’s go South on this one. Here is another version of the 'true' story of the famous song (see below). However, the why's and where for’s of “Ipanema” are not as much of interest to me as is this concept of saudade (the way I’ve seen it spelled and the way I’ve heard it pronounced is approximately "sow-DODGE-gee"). While it is sensible to compare it to blues, and perhaps more apt to compare it to “Soul” as a cultural quality, I find it most helpful to translate saudade as "a longing for what is not there." The implication is that whatever is sought is something that has either been removed or has not been allowed to come into existence. Also, this seeking is more a feeling than a particular looking for something. Additionally, in the general sense of my understanding of the concept we are talking about something larger than just a particular minor loss. For example we might feel saudade because we are poor but not because we lost twenty dollars on a bet yesterday. In other words we are dealing with the import of the profound rather than the mundane details of a particular. That sounds metaphysical and abstract, but the key is that it is a feeling and not a thought, so unavoidably it manifests itself in the physical world, usually vibrating through the music. I hear a bunch of that roiling around in the cauldron of Shepp’s tenor, what you might call a bruised tenderness that demands a visceral and emphatic response—saudade sings, it does not sulk silently. Second, and most important of all, saudade emerges out of the culture of Black people in Brazil, and that is a very, very loaded statement. For example, in 2005 if one only judged by the records currently issued by major labels, one could easily think that jazz is a music played mainly by white artists, in a similar way, if one is not careful one could mistakenly think of Brazilian music in general and Bossa Nova in particular as a 'white' music. It is important to locate the creative source of saudade in its historical social context, a context that has specific political and economic implications. Indeed, we people of African descent in the Western Hemisphere are not only shaped by, we were actually created by, a very specific political economy, and the impact of that political economy on us and for us, remains as strong today as it did when we were first forced onto those slave ships. Many, many people would prefer to take those qualities out of the music, and when they do, what results is what we mostly get coming out of the major industry today: a whiter shade of a pale imitation of Black music. (And just to be extremely clear: I am not talking about racial concepts, but rather cultural concepts and conscious decisions about how one relates to particular cultures, or as I say in one of my poems: white people come in all colors.) So, anyway, Mtume, I thought it very instructive that you singled out saudade in your discussion of Bossa Nova. Ok, here’s that other “true story” (the site also has translations of the lyrics)—I added the photos: http://sprezzatura.editthispage.com/garota#truth
Another 'The truth' From Bossa Nova: The Story of the Brazilian Music That Seduced the World, by Ruy Castro It has already been explained, but people find it hard to accept the truth: Jobim and Vinícius did not write "The Girl from Ipanema" in the Veloso bar (today called Garota da Ipanema), which was on the street that used to be known as Rua Montenegro and is now Rua Vinícius de Moraes, at the intersection with Rua Prudente de Moraes (no relation). It was never the duo's style to write music sitting at a table in some bar, although they had probably spent the best hours of their lives in them. Jobim composed the melody meticulously on the piano at his new home in Rua Barro da Torre, and it was originally intended for a musical comedy entitled Blimp, which Vinícius already had worked out in his head but had not yet committed to paper. Vinícius, in turn, had written the lyrics in Petrópolis, near Rio, as he had done with "Chega de Saudade" six years earlier, and it took him just as much work. To begin with, it wasn't originally called "Garota da Ipanema," but "Menina que passa" (The Girl Who Passes By"), and the entire first verse was different. As for the famous girl, Jobim and Vinícius did in fact see her pass by as they sat in the Veloso bar, during the winter of 1962 — not just once, but several times, and not always on her way to the beach but also on her way to school, to the dressmaker, and even to the dentist. Mostly because Heloísa Eneida Menezes Paes Pinto, better known as Helô, who was eighteen years of age, five feet, eight inches tall, with green eyes and long, flowing black hair, lived in Rua Montenegro and was already the object of much admiration among patrons of the Veloso, where she would frequently stop to buy cigarettes for her mother—and leave to a cacophony of wolf-whistles. —Bossa Nova: The Story of the Brazilian Music That Seduced the World, by Ruy Castro, Pp. 239-240.—Kalamu ya Salaam Sodade/Saudade Baba, the above is essentially the same story I've read. I wasn't implying that Moraes and Jobim wrote the song in the bar, only that they, via Heloísa, were inspired to write it while in the bar. As for the sodade/saudade thing, I think you're right. Here's Wikipedia's 'saudade' entry:
Saudade is a Portuguese word generally considered one of the hardest words to translate. It originated from the Latin word solitate (loneliness), but with a different meaning. Loneliness in Portuguese is solidão, also with the same word origin. Few other languages in the world have a word with such meaning, making Saudade a distinct mark of Portuguese culture. In Portuguese, this word serves to describe the feeling of missing someone (or something) you're fond of. For instance, the sentence Eu sinto muitas saudades tuas (I feel too much 'saudade' of you) directly translates into "I miss you too much." Eu sinto muito a tua falta also has the same meaning in English ("falta" and "saudades" both are translated as 'missing'), but it is different in Portuguese. It also relates to feelings of melancholy and fond memories of gone-by days, lost love and a general feeling of unhappiness. "Saudade" is, for instance, the title of Cape Verdian singer Cesária Évora's most famous song; French singer Etienne Daho also produced a song titled "Saudade."Wikipedia got the last bit wrong. Cesária's famous song is actually "Sodade," and indeed, that may have been where my (mis)spelling of 'saudade' originated. (I'm a big Cesária Évora fan.) In the English-langauge translations of Cesária's songs, sodade is invariably translated as 'nostalgia.' Here are a few examples:
Oi tonte sodade / Sodade sem fim is translated as "Such nostalgia / Such endless nostalgia" (from "Petit Pays"/"Little Country") Dixa'm mi sô / Cu nha tristeza e nha sodade is translated as "And left me all alone / With my sadness and nostalgia" (from "Nha Cancera Ka Tem Medida"/"My Fatigue Is Endless") The song title "Mar É Morada De Sodade" is translated as "The Sea Is The Home Of Nostalgia"This difference in spelling can probably be accounted for by dialectical differences. Maybe an English-speaking someone from Rio or Bahia or Cabo Verde can write in to set us/me straight.
This entry was posted on Sunday, August 7th, 2005 at 12:01 am and is filed under Classic. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
5 Responses to “GETZ/GILBERTO / “The Girl From Ipanema””
Leave a Reply
| top |