-- Brian Zimmerman
Picture this: You're in an elevator, alone, when suddenly, a gentle island ditty starts piping through the speakers.
It starts with a guitar, a wave-like rhythm that reminds you of white sand and lapping waves. Then the melody kicks in. It sounds familiar, strangely familiar, and you probe your mind for where you've heard it before. Fragments of lyrics start to assemble in your brain. Your foot begins to tap. Suddenly, you're singing: "Tall and tan and young and lovely, the Girl from Ipanema goes walking..." Then you stop and wonder: How the hell do I know this song?
Well, if you're like anyone else in America, you've probably heard this
song a thousand times -- although you might not have known it. Its name,
quite appropriately, is "The Girl From Ipanema," and it was written by
Antonio Carlos Jobim, a Brazilian pianist and composer who helped
pioneer the bossa nova genre.
Today the song is the default track for
elevators and shopping malls around the country, and chances are, if
you've ever been put on hold, this is the song that's pumping through
the phone. But believe it or not, this song wasn't always a Muzak
cliché. In fact, there was once a time when bossa nova was immensely
popular in the United States. And much of that popularity can be
attributed to Antonio Carlos Jobim, whose song about a real-life girl on
a real-life beach helped make bossa nova a worldwide phenomenon.
Since the 1950s, when the music was first heard on American
airwaves, the name Jobim has been synonymous with bossa nova. Jobim's
style -- a blend of African rhythms, Brazilian melodies, and European
harmonies -- meshed perfectly with the already popular "cool jazz" of the
American West Coast, and for the next few years Jobim collaborated
extensively with cool jazz artists to bring his music to the United
Then in 1958, bossa nova witnessed a wild surge in popularity,
spurred on by a Portuguese-language movie called Black Orpheus. The
movie's score -- which featured a bevy of soon-to-be classics like "Manha
de Carnival," "Samba de Orfeu," and "A Felicidade" -- was written by none
other than Antonio Carlos Jobim and fellow Brazilian Luiz Bonfa. The
movie's soundtrack was an instant hit with American audiences, and by
the time The Girl From Ipanema album was released in 1964, with
saxophone by Stan Getz, bossa nova was a full-fledged craze. For the
youth of beat-generation America, whose members were never without their
bongos or acoustic guitars, bossa nova was a fun and exotic companion
to American popular music, and Jobim, the mastermind behind it all, had
become a musical icon.
But the wild success enjoyed by bossa nova during the 1950s and early
'60s came to a close just as another kind of music was beginning to sweep
the country: rock 'n' roll. Soon enough, the island sounds of Jobim and
his contemporaries were replaced by the surf-rock melodies of the
Beatles and the Beach Boys. California girls, after all, were much more
familiar to Americans than the ones from Ipanema. Before long, bossa
nova was all but extinct. Though it retained small pockets of
dedicated followers throughout the country, especially in regions with
sizable Latin American communities, its commercial appeal was
ultimately lost. The Brazilian music, literally translated as "the new
beat," had become old news.
But we, as South Floridians, can change all that. With the distinct
advantage of living in close proximity to South America, where the
tropical breezes blowing in from the coast carry with them the rhythms
and harmonies of Rio de Janeiro, we are in the perfect place to put
bossa nova back on the map. After all, this region is rich in Brazilian
culture and art. Just look at the statistics. Several of our cities,
like North Bay Village in Miami and Deerfield Beach in Broward, have
some of the highest percentages of Brazilian residents in the U.S. (North
Bay ranks number two on the list; Deerfield is number eight). So if there's going to be a
bossa nova revival in this country, it has to start here.
So how can you bring bossa nova back to life? One way is by heading to the Green Room this
Thursday night, April 26, to check out the Jazz Sessions concert with
the Bobby Lee Rodgers Jazz Trio. If you've never seen a Jazz Sessions
concert before (they happen every month and feature music by a
different jazz artist each time), you're really missing out.
chance to make amends for your absence and get your fill of bossa nova
at the same time. This month's concert will showcase the music of
Antonio Carlos Jobim, but it won't be like any Jobim you've heard
before. Bobby Lee, a master of interpretation and a brilliant improviser
in his own right, will have you out of your seat and snapping your
fingers like the beatnik you know you are. So forget what you heard
about Muzak and make sure to check out this month's Jazz Sessions at the
Green Room. You won't even have to take an elevator to get there.
The Green Room Jazz Sessions IV. Featuring the Bobby Lee Rodgers Jazz
Trio performing the music of Antonio Carlos Jobim. Thursday, April 26.
Doors open at 7 p.m. Tickets, available at ticketmaster.com or
Revolution Live Box Office, cost $5. Visit Green Room Live for more information.