Bossa Nova culminated in 1962 with The Girl from Ipanema, its most well known song. When the song became a world hit in 1964, Bossa Nova had already died. But it left Brazilian music changed forever.
The Girl from Ipanema
Tom Jobim and Vinícius de Moraes would often sit with a cold chope (draught beer) at Bar Veloso (today Garota de Ipanema, see picture above) in Ipanema, at the corner of Rua Montenegro (today named Rua de Vinícius de Moraes, see map below) and Rua Prudente de Morais. In Rua Montenegro 22, on the opposite site between Rua Prudente de Morais and the beach, lived a tall 17 old girl by the name of Heloísa Eneida Menezes Paes Pinto, known as Helô. She would walk past the bar every day on her way to or from school gracefully swaying with her long black hair flowing free. After school, she would go to the beach in her bathing suit revealing her beautifully golden suntanned body. Sometimes she would even enter the bar to buy cigarettes for her mother. But in spite of the immense attention she attracted from the male guests, she never deigned anybody a look.
This would be the inspiration for one of the best known songs in the world. Tom’s melody imitates her gently gracefully swaying gait, which Vinícius describes in the A piece. The B piece turns into a mood of reflection, where Vinícius on the one hand praises her beauty which makes the world smile at turning more beautiful because of love, but on the other hand feels isolated and sad by the thought that the beauty passes by alone and does not exist there just for him.
The melody had started life in 1961. Together with other songs composed then, it was scheduled to be included in a musical comedy called Blimp. However, the show was never realized. Looking at the song again, Tom and Vinícius wanted to add lyrics, and Vinícius wrote a first version called “Menina que passa”, but neither of them was quite satisfied. The inspiration for the final version then came one afternoon in 1962 at Veloso, when they saw Helô pass.
O Encontro au Bon Gourmet
The song was presented for the first time in public in 1962 at a show at the small restaurant Au Bon Gourmet in Avenida Copacabana. This would be the first and only time the three major forces of bossa nova performed together: the composer and piano player Tom Jobim, the great poet Vinícius de Moraes, and João Gilberto, the man who invented the bossa nova guitar beat and, as the coolest singer ever heard, arguably the greatest interpreter of bossanova. They were accompanied by the vocal group Os Cariocas, Otávio Bailley on bass and Milton Banana on drums.
The show launched two other songs written for Blimp: the bossa nova classic “Só Danço Samba” and “Samba do Avião” (written by Tom alone); it also launched other new songs indicating that the song writing partnership between Tom and Vinícius was coming to an end: “Samba da Benção” and “O Astronauta”, both of which Vinícius had written with his new partner Baden Powell.
The show was probably the peak of bossa nova. It was planned to run for one month, but because of the huge interest it was extended for another two weeks. A couple of sets were recorded. In 2004 Daniella Thompson, on the basis of the tapes, wrote an informative review O Encontro au Bon Gourmet of the disc that no one reviewed, because it was never released. Among the things she reported is the introduction to the new song “Garota de Ipanema”, where João, Tom, Vinícius and João again exchange lines about each of them being needed for performance of the song, whereafter they all join in and sing the song together. The song is clearly the highlight of the show. Eventually, the disc was released in 2014.
The first to record the song in the studio was Pery Ribeiro. He heard it at the Bon Gourmet and became so excited that he went to the studio next day to record it. Soon after, it was recorded by Tamba Trio. These two recordings were released at the same time in January 1963. Later it was recorded by Claudette Soares (whose recording unfortunately is not available on Spotify). But of course, it was still another version, which made the song a world hit, claimed to be the second most performed song ever after “Yesterday” by The Beatles: the version by Stan Getz and João Gilberto with English vocal by Astrud Gilberto, recorded in March 1963.
Bossa nova had gradually attracted more and more attention in the US. Not least jazz musicians became excited about this new cool style of music, which contained the same harmonic sophistication as jazz, but different and very beautiful melodies. The release of Jazz Samba by Charlie Byrd and Stan Getz in April 1962 created a true bossa nova craze. It was only a faint reflection of authentic bossa nova, but the album got immensely popular, not least because everybody could enjoy Getz’ take on Jobim/Mendonça’s fascinating melody “Desafinado”. In August 1962, Getz recorded Big Band Bossa Nova, arranged by Gary McFarland, with four Brazilian tunes and four originals by McFarland.
The interest sparked a famous bossa nova concert in Carnegie Hall 21 November 1962, where a large program of Brazilian musicians, among them Tom Jobim and João Gilberto, presented the real thing to the American public. The day after the concert, João signed a recording contract with Verve. A couple of days later, João and Tom met Stan Getz and producer Creed Taylor from Verve for some initial rehearsals for the album. João demonstrated how to sing and play “One Note Samba”, which Getz had recorded on both the 1962 albums, but not gotten right.
Before the sessions started in March 1963, Verve recorded Jazz Samba Encore! by Stan Getz and Luiz Bonfá with participation of Tom Jobim and Bonfá’s wife Maria Toledo in February. The recording of Getz/Gilberto, which yielded the definitive version of “The Girl from Ipanema”, involved Tom Jobim on piano, Milton Banana on drums; the bass is sometimes credited to Tommy Williams, and sometimes to Sebastião Neto. Whereas the melodies of bossa nova inspired Getz to some of his most lyrical playing, he had troubles with the relaxed flexible rhythm played by João and Milton Banana.
As is well known, João’s wife Astrud was invited to sing English verses of “The Girl from Ipanema” (by Norman Gimbel) and “Corcovado” (by Gene Lees). After her singing proved a success, everybody involved in the session claimed that it was his idea. But she was not “discovered” by that occasion. She had performed in public by one bossa nova event, but moreover, she sang at many informal gatherings and practiced hard at home under the supervision of her perfectionistic husband with the ambition to start singing professionally. See her own account here.
Garota de Ipanema – 10 Important Versions
Antônio Carlos Jobim, Vinícius de Moraes & João Gilberto(1962) The pulsating bass line gives the debut version a samba feeling, and Tom’s comping is quite jazzy. João’s bossa nova guitar beat is hardly audible, and the joint singing is also more samba than bossa nova.
Pery Ribeiro (1962) This version borrows from the bass line of the Au Bon Gourmet version and add further samba characteristics to the arrangement. Pery Ribeiro is not a bossa nova singer, but in line with the arrangement he endows the song with a lot of energy.
Tamba Trio (1962) This version also borrows from the bass line from Au Bon Gourmet. The trio adds some original vocal harmonies.
Stan Getz, João Gilberto & Astrud Gilberto (1963) This time, the arrangement is dominated by João’s guitar and has a clear bossa nova feeling. He starts with a nasal legato humming, at the same time hinting at the melody and the lyrics about the girl’s swaying gait. João sings very low and laid back. Interestingly, the bass is still important providing a contrast to João’s phrasing. Next comes Astrud, who sings the English lyrics slighty louder. Her accent seems to underline her shyness and conveys a charming impression of innocence; but at the same time she is cool, confident and unapproachable. Clearly, she is the girl from Ipanema. Then Getz takes a chorus blowing at full strength. Jobim’s piano solo cools things down again, and Astrud comes back and take the song to a fade out.
Stan Getz, Astrud Gilberto & João Gilberto [single version] (1963) The cuts appear very clumsy. There is deep irony in the fact that the American public needed to be introduced to such an amputated version. It cut away João’s singing, which with all respect for Astrud was the greater art. It cut away Vinícius’ lyrics in favor of a very poor English version. Whereas Vinícius’ lyrics were concerned with the existential meaning of beauty and love, Norman Gimbel’s version reduced the song to a trivial love story. Moreover, Gimbel took away two syllables from the first line, thereby disrupting the melody’s imitation of the girl’s walk. Finally, it even reduced Stan’s carefully build-up solo to a few disparate phrases.
Stan Getz, Astrud Gilberto & João Gilberto (1964) This is a live version from a concert in Carnegie Hall in 1964. Even though the setting appears somewhat casual, there is an intensity which in some respects eclipses the studio version. Unfortunately, Hélcio Milito appears to have some problems with adjusting to João in the same effortless way as Milton Banana did.
Antônio Carlos Jobim (1964) Instrumentals with economical and elegant orchestral arrangements by Claus Ogerman, allowing his beautiful piano playing to get the attention it deserves, would be the formula for Tom Jobim’s solo records, starting with this one. On this version of “The Girl from Ipanema” Tom uses a phrasing of the melody which was first heard in the solo on the Getz/Gilberto version and which he would use throughout his carreer. To my mind, it is a strange staccato phrasing which fits badly with the image of the girl’s swaying gait – compare with João’s legato phrasing. But maybe it reflects that Tom conceived the melody before the final lyrics was written and therefore perceived it more abstractly as a phrase of music.
Frank Sinatra & Antônio Carlos Jobim (1967) Even though Sinatra sang softer here than elsewhere, he is far from the coolness of João Gilberto’s singing. Still, he catches the melody well and his phrasing is impeccable. For Tom Jobim, this was the ultimate recognition. But it came at the cost of satisfying the prejudiced expectations of the American public by accepting the role of the guitar playing latin lover boy, which his singing in Portuguese only amplified, rather than that of an important gifted composer and piano player.
Ella Fitzgerald (1981) From an album devoted to Jobim songs, this is a jazzy version, which underlines Ella’s swinging approach. But it seems far away from an understanding of the coolness of bossanova.
Amy Winehouse (2011) Amy’s version is also jazzy. But the stripped down arrangement and her immensely musical free phrasing brings it somehow more in affinity with the ideas of bossa nova. I could do without the string machine, however, and the drum machine as well for that matter.
Creed Taylor sat on the tapes for a long time. At first, he did not want to compete with Jazz Samba, which was still selling well. In the meantime, in May, he recorded and released The Composer of Desafinado Plays, an instrumental album by Tom Jobim, which contained a version of “The Girl from Ipanema”. Later he noticed that Jazz Samba Encore! was only selling decently. In the end, he became convinced that the best way to pave the way for the gold in his hands was Astrud’s English vocal. In December 1963 he released a single version, where João’s singing and a large part of the sax solo was cut out to obtain a suitable length. It sold more than two million copies. The LP was finally released in March 1964.
Since then, there have been countless recordings of the song. One of the best known saw life in 1967, when The Voice, Frank Sinatra himself, recorded it with Tom Jobim playing guitar in an arrangement by Claus Ogerman, who also had arranged on The Composer of Desafinado Plays. There is a famous video from a live performance.
What Happened to the Girl from Ipanema?
It was not until 1965 before Helô realized that she had been the inspiration for the now world famous song, when both Tom and Vinícius publicly revealed the story behind the song. By then, she was engaged with the engineer Fernando Abel Mendes Pinheiro, a man who came from a rich family and was good at beach volley. When they got married in 1966, Tom and his wife Thereza were padrinhos at the wedding. Helô’s husband and her father (an army general) were proud of the extreme public interest in the real girl from Ipanema, but still they wanted to keep her away from the public eye, which they managed to do for many years.
However, at a mature age, she started working as a TV hostess and a model. She was Brazilian Playboy Playmate in 1987, and again in 2003 with her daughter Ticiane. She also opened a boutique for beach fashion, which she naturally wanted to brand with the name “Garota de Ipanema”. In spite of the composers having praised her as their inspiration, their heirs as copyright owners sued her for misusing the name of the song. Public sympathy was clearly on her side, though, and eventually the court ruled in her favor.
Garota de Ipanema is a film from 1967, directed by Leon Hirszman, which was inspired by the song. Unfortunately, I have never seen the film myself, but I know and present here the soundtrack. The idea to turn the song into a film came from the cinema novo auteur Glauber Rocha, and Vincíus de Moraes was involved in preparing the script; but it is not a hardcore cinema novo film.
The film follows the Ipanema life of 17 old Márcia, who studies to get admitted to university, goes to the beach, goes to parties, quarrels with her parents, is having various affairs and so on. There are musical interludes with a lineup of famous Rio musicians. On the surface, the girl lives an easy middle class life, but underneath lurks anxiety and the need to make that existential decision of choosing her own way of life. Of course, the climax had to take place during carnival – the existential challenges provoked by carnival is a recurrent theme in Brazilian songs and movies.
It was a natural idea to offer the principal part to the real “Girl from Ipanema”, Helô Pinheiro; and actually she was offered the role. But once again, her husband and her father got in between.
Garota de Ipanema Soundtrack
Chico Buarque & Elis Regina: “Noite dos Mascarados” (Buarque) Chico wrote this song as a substitute for the song “Tamandaré”, which had been prohibited. It contains his response to the censorship with the point that, at carneval as well as in song writing, you can mask as anyone. The song was written for the show Meu Refrão, but Vinícius de Moraes suggested it should also be included in the film as a duet with Elis Regina, one of the few times these two big names worked together.
Nara Leão: “Lamento no Morro” (Jobim/de Moraes) One of the beautiful love songs from the stage play Orfeu da Conceição from 1956. Contrary to the original somewhat old school samba cançâo version by Roberto Paiva, this version is a delicate bossa nova arrangement with congenial singing by Nara Leão. Definitely among the better versions.
Orquestra: “Surfboard” (Jobim) Tom saw surfing for the first time in his life 1965 in California while he was recording there. Surfing was not known in Brazil at that time. He composed the melody in the style of Rôberto Menescal, which Menescal was the first to acknowledge – he even recorded it himself. Probably, Jobim also thought about Menescal’s strong interest in all (other) forms of water sport.
Tamba Trio: “Ela É Carioca” (Jobim/de Moraes) An homage to the beautiful women of Rio. It was first recorded by Os Cariocas in 1963. Tamba Trio re-uses their vocal harmonies, and their version is in many ways more elegant.
Vinícius de Moraes: “Poema dos Olhos da Amada” (de Moraes/Soledade) Vinícius’ poem to the beloved’s eyes was inspired by his love for Lila Bôscoli, the 19 years older sister of the journalist and song writer Ronaldo Bôscoli. One evening in 1952 in Los Angeles, where he was working at the time, he showed the unpublished poem to some friends. Paolo Soledade sensed a strong musical form in the poem, and he immediately wanted to set it to music, which Vinícius appreciated very much. At this time, Viníciues was still married to his first wife Tati, but he would later marry Lila. The guitar player is not credited, but it is most likely Baden Powell.
Orquestra: “A Queda” (Jobim) A small orchestral piece by Tom Jobim.
Orquestra: “Tema de Abertura” (Jobim/de Moraes) A variation of the theme, the melody of “Garota de Ipanema”.
Ronnie Von: “Por Você” (Enoé/de Moraes) Ronnie Von was one of the early rock musicians in Brazil (but rock itself came late in Brazil). This is probably the only iê-iê-iê song by Vinícius, who was not an admirer of the genre. But of course, it is a love song. (Brazilians named rock ‘iê-iê-iê’ after the Beatles’ ‘yeah-yeah-yeah’).
Chico Buarque: “Chorinho” (Buarque) A small love choro performed in the classical bossa nova style with “a stool and a guitar”, later augmented by swinging piano. Chico later complained about the film, firstly that he was not comfortable with acting, and secondly, that there was too much drinking going on, or rather, his already serious drinking at the time got amplified during the shooting of the film.
Baden Powell: “Ária para se Morrer de Amor” (de Moraes) Aria to dying from love, an instrumental ballad theme composed by Vinícius and interpreted by Baden Powell.
Quarteto em Cy & MPB4: “Rancho das Namoradas” (Barroso/de Moraes) Written in 1962 as one of four collaborations between Vinícius and the great Ary Barroso. Here a female and a male vocal group join forces. The arrangement is nice and clean. But in spite of its comparatively rather excessive arrangement, Nara Leão’s version from about the same time draws more attention, because she consciously and deliberately brings more attention to the sexual associations of the lyrics.
Orquestra: “Tema sa Desillusão” (Jobim/de Moraes) Another variation of the theme, “Garota de Ipanema”.
All the music was recorded for the film. The arrangements were by Eumir Deodato. Chico Buarque recorded alternative versions of his two songs for his 1967 album Chico Buarque de Hollanda Volume 2.
30 Years After
In 1992, Tom and João met 30 years after the debut of “The Girl from Ipanema”at a concert in Metropolis. João took up the introduction to “The Girl from Ipanema” from Au Bon Gourmet, as you can see here: