American, Dutch and French versions of the LP
Fifty years ago, on April 20, 1962, a jazz album was released on the Verve Records label (V-8432). This in itself is not a big deal: Verve was started as a jazz record company, had released hundreds of jazz records before this previously, and would release hundreds—perhaps thousands—after. It wasn't particularly unusual for these musicians to release an album, either—Stan Getz and Charlie Byrd had both issued several albums before they teamed up for this one. However, this record, a collection of mostly Brazilian bossa nova compositions played by American jazz musicians called Jazz Samba, soon took on a life of its own.
Upon its release, it received rave reviews, including the near-top honor of four and a half stars in Downbeat Beat magazine, the jazz bible of the time. But positive press alone would not necessarily be enough to propel album sales.
After nearly five months in circulation, Jazz Samba entered the Billboard Album Chart on September 15, 1962. The album rose steadily in popularity, sales and chart position. Six months later, on March 9, 1963, it topped the Billboard Album Chart. Jazz Samba spent 70 weeks on that chart; to this date, it ranks as one of the biggest selling jazz albums of all time. Stan Getz won the Grammy Award for Best Jazz Performance, Soloist or Small Group (Instrumental) for the track "Desafinado"; he commanded better offers for live gigs and for appearances on TV and film (Get Yourself a College Girl).
The idea of a Brazilian/jazz connection had been conceived by radio DJ Felix Grant. In 1954, he began working at radio station WMAL in Washington DC. Grant wasn't originally hired to play jazz, but since he loved it, he snuck it onto the air whenever he could, until his show, called "The Album Sound," soon evolved into an all-jazz show. During the late Fifties, Grant became attracted to music from Brazil.
Brazilian music, chiefly the samba, was already known in the United States; several Brazilian recordings were available and singer Carmen Miranda was very popular, though perhaps on a novelty level. One of the bossa nova's chief architects, Joao Gilberto, even had an album released in the US by Capitol Records in 1961-just before the bossa nova madness began. A jazz-Brazil connection already existed; for example, the Brazilian guitarist Laurindo Almeida had been working in the US since 1947. His song, "Johnny Peddler," had been a hit for the Andrews Sisters and the success of it inspired him to travel to North America. Almeida worked with Stan Kenton's progressive big band for five years, cut some LPs of mostly classical and flamenco music for the Capitol label, and made some records with jazz saxophonist Bud Shank—another Kenton alumnus—in the early Fifties. These latter records are said to have been very influential in Brazil.
During the late Fifties, a new sound—a sort of hybrid of the samba and jazz called bossa nova—was becoming popular in Brazil. Early practitioners of the bossa nova claim that they were influenced by American jazz recordings. Felix Grant knew about the bossa nova and played on his show the few records he could get hold of. In July 1960, he was visited by Paulo Santos, a radio DJ from Rio de Janeiro and they played a number of bossa nova records on Grant's program. Soon after, Grant traveled to Brazil to get more bossa nova records and to hear the music played live. While there, he met and befriended many of the musicians who originated the bossa nova style. Grant recognized the jazz influences in the music and thought that U.S. musicians should pick up on it. Upon his return, he was able to convince his friend Charlie Byrd to take part in a U.S. State Department cultural tour of South America that included shows in Brazil.
Charlie Byrd was a classically trained jazz guitarist who recorded for the Riverside label. He was influenced by Django Rheindhart and Charlie Christian, and was well versed in flamenco, latin and other exotic styles. He was also aware of Brazilian music. In December 1958 he recorded a song called "Bamba Samba"—a slightly samba-tinged big band bop number—with the Woody Herman Orchestra, issued on Moody Woody for Everest Records. During most of his career, Byrd was based in the Washington DC area, where he had a regular gig at the Showboat Lounge. For a couple of years in the late Fifties, he and Felix Grant co-hosted a local TV show called "Jazz Recital."
Byrd's trip to South America took place in the spring of 1961. He was accompanied by his working rhythm section: bass player Keter Betts, who had worked with Byrd since 1957, and drummer Buddy Deppenschmidt. More than a week was spent in Brazil, where they were able to hear the bossa nova played in its native habitat. Betts and especially Deppenschmidt were keen on the music and the drummer went out of his way to learn to play the intricate rhythms from the local musicians.
Once back in Washington DC, the Charlie Byrd Trio began incorporating the bossa nova rhythms and songs into their live shows, mostly at the urging of the rhythm section. Also, the trio wanted to feature the bossa nova on its next record. However, Byrd's record label wanted nothing to do with the idea. Few in America had heard of the bossa nova. To a record company man like Orin Keepnews, who owned Riverside and produced many of its recordings, the bossa nova was nowhere, relegated to the "ethnic" section of a record store at best. Instead, in October 1961 Charlie Byrd recorded Blues Sonata, a typical Charlie Byrd album that featured his excellent guitar playing on straight jazz, as well as flamenco and classical-oriented pieces.
Meanwhile, as Byrd and his group—sometimes including his brother Joe (aka Gene) on second guitar or bass—began rehearsing the bossa nova stuff in earnest. As they progressed, it became apparent to them that the music might be improved considerably if another instrumental voice—like a saxophone—was brought into the mix. Both Paul Desmond and Stan Getz were considered.
There are two stories of what happened next. Both of them credible and possibly both true. According to the first account, Charlie Byrd and his wife Ginny attended a Stan Getz gig at the Showboat in December 1961 and afterwards invited Getz over for lunch the next day. Getz accepted and when he showed up, Byrd played him his bossa nova records, told him that he and his group were mastering the rhythms and hoped to record with a saxophonist. Getz dug what he heard; he told Byrd to tighten up the band and he'd be back to cut the record.
The other story is that, having decided to make a bossa nova record, that it should have another instrument on it to complement his guitar playing, and realizing that his own record label didn't want to make it (Riverside could have easily provided a saxophonist), Charlie Byrd cold-called Creed Taylor, the jazz producer at Verve, the record company that had Stan Getz under contract. Byrd explained his plan to Taylor and played some of the bossa nova music over the phone to him and suggested that Getz would be perfect for the project.
Creed Taylor was a forward-thinking record producer who looked for high concepts when he made records. Plus, since Verve was financed by a major entertainment concern, M-G-M, he could afford to lose. Orin Keepnews was also a forward-thinking producer (after all, he signed Thelonious Monk at a time when no one wanted him), but Riverside was a smaller independent label and if Byrd's bossa nova project failed, it would have cost Keepnews directly. Taylor liked the bossa nova music he heard over the phone, agreed to make the record and to provide Stan Getz's saxophone services.
There is probably a part of this narrative missing—the part that connects the two stories. A little over a year prior, Creed Taylor set up Impulse Records as a subsidiary of ABC-Paramount Records for jazz releases. Taylor brought John Coltrane to Impulse and, under Taylor's tutelage, Coltrane overtook Stan Getz as Saxophonist of the Year in the Downbeat Reader's Poll (Getz had topped the poll in ten previous years). Impulse was a rare thing: a successful jazz label that sold records in the pop market. However, Taylor was a major fan of Stan Getz. When he was offered a job to work with Getz at Verve, he took it. Taylor had deep respect for Getz. There is no way Taylor would have agreed to the album without Getz's input. It is most likely that Taylor told Byrd that Getz would be in DC in December, that Byrd should meet with him then to discuss the album, and that if Getz wanted to do it, Taylor would see that Verve released it.
Stan Getz's then-current Verve LP, Focus, was one of Taylor's high concept recordings: Featuring Stan Getz with a lush string section, it couldn't have been easy or cheap to record. Taylor may have seen a way to get some quick Getz masters in the can at little expense. After all, Taylor was in the record business!
Stan Getz came up through the jazz ranks playing in big bands. During the Fifties he made a series of small combo recordings that were greeted with great enthusiasm by jazz record buyers. He couldn't have been totally unfamiliar with Brazilian music, having recorded "Ginza" (sometimes called "Ginza Samba") with Cal Tjader in 1958. This track incorporates a sped-up, samba-like beat at the opening and closing themes, but the middle is about six minutes of pure hard-bop jam.
Later in 1958, Getz moved to Europe, which made him less visible on the American jazz scene. But after two years of being the big fish in the little European jazz pond, he became restless and returned to live in New York. By the end of 1961, Getz was ready for a new direction.
On February 13, 1962, Creed Taylor and Stan Getz flew from New York City on a shuttle flight to Washington DC, arriving at 2:00 PM. Sound engineer Ed Green, who had recorded Byrd's live sets at the Showboat, set up a portable Ampex tape recorder in Pierce Hall, a meeting room adjacent to All Souls Unitarian Church. Byrd and his musicians-bassist Keter Betts; brother Gene Byrd on bass or second guitar, as needed; Byrd's new drummer Bill Reichenbach and his old one, Buddy Deppendschmidt, who knew all the Brazilian rhythms-were tight by then, having rehearsed the material: a collection of sambas and bossa novas, including two by Antonio Carlos Jobim, and an uptempo original by Byrd that was a close approximation of the bossa sound. Producer Creed Taylor asked Getz and Byrd to add a popular samba called "Baia" (sometimes called "Bahia") to the track list, hoping that there would be at least one title on the album that record-buyers may recognize. Thanks to the well-rehearsed band and the impeccable playing of Stan Getz, the session took about three hours. By 6:00 that evening, Taylor and Getz were on a flight back to New York, home in time for dinner.
There may have been a Getz/Byrd session held in the New York City area weeks earlier, but it was aborted because the local rhythm section could not get the bossa nova rhythms right-thus the usage of Byrd's band in Washington DC. However, though it has been mentioned in some accounts of the making of Jazz Samba, and disputed in others, there does not seem to be proof that it actually took place and no tapes have been found.)
Taylor titled the album Jazz Samba against the advice of Verve marketing executives who thought that the word "jazz" will hurt album sales. Given the alternative—"bossa nova"—the label went with the words they had heard before. Writer Dom Cerulli was enlisted to provide liner notes that discussed the concept, the musicians and the songs, but never once mentioned the term "bossa nova," as if it were forbidden of him to do so. Taylor dressed the album up in a beautiful abstract painting by Puerto Rican painter Olga Albizu and scheduled it for release about two months after it was recorded.
Meanwhile, back in DC, Byrd kept plugging his Brazilian concept to Keepnews, who may have warmed to it after he got wind of the Getz/Byrd collaboration. Two days before the release of Jazz Samba, The Charlie Byrd Trio, with brother Gene, began recording music influenced by the South American tour, including two songs cut for Jazz Samba, "Samba de Uma Nota So" (aka "One Note Samba") and "O Pato." The resultant album was called Latin Impressions and it also featured music from other South American countries. That fall, with Jazz Samba gaining in popularity, Byrd and trio were finally allowed to cut their all-Brazilian album, with sessions on September 28 and October 1. Bossa Nova Pelos Passaros included two more versions of Jazz Samba tracks: "Desafinado"—which was on its way to being a hit—and "Samba Triste." Some of the songs had strings over-dubbed; others included a trombonist and a sax/flute player. The album was rush-released and enjoyed a little ride on the bossa nova bandwagon commenced by Jazz Samba, as it was Byrd's best selling LP up to that point in his career. Also, the Antonio Carlos Jobim composition "Meditacao" ("Meditation") was issued as a single and became a minor hit.
With Jazz Samba still high in the charts in early 1963, Byrd recorded another album of Brazilian music called Once More! Charlie Byrd's Bossa Nova. This album had the same rhythm section as Jazz Samba augmented by cellos, flugelhorn, French horn and/or a vibraphone instead of Getz.
After Jazz Samba was released, Getz seemed to continue his career as if nothing happened at first. In June 1962, he recorded "The Theme to Dr. Kildare"—a popular TV show—as a single. An edited version of "Desafinado"—a track from the Jazz Samba session—was picked to be the B-side and the coupling was issued later that summer. Some genius radio DJ (perhaps Felix Grant?) must have turned the record over and played "Desafinado" on his program. By the end of September, "Desafinado" entered the Billboard Top Pop Singles chart, where it stayed for 16 weeks, reaching as high as Number 15—a major hit, especially for a jazz instrumental recording. This propelled the popularity and sales of Jazz Samba and initiated a great demand for everything bossa nova.
Once the bossa nova started to take off, Stan Getz took full advantage of his position as an early enthusiast. His next project was Big Band Bossa Nova, a 17-piece swing band playing the bossa nova-styled arrangements of Gary McFarland. This time the term "bossa nova" was prominent on the package. To give an indication as to how popular bossa nova had become in 1962, the Getz/McFarland album was one of at least four released that year that were all called Big Band Bossa Nova (the others were by Quincy Jones, Enoch Light and Oscar Castro-Neves—an actual Brazilian! PLUS, each of the four albums included at least one song brought to prominence by Jazz Samba).
By 1963, bossa nova was in full swing. Several of the original bossa musicians had relocated to the U.S.; some of them at the urging of Stan Getz, who then began his so-called Brazilian Trilogy: collaborations with Louis Bonfa, Joao Gilberto (both of which included songs and guitar playing by Antonio Carlos Jobim) and Laurindo Almeida. All three LPs were recorded in February and March 1963 as the sales for Jazz Samba were peaking, but the releases were staggered. Jazz Samba Encore was a blatant attempt for more bossa nova magic, with the added attraction of real Brazilians (Bonfa and Jobim) and a female vocalist on four tracks. It sold respectably. However, Getz/Gilberto struck gold, driven by the "Girl From Ipanema" hit single, sung by Astrud Gilberto. The album spent 96 weeks on the Top Album chart, two of them at the Number Two position—deprived of the top spot by The Beatles. The album also netted Getz the "Album of the Year" Grammy Award for 1964. In a February 1964 interview with Leonard Feather for Downbeat Magazine, Jazz Samba #2 with Charlie Byrd was mentioned, but never brought to fruition.
By the time Stan Getz With Guest Artist Laurindo Almeida was issued in 1966, the bossa nova craze was over and the album sold poorly. There was a Getz/Gilberto Volume Two, but it consisted of two sets, one by each musician, recorded live at Carnegie Hall on October 9, 1964. They did not play together and Getz's contribution did not have bossa nova content. (It is interesting to note that Gilberto's bass player for his portion of the program was Keter Betts, who played on Jazz Samba.)
At the Carnegie Hall show, Getz played two sets—the aforementioned straight jazz set, and another that featured bossa nova songs and the sweet, breathy vocals of Astrud Gilberto. Some of these latter songs, along with six that were recorded at the New York nightclub Cafe Au Go-Go that May, were combined for Getz A' Go-Go, Getz's last Top Thirty album.
Producer Creed Taylor also took full advantage of the bossa nova sensation that was sweeping the nation. He made the Stan Getz albums mentioned above, of course. Cal Tjader, an American vibraphonist of Swedish descent who had been playing small combo mambo jazz since the early Fifties, was probably the most Latin-tinged artist signed to Verve at the time. A month after the Jazz Samba session, he was in the studio with Taylor to produce Cal Tjader Plays the Contemporary Music of Mexico and Brazil. Once Jazz Samba hit big, Taylor made records with several of the key Brazilian bossa nova artists (Louis Bonfa, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Astrud Gilberto, Walter Wanderley) and made bossa nova a key theme for albums by such artists as Bob Brookmeyer, vibist Gary McFarland and Lalo Schifrin, the Argentinian pianist who had played with Dizzy Gillespie.
Around 1967, when Taylor left Verve to start his own CTI Records, Brazilian music was a key component of his roster. The second album he issued was by Antonio Carlos Jobim. Other Brazilians he recorded include The Tamba 4, Milton Nascimento and Airto Moreta. In 1973, Taylor once again hit pay dirt with Brazilian music when Deodato's version of "Also Sprach Zarathustra (2001)" became a smash hit.
Charlie Byrd—nominally co-leader of the Jazz Samba album—did not fare as well as Getz. Although the album's success helped nudge his career along, Byrd's subsequent Brazilian-influenced recordings did not sell nearly as well as those by Getz. Also, since Byrd did not have a contract with Verve, he and his musicians only received union scale compensation for their work. This upset Byrd quite a bit. In the middle of 1964, after the album that he and his men worked so hard to create became so popular and continued to sell well, he sued Verve's parent company M-G-M for royalties. Finally, in 1967, he settled for $50,000 and future royalties. As the composer of one of the tracks on the album, one would assume he may have received some song-writing royalties as well.
Byrd had a long career and remained a highly respected jazz/classical guitarist. He cut a few more albums for Riverside, signed to major label Columbia Records around 1965 and finished his career with a line of respected albums recorded for Concord Jazz that covered more than twenty years. Perhaps more than fifty LPs have been issued of his music. Every once in a while he would make a Brazilian-influenced album, including one of his last ones, My Inspiration: The Music of Brazil.
After his brush with the bossa nova, Stan Getz continued his career as a respected and popular jazz saxophonist. He only returned to Brazilian music in 1975 when he made The Best of Both Worlds with Joao Gilberto and other Brazilians in tow, including Oscar Castro-Neves and the songs of Antonio Carlos Jobim.
Although the popularity of the bossa nova in the United States peaked in the early sixties, it did a lot to bring international acclaim to Brazilian music, as it continues to be highly regarded. A 1962 concert of bossa nova music by actual Brazilians helped bring some of them to this country where many of them continued to work. Sergio Mendes, one of the musicians who worked with Herbie Mann and befriended Felix Grant, especially was quite successful in the U.S. as a result of all this attention. During the Sixties, he had three Top Twenty hits and four of his albums sold more than 500,000 copies.
The bossa nova is wonderful music that most likely would have thrived internationally even without the help of Jazz Samba. However, a three-hour recording session that took place about fifty years ago sure helped it along.
Album liner notes