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Celebrating 30 Years Of 'Fresh Air': Brazilian Composer Antônio Carlos Jobim


This is FRESH AIR. And we're listening to some of our favorite interviews from the early days of our national daily broadcasts. In 1988, Terry spoke with Brazilian composer Antonio Carlos Jobim. He wrote "Desafinado," "Wave," "One Note Samba," "How Insensitive" and many other bossa novas, which endured long enough to become pop and jazz standards. Jobim died in 1994.

The 1964 Stan Getz album, "Getz/Gilberto," helped launch the bossa nova craze in the U.S. Getz was on tenor saxophone. Guitarist Joao Gilberto sang in Portuguese. Astrud Gilberto sang in English. And Jobim was at the piano. Here's the biggest hit from the album.


JOAO GILBERTO: (Singing in Portuguese).

ASTRUD GILBERTO: (Singing) Tall and tanned and young and lovely. The girl from Ipanema goes walking. And when she passes, each one she passes goes, ah.


TERRY GROSS, BYLINE: Antonio Carlos Jobim, welcome to FRESH AIR. Do you have any memories of writing "Girl From Ipanema"?

ANTONIO CARLOS JOBIM: Yes, that was long ago (laughter). I still have some memories. There is a beautiful, beautiful girl. And she used to pass by, you know, go to the beach, you know? Ipanema, Ipanema was a beautiful place. And the sand was so clean, you know, fine. The sea was so blue, green, you know, with the fish and the beautiful girls. And it was very, very nice, you know? And she - she's still a beautiful woman, you know? The other day, I saw her.

GROSS: This was a woman you knew and still know?

JOBIM: Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes.

GROSS: OK (laughter). I think when you started writing bossa novas, the bossa nova was seen as a pretty revolutionary music form...


GROSS: ...In Brazil. What was the revolution about? What made it so different from the music that had been played and sung before?

JOBIM: It was more like the cool jazz, you know, at that time, you know, with less - how do you say? - economic, concise, succinct, to the point, you know, to avoid too many beats, too many notes, you know? This kind of music that was called, you know, revolutionary, you know? As Stravinsky said, you know, a complete revolution, you know, you'll come exactly to the same point.

GROSS: (Laughter) So who was angry at this new music? Who didn't like it?

JOBIM: Well - how do you say? - the puritans, you know, the purists - you know, the guys that used to write about the traditional sound, you know? They thought that this was Americanized, you know, which is not true, you know. Now we can say that bossa nova is very much - you know, can be called jazz, you know, because everything that swings, you know, we call jazz - like, you know, Latin jazz, Caribbean jazz, Brazilian jazz, Cuban jazz. You know, the word jazz is very ample. Very...

GROSS: Yeah, but at the time, calling it Jazz made it seem like a bastard kind of form of Brazilian music. Was that part of the problem?

JOBIM: Yes, yes. By the way...

GROSS: Yeah.

JOBIM: ...We have in Brazil - here, I don't know - we have no bastards, you know, because this - every child - every son is legitimate. There is no bastards (laughter). As you well know, you know, I love, you know, American music, you know, and Gerry Mulligan and Stan Getz and Chet Baker and, you know, so many - so many, you know? My list - you know, Dizzy Gillespie, Billy Taylor, so - George Shearing - so many guys that you have here that - and they play bossa nova so well, you know? They can play anything, you know?

GROSS: So who are the people who really love this new music?

JOBIM: Chiefly, the kids. You know, chiefly the kids. The young people, you know?

GROSS: And how old were you when you started writing it?

JOBIM: I was - let me see - I was about 20, 25, 28. Let's say, the bossa nova explosion. We came here to the states. The Foreign Service sent us here. And we played at Carnegie Hall in November 22, 1962. And it was a big thing, you know? Bossa nova was already well established in the U.S. of A with - you know, the jazz musicians started to record the bossa nova consistently in the West Coast. And here in New York, Stan Getz recorded "Desafinado" - a song that I wrote that means off-key. You know, that was translated like slightly out of tune, which is not exactly the meaning of desafinado. Desafinado means off-key.


J. GILBERTO: (Singing in Portugese).

GROSS: One of the leading interpreters of your songs has been Joao Gilberto. Are you still in touch with him?


GROSS: Well, how did you both meet up? You were the leading composer, he the leading interpreter.

JOBIM: He came from the backlands of, you know, between the state of Bahia and Pernambuco. He comes from a vocal group, you know, one of these vocal groups, you know. And nobody wanted to do a record with Joao Gilbert because he was considered too revolutionary, you know, too modern, too. Everybody would say, this is very good, but it's not commercially, you know. And now, you know, he is - he's a famous singer, you know.

He was also accused of being desafinado, you know, of being off-key. He's very much in key. But at that time, you know, because he sang these song, this off-key, you know, called off-key. The critics also started to say that he had a very beautiful voice but he was, you know, off-key, which is not true.

DAVIES: Antonio Carlos Jobim speaking with Terry Gross in 1988. We'll hear more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.


DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR. And we're listening to Terry's 1988 interview with the late bossa nova composer Antonio Carlos Jobim.


GROSS: I want to play another song that you wrote that was recorded by you, Stan Getz and Joao Gilberto in - what was this? - the mid-'60s, I guess.


GROSS: And this is "Corcovado." And you open this with some of your piano playing. And Astrud Gilberto starts with the singing.

JOBIM: Gilberto, yes, yes.

GROSS: So let's give some of this a listen, and then we'll talk about it.


A. GILBERTO: (Singing) Quiet nights of quiet stars, quiet chords from my guitar floating on the silence that surrounds us. Quiet thoughts and quiet dreams, quiet walks by quiet streams and a window that looks out on Corcovado. Oh, how lovely.

J. GILBERTO: (Singing in Portugese).

GROSS: That's "Corcovado," from an album that really helped popularize bossa nova in America. It's the Stan Getz-Joao Gilberto record with songs mostly composed by my guest, Antonio Carlos Jobim, who is featured at the piano. And Astrud Gilberto opened with the vocal on that. Your first instrument is piano, but you also play guitar.

JOBIM: Right. Right.

GROSS: It's interesting to me. I think the kind of songs that you write are really more associated with guitar than with piano. Maybe that's because Gilberto one of the performers who popularized...


GROSS: ...The form.

JOBIM: Also, when I got to the stage, they wouldn't let me play piano here. You know, they said, listen, Antonio, you've got to be the Latin lover. You should play the guitar. You know, if you play the piano you destroy the whole image, you know? So I've been playing guitar for many, many years, you know, which was let's say my second instrument. That was an instrument that I used to play by ear, you know?

GROSS: When you first started writing bossa nova, did you sit down and think to yourself, I'm writing something new here?

JOBIM: No. I was, you know, rather naive. You know, I was immersed, you know, in this thing. You know, music, music, music. I was concentrating on my work, you know? I didn't have names for it. You know, I used this word on the back cover, on the liner notes for an album talking about Joao Gilberto. I wrote, you know, Joao Gilberto's a baiano, a bossa nova. A baiano means a guy from the state of Bahia, you know? I called him bossa nova, you know? And bossa nova means, you know, a guy that has a gift, a flair and a new flair, you know? And that's it. And then this name got very popular, you know, bossa nova. And then suddenly in Brazil we had the bossa nova president, the bossa nova refrigerator. You know, this car...

GROSS: Right.

JOBIM: This car is a bossa, you know? Anything new, anything new they would call a bossa nova, you know?

GROSS: I want to thank you very much for talking with us.

JOBIM: Oh, it's been great pleasure talking with you, Terry.

DAVIES: Bossa nova composer Antonio Carlos Jobim speaking with Terry Gross in 1988. He died in 1994. On Monday, our 30th anniversary continues with more interviews from 30 years ago. Elia Kazan tells us about directing Marlon Brando "On The Waterfront," Kirk Douglas on directing "Spartacus" and hiring blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo to write the script, and Sidney Lumet talks about working with Al Pacino on "Serpico" and "Dog Day Afternoon." Hope you can join us.


SUSANNAH MCCORKLE: (Singing) So danco samba. So danco samba. Vai (ph), vai, vai, vai, vai. So danco samba. So danco samba. Vai. So danco samba. So danco samba. Vai, vai, vai, vai, vai. So danco samba. So danco samba. Vai. (Singing in foreign language). So danco samba. So danco samba. Vai, vai, vai, vai, vai. So danco samba. So danco samba. Vai. (Scatting, singing in foreign language). Samba, samba, samba, samba. (Scatting).

DAVIES: FRESH AIR's executive producer is Danny Miller. Our technical director and engineer is Audrey Bentham with additional engineering support from Joyce Lieberman and Julian Herzfeld. Our associate producer for online media is Molly Seavy-Nesper. Roberta Shorrock directs the show. For Terry Gross, I'm Dave Davies.


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