Styles & Forms | Brazilian Jazz

In the mid-1950s, a cultural cross fertilization of Brazilian samba rhythms, American cool jazz and sophisticated harmonies led to the development of bossa nova. In the early 1960s the bossa nova movement swept through the United States and Europe producing a strain of Brazilian-influenced jazz that remains a vital part of the jazz scene.

By the early 1950s, a few pioneering Brazilian composers began listening seriously to American jazz, particularly the limpid-toned west coast variety practised by Chet Baker, Gerry Mulligan and Shorty Rogers. In absorbing that cool influence, composers such as Antonio Carlos Jobim, João Gilberto, Baden Powell and Luiz Bonfá stripped the complex polyrhythms of Afro-Brazilian samba down to their undulating essence and offered a more intimate approach, in which melodies were caressed rather than belted out in the raucous Carnival fashion.

Blame It On The Bossa Nova

Around the same time, American jazz saxophonist Bud Shank (from the west coast branch of cool jazz) had joined forces with Brazilian guitarist Laurindo Almeida in a quartet that blended Brazilian rhythms and folk melodies with cool jazz improvising. Recorded five years before the term ‘bossa nova’ was even coined, their 1953 collaboration on the World Pacific label, Brazilliance, would have a significant impact on the ultimate architects of the bossa nova movement.

In 1956, the Bahian guitarist/composer João Gilberto relocated from Salvador to Rio de Janeiro, where the colourful cultural mix was inspiring another brilliant guitarist/composer, Antonio Carlos Jobim. The two began to collaborate, and in July 1958, Gilberto recorded Jobim and Vinícius de Moraes’s ‘Chega de Saudade’ (‘No More Blues’), which became the hit single (backed by his own ‘Bim Bom’) widely considered to be responsible for launching the bossa nova movement in Brazil. Their follow-up single, Jobim’s ‘Desafinado’ (‘Off-Key’) was a fully formed masterpiece that floated on Gilberto’s distinctive, syncopated guitar rhythm, which would become the basis for this new, hybrid form. Momentum for the movement picked up the following year with the popularity of the Oscar-winning film Black Orpheus, a romance set in Rio de Janeiro during Carnival, featuring a beguiling score by Jobim and fellow Brazilian guitarist/composer Luiz Bonfá, and introducing such enduring bossa nova anthems as ‘Manhã de Carnaval’ and ‘Samba de Orfeo’. Then, in 1960, Gilberto and Jobim recorded 12 original bossa nova pieces on the largely overlooked Capitol release, Samba de Uma Note So.

Meanwhile, this ‘quiet revolution’ continued to unfold. In 1961, the US State Department sponsored a good-will jazz tour of Latin America that included American guitarist Charlie Byrd. A swing through Brazil on that tour was a revelation to Byrd, igniting the guitarist’s love affair with bossa nova. Back in the States, Byrd played some bossa nova tapes to his friend, the soft-toned tenor saxophonist Stan Getz, who then convinced Creed Taylor at Verve to record an album of the alluring Brazilian music with himself and Byrd. Their historic 1962 collaboration, Jazz Samba,...

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Source: The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Music, general editor Paul Du Noyer


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