Of Lounge, Bossa Nova and the Girl From Ipanema

I’ve always had a passion for lounge music, be it older 20th century artists like Martin Denny, Juan Garcia Esquivel, Walter Wanderley or the current 21st century sounds of Montefiori Cocktail, Nicola Conte and Bossacucanova.  Whichever the millennium, this flame for the sound called lounge burns brightly.

My passion for the genre comes from my youth. When I was too young to go to school, and my brothers and sister had gone off to classes, I would turn to the television for entertainment. But in those pre-digital,  pre-cable days, there were roughly five Seattle-area channels available, none of them containing children’s programming at that particular hour, (if I was lucky, maybe a rerun of I Love Lucy) and one of them, the public broadcaster, had yet to start its broadcast day.

This left me no alternative than to entertain myself by watching my mother work diligently around the house, while our family’s hi-fidelity console accompanied her. My mother always listened to music while she worked. There was one station she enjoyed in particular: KIXI. “Oceans of Beautiful Music…” or so went the top of the hour station identification. KIXI primarily played easy-listening music featuring instrumentals by legendary composers such as Les Baxter, Nelson Riddle and Henry Mancini.

For me, this music was like a soundtrack to the narrative taking place. My mother, cloth in hand, moving swiftly around our colonial dining room table, polishing the dark wood to the strains of Holiday for Strings.

Many of the easy-listening/lounge melodies from that period of my life continue with me today via Rocco’s Música!Musica!  One melody in particular is not only a classic bossa nova/jazz standard, but it was also, in an indirect way, my introduction to Brazil. The Girl From Ipanema.

If I had to fathom a guess, the first rendition of  The Girl From Ipanema I ever heard would be the instrumental arrangement by Percy Faith via my mother’s radio station.  Percy Faith’s breezy arrangement and other versions like it have given The Girl From Ipanema  a reputation as being a somewhat frivolous and kitschy number. But taking a look – and a listen – at the song’s bossa nova roots, it is anything but.

A Garota de Ipanema was composed in 1962 by Antonio Carlos Jobim and Vinìcius de Moraes. The two bohemians, hanging out with the other bohêmia at the Bar Veloso in the Copacabana neighborhood of Rio de Janeiro, were inspired by a young woman who often passed by the bar on her way to the beach and who occasionally stopped in to buy cigarettes for her mother. In his book “Revelation: The Real Girl From Ipanema”, de Moraes waxes poetic about their muse:  “The paradigm of the blossoming carioca*; the golden girl, mix of flower and siren, full of light and grace, the sight of whom is also melancholy, carrying with herself, on her way to the sea, the feeling of passing youth, of beauty that is not only ours – it is a gift of life in her beautiful and melancholic constant ebb and flow.”  (*carioca describes someone from Rio de Janeiro)  This sentiment is reflected in the song’s lyrics. (Hopefully my translation will convey this. The lyric for the English version of the song was written by Norman Gimbel and can be viewed here).

The first recording of  A Garota de Ipanema was recorded in 1962 by Pery Ribeiro; however, it wasn’t until the 1964 release of the album, Getz/Gilberto that the song was introduced to the rest of the world.  João Gilberto, one of the artists credited with inventing the bossa nova sound along with Jobim and de Moraes, recorded the album with Stan Getz on saxophone and Jobim on the piano. João’s wife at the time, Astrud Gilberto, also sang on the album helping to make The Girl From Ipanema and another Jobim classic, Corcovado, huge international hits.   Interestingly enough, Astrud had never before sung professionally, but João suggested she sing on the album and thus a star was born.

Here is a sweet clip of Astrud Gilberto singing The Girl From Ipanema from the movie Get Yourself A College Girl (1964). While Getz/Gilberto and The Girl From Ipanema won four Grammy Awards in 1965, Get Yourself A College Girl,  starring Joan O’Brien, Nancy Sinatra, Chad Everett and featuring The Animals, The Jimmy Smith Trio and the Dave Clark Five, came and went. (Stan Getz is also in this clip playing the powder blue cardigan).

Because of the song’s popularity, many of the world’s biggest stars covered The Girl From Ipanema. From Italy’s Bruno Martino and Mina Mazzini to Germany’s Vivi Bach and France’s Jacqueline François.  Even the Chairman of the Board himself, Frank Sinatra, who not only recorded an album with Antonio Carlos Jobim, but taped a 1967 television special with him.

Eventually, as the 60’s shifted to a sound more reflective of those turbulent times, the bossa nova craze died down. But The Girl From Ipanema remains as the genre’s signature tune. To this day it is still being covered by artists all over the world. Some versions stay close to Jobim’s original arrangement, while others take another path entirely.  But whatever the style, The Girl From Ipanema is a classic for all time.

In celebration, I put together a version of The Girl From Ipanema using 17 different renditions of the tune. A pot-pourri if you will. Just to give you a taste of the many different arrangements of this wonderful song orbiting the planet.