Tuesday, March 25, 2014

First Trip to Rio


1964 was quite a year for me and music. I was 13 years old and yes, I was there, in my friend Bruce Crookston’s house, gathered around the TV set watching the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show while his mother made fun of their hair. The Beach Boys had released “I Get Around,” which captured my ear with those tight-knit harmonies and the Dixie Cups tuned my ears to simpler harmonies at they went to “The Chapel of Love.” The Supremes were wondering “Where Did Our Love Go?” Manfred Mann was scat singing “Do Wah Diddy Diddy Dum Diddy Do,” Martha and the Vandellas were “Dancing in the Street” while the Drifters were doing some intriguing things “Under the Boardwalk.” The Dave Clark Five were “Glad All Over”, the Four Season’s were telling “Dawn” to go away and Peter and Gordon declared that they would not live in “A World Without Love.” Jan and Dean were racing “The Little Old Lady from Pasadena,” Chad and Jeremy were singing their “Summer Song” and Millie Small was driving me crazy with the least favorite song to get stuck in my head—“My Boy Lollipop!” Meanwhile, my friends and I spent hours in the basement trying to figure out the words to “Louie Louie” and when we couldn’t, exclaiming with Roger Miller, “Dang Me.”

Quite a time for popular music! And just in time for my adolescence! It also turned out to be a door-opening year to a musical form called jazz. While still playing Bach on the organ, I starting working on my first Dave Brubeck song— what else? Take Five! And speaking of jazz, this was probably the first time I paid attention to a genius named Louis Armstrong, whose “Hello Dolly” was the number three hit of the year after the Beatle’s “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” and “She Loves You.”

And amidst all this remarkable carnival of musical styles was a surprise sleeper hit that got to number 5 on the Hit Parade and was number 51 of the top 100 hits of 1964. This was music unlike anything I had ever heard and most radical of all for American popular radio, some of it was in another language! The tune was “The Girl From Ipanema,” the composer Antonio Carlos Jobim, the singers Astrud and Joao Gilberto and the saxophone player someone named Stan Getz. Like so many, I was captivated and entranced by the combination of syncopated rhythms and quiet, gentle guitar and vocal style. And so I made my first trip to Rio de Janeiro and the beach of Ipanema, carried by those sounds in my imagination. I could picture the girl (I was 13!), the beach, the swaying palms and though the details of this “new thing” (bossa nova) were obscure to me, the message was clear. I wanted more, longed to travel to that magical entrancing world.

So 50 years later, here I am in Rio de Janeiro. Alone on a warm night in an apartment in Copacabana listening to the full Getz/Gilberto album that I bought some years after I first met that girl from the nearby beach. Astrud’s voice hasn’t changed a bit! And Stan Getz’ playing as he weaves so gracefully and imaginatively in the spaces of the song is a study in elegance and improvisational genius. The whole group feels “in the zone,” all the grooves hitting just right, leaving behind a legacy of a music that transported millions to Rio without every buying the plane ticket.

Bossa nova is hardly new anymore, but damn! it holds up! Still one of my favorite musical styles, with its most exquisite blend of rhythm, melody, harmony, timbre and texture. Stan Getz and Tom Jobim are long gone, Astrud Gilberto retired, but still with us at 74 years old, Joao occasionally performing at 83, but with a reputation of being an eccentric recluse still living in Rio. But the magic they spun did its work and this perpetual 13-year old is eternally grateful.

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