Bossa Nova, Baby!

by Pat Jacobs
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The Bossa Nova (means "the new beat" or "new way") is a style of Brazilian music that was first heard in the late 1950s (starting around 1958) within the small clubs and cafes along the Copacabana and Ipanema beachfront districts of Rio de Janeiro.

Some of you may have heard of Antonio Carlos Jobim, who along with Joao Gilberto and Luis Bonfa, composed and performed the first Bossa Nova soundtrack for the film "Black Orpheus".

The first well-known Bossa Nova song was "Chega de Saudade", perfomed by Gilberto and written by Jobim and Vinicius de Moraes(1958). (I tried to find the meaning of this title, but had no luck so far. And I looked in a couple of Spanish dictionaries! I believe this may be a slang term. I'll keep you posted.)

The music derives from the samba, but has more complex harmonies and is highly influenced by jazz.

The Bossa Nova genre is primarily songs, while the instrumental music's called samba-jazz. It's most commonly performed on the guitar, then the piano. Drums are not a vital part of the sound; sometimes there are full orchestral accompaniments. And the rhythm always sways.

The Bossa Nova dance originated around 1960, and became popular by 1962 through the mid-sixties in the U.S.

I don't think this dance took the nation by storm the way the Twist did; the music was always much more popular, and even then, there wasn't a huge flood of Bossa Nova songs here.

The dance can be done solo or as a couple.

The Steps:

If performed solo, place one hand on the stomach.

With the other hand held up, do a slight side sway with hip motion.

Then: (solo and couples)

Forward on left foot (your partner follows opposite foot)

Close the right foot to left foot without changing weight to that foot (the partner follows opposite foot)

Now right foot back (partner opposite foot)

Close the left foot to right foot changing weight to that foot (the partner does opposite foot)

Repeat starting with opposite foot.

(The Merengue, which was also popular, was a similar dance, I think.)

Probably the best-known Bossa Nova song is "The Girl From Ipanema", written by Antonio Carlos Jobim and sung by Astrud Gilberto with Stan Getz (no. 15, 1964.)

Jobim also co-wrote "Desafinado" (it means "off key" or "slightly out of tune") and "One Note Samba", which has been recorded by numerous artists, most notably by Stan Getz, who had a big instrumental hit with the former song (no. 15, 1962).

The best version of "Desafinado" that I've ever heard was by Pat Thomas on MGM Records, circa 1963.

A relative still has the 45; she told me that Pat Thomas was an aspiring singer in the Chicago area, working in several top nightclubs there.

Promotional copies were being passed around, and everyone, my relative included, thought that Miss Thomas was going to be a huge star.

It didn't happen.

I've listened to the record, both sides (she also sang "One Note Samba" on the B side) and my consensus is, Pat Thomas was great! (Those of you who were living or are still currently living in the Chicago area may recall this wonderful singer. If anyone knows what happened to her, would you please let me know?)

Other songs in this genre were: "Bossa Nova Baby" (no. 8, 1963) by Elvis Presley from the film "Fun In Acapulco". I thought this was from Viva Las Vegas, but oh well. To be honest, this is my favorite Bossa Nova song. It's got the Brazilian beat, but it's still all Elvis. And this totally rocks!

Sergio Mendes and Brasil '66 had a few Bossa Nova-type songs on several of their albums, "Mas Que Nada" in particular. Mendes later produced the Brazil '66-sounding group, Bossa Rio. (Remember "With Your Love Now" and the flip side "Zazueira"?)

Joe Harnell (and His Orchestra) had a Top 20 hit with "Fly Me To The Moon-Bossa Nova" (no.14, Jan. 1963).

"Our Day Will Come" by Ruby And The Romantics may not be a Bossa Nova song per se, but I think it sure has that sound, with a fantastic vocal by lead singer Ruby Nash.

And of course, Edie Gorme' had the huge hit "Blame It On The Bossa Nova." (It was a cute song, but I personally feel that all of the above mentioned are cooler and hold up better.)

Besides "Black Orpheus", the Bossa Nova mini-craze also spawned a few films with a related theme or feature: "Pista de Grama", "Pistoleiro Bossa Nova" (1959), "Copacabana Palace" (1962), "Fun In Acapulco"(1963), "Bossa Nova" (a documentary, 1964), "Get Yourself A College Girl" (this featured an appearance by Stan Getz and Astrud Gilberto-1964), and "Man Outside", among others.

In the U.S., this genre later became regarded as elevator and lounge music ( Recently, there have been several well done film and book reassessments that have restored the Bossa Nova to its rightful place in '60s music history.) but for a time, la Bossa Nova fue' buena nota. (If I wrote this right, it means the Bossa Nova was cool!)

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