Bossa Nova Style

The Origin of Bossa Nova

Bossa Nova is a style of Brazilian music popularized by composer Antônio Carlos Jobim, poet Vinicius de Moraes and led by guitarist-vocalist João Gilberto. A movement created in Brazil in the late 1950s during a period of political change and economical growth, bossa nova has been often described as the music of the Brazilian and both its music and lyrics were composed by middle and upper-classes musicians. That acquired a large following, initially by the young musicians and college students, and marketed to the same economic group.

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For this reason bossa nova was criticized by some for emphasizing a carefree way of living that little resembled the life of most Brazilians, the great majority of which belonged to the working class. Although the bossa nova movement lasted only six years (1958-1963), it contributed a number of songs to the standard jazz repertoire.

The musical style evolved from samba but in more complex harmonically and less percussive, with cool-languid, good humored, and intelligent. Indeed, bossa nova compositions often spoke of love, the beach, and beautiful women and seemed to be a depiction of the author’s bohemian life rather than a tale of Brazilians’ daily struggles as usually happened with samba, a music genre popular among working class, because bossa nova emerged primarily from the upscale beach-side neighborhoods of the city of Rio de Janeiro vs. Samba’s origins in the “favelas" (slums) of Rio.

“The Girl from Ipanema,” which became popular outside of Brazil both in its original Portuguese form and in translation, is a perfect example of the uncommitted quality of bossa nova songs. “The Girl from Ipanema” is nothing more than the composer’s description of a woman walking down towards the beach, the sweet way in which she moves and how beautiful she is, culminating with the author’s statement that she’s the most beautiful thing he’s ever seen go by.

Bossa Nova lyrics while unique is most commonly performed on the nylon-string classical guitar, played with the fingers rather than with a pick. Its purest form could be considered unaccompanied guitar with vocals, as exemplified by João Gilberto. Even in large jazz-like arrangements for groups, there is almost always a guitar that plays the underlying rhythm. Gilberto basically took one of the several rhythmic layers from a samba ensemble (specifically, the tamborim) and applied it to the picking hand.

Though not as prominent as the guitar, the piano is another important instrument of bossa nova; Jobim wrote for the piano and performed on it for most of this own recordings. The piano has also served as a stylistic bridge between bossa nova and jazz, enabling a great deal of cross-pollination between the two. Even Frank Sinatra did a whole record with Antônio Carlos Jobim which included the songs “The Girl From Ipanema and “Desafinado”.

Jazz musicians tend to think of this genre only in terms of notes and rhythms. I don’t think that Bossa Nova would have survived without the extraordinary poetic lyrics of Vinicius de Moraes, he had the power to fascinate people with his own unique natural style that demanded and Urban artistic treatment, that elevated the quality of the lyrics to a genre to much higher level.

The influence on bossa nova of jazz styles such as cool jazz is often debated by historians and fans, but a similar “cool sensibility” is apparent. Its innovators were strongly influenced by contemporary jazz from up north, and it wasn’t long before American jazz musicians were fascinated with bossa nova. The saxophonist Stan Getz and guitarist Charlie Byrd, two of the early champions of bossa, were among the may who contributed to the huge wave of international popularity that bossa enjoyed at this time.

As yet, the exact origin of the term “bossa nova” remains uncertain. What is certain is that the term “bossa” was used to refer to any new “trend” or fashionable wave as a generic reference to what they were doing in music at the time, which had no particular name yet. However, the term took hold as the definition of the own specific artistic creation, which became known as the music that seduced the world, within the artistic beach-culture of the Rio de Janeiro. The term finally became known and widely used to refer to a new music style, a fusion of samba and jazz, when the now famous creators of “bossa nova” referred to their new style of work as bossa nova, as in “the new thing,” or is simply known as “bossa” today.

From the mid-nineties, various other European artists reached out to bossa nova for inspiration mixing electronic music into it and bringing new creations sometimes referred to as BossaElectrica, TecnoBossa, etc. which still permeates the air of lounge bars of Europe and Asia today.

From this newer crop of artists came new singers like Bebel Gilberto, daughter of Bossa Nova co-creator João Gilberto and singer Miúcha, and new European bands like Nouvelle Vague and Koop to name a few, who used both conventional Bossa Nova style and modern views to further interpret this fabulously soothing style of music that originated in Rio de Janeiro-Brazil back in the 1950s. Broadway composer Stephen Sondheim used a Bossa Nova rhythm to connote a "nightclub" feeling in his song "The Ladies Who Lunch" from Company (1970).