Depending on the source, the inventors/creators of Bossa Nova music were Pixinguinha, Antonio Carlos Jobim and Joao Gilberto, or an unnamed group of musicians who met nightly at the apartment of Nara Leao’s parents during the mid-1950s, or at the Cantina do Cesar, or at the Plaza nightclub. So how did all this confusion arise, and how can we figure out what actually happened?
Let’s draw a timeline to see what happened, and when: To begin, PIXINGUINHA (aka Alfredo da Rocha Viana, Jr.) was born in 1897 in Rio de Janeiro. He was a composer, arranger, flautist and saxophonist. Pixinguinha began a modern form of the 19th century Brazilian musical genre, choro, by combining it with jazz, ragtime, Afro-Brazillian rhythms, and large bands. He began developing this new sound in the mid-1920s. One of the reasons his music became so popular was because his sound was discovered and made available at a time when use of the radio was becoming in vogue. In addition, his band played live music at cinemas showing silent movies. Eventually, his band’s music became more popular than the films they were accompanying so their performances were moved to the lobby of the theatre! His music gained popularity with upper-class Brazilians who appreciated his modernization of indigenous music. However, Pixinguinha was criticized because he and three other of his band members were Black. He was also criticized because it was felt that his music was influenced too strongly by Europe and the United States.
Pixinguinha’s first European tour was in 1921. It was so popular that he and his band remained in Paris, playing at the Scheherazade cabaret for six months. In Paris, Pixinguinha began to add new complex arrangements to his compositions; adding trombone, piano, drum kits and percussion. He also selected the saxophone as his instrument of choice. By the mid-1950s, the popularity of choro had declined, however, not before strongly influencing the compositions of Antonio Carlos Jobim. Pixinguinha passed away in 1973. His birthday, April 23, was designated Brazil’s National Day of Choro in 2000. It has become an annual holiday.
ANTONIO CARLOS Brasileiro de Almeida JOBIM (aka TOM JOBIM)–(1927-1994) was a Brazilian songwriter, composer, arranger, singer and pianist/guitarist. Jobim was influenced by Pixinguinha, as well as French composers Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel. His popularity began to rise in 1956 when he teamed with Vinicius de Moraes to write the music for the play, Orfeu de Conceicao. In 1959, the play was being made into a film, Black Orpheus. However, the producer requested that Jobim and Moraes write all new music. Because Moraes was out of the country serving as a foreign diplomat, they were forced to write the songs over the phone. Due to the logistical and time constraints, only three songs were written; however, their teaming proved wildly successful and Jobim and Moraes went on to write several songs together later.
Jobim’s international success was cemented when he teamed with Stan Getz as well as Joao & Astrud Gilberto for two albums: “Getz/Gilberto”; and “Getz/Gilberto” Volume 2. In 1965, Getz/Gilberto won four Grammy Awards, including Record of the Year for “The Girl from Ipanema”.
Prior to his death in 1994, Jobim was the principal artist or major contributor on 42 albums. His compositions have been interpreted by artists of very diverse backgrounds, and Jobim has left an indelible imprint on Jazz music. The Rio de Janeiro International Airport has been renamed Galeao-Antonio Carlos Jobim International in his honor.
JOAO GILBERTO do Prado de Oliviera was born in Juazeiro, Bahia, Brazil in 1931. From childhood, Gilberto had a passion for music, which did not sit well with his elders. However, when he was 14, he was given a guitar by a close family friend. He practiced to the exclusion of anything else, and a year later, was the leader of a local popular boy’s band. In 1950, when he was 19, Gilberto had become quite popular and was invited to become lead singer of the band, “Garotas da Lua”. Gilberto moved to Rio de Janeiro to join them. Gilberto had never developed the discipline to live on his own in an urban area with popular musicians. He was often late to gigs, or did not show up at all. However, he had such a charming personality that he remained friends with several members of the group although after one year he was no longer welcome to sing with them. Following his departure from the group at the age of 20, almost no one would hire him for nearly seven years.
Nearing the end of his slump, he went to Diamantina, Brazil and moved in with his sister and her husband for eight months. He spent most of his time in the bathroom practicing on his guitar and singing because he felt the acoustics in that room were especially conducive to the new style of music he was developing. The style involved vocalizing less through the mouth than through the nose, and adjusting the tempo of the words to match the tempo on the guitar. Gilberto was sent to his hometown to be cared for by his father because his sister was concerned about his constant seclusion. His music was ridiculed by his father and his boyhood friends. As a result, he would hide and play near the banks of the Sao Francisco River. Gilberto reports that he wrote the first bossa nova song, “Bim Bom”, watching laundresses while swaying their hips and balancing loads of clothes on their heads.
In late 1956, Gilberto was ready and returned to Rio de Janeiro to introduce his new music. He renewed and made new contacts for a solid year. However, the tide was turned when he introduced his new music to Jobim. He was immediately attracted to the samba beat that Gilberto had simplified and applied it to the new types of harmonies he himself had been developing with a song he had written the previous year with Moraes entitled, “Chega de Saudade”. It was to become Gilberto’s signature recording although its original popularity came with fits and starts. Eventually, the single took off in Brazil and Gilberto followed up with three albums. In 1961, Jobim and Gilberto were discovered by Charlie Byrd who introduced the music to Stan Getz.
Getz recorded five extremely popular bossa nova albums (the most popular of all time being “Getz/Gilberto”. To date, Gilberto has made 34 recordings, most of which are now available on CD. Ah, Gilberto is such an eccentric genius, but the stories of Gilberto’s eccentricities are more lovingly portrayed by Daniella Thompson, so check out her article, attached: http://daniellathompson.com/Texts/Brazzil/Plain_Joao.htm.
And finally, NARA LEAO, (1942-1989) was called “The Muse of Bossa Nova”. She was exposed to the Brazilian music revolution as a teenager when she met Antonio Carlos Jobim, Joao Gilberto and Vinicius de Moraes in the late-1950s. Leao was a popular bossa nova artist AFTER it was developed by Jobim and Gilberto, and she only performed part-time. Once she completed her studies, her full-time job was in journalism. However, Leao began to sing political lyrics when a military dictatorship took over Brazil in the mid-1960s. In the 1970s, Leao took an extended break from music to devote full time to her family and further studies. In 1979, Leao discovered she had an inoperable brain tumor and increased her musical output, producing 11 albums between 1979 and 1989.
Hopefully, my article has answered some questions about some absolutely delicious musicians, who truly changed the depth and breadth of world music today. But you won’t know unless you check out the music! Enjoy…