Tall and Tan and Young and Lovely…

In early July, the world lost a musician of profound talent and broad influence. The Brazilian guitarist, João Gilberto, has been widely eulogized with words like “innovator” and “genius.” He is often credited as the progenitor of Bossa Nova, the Samba’s arguably quieter, more understated cousin. In Billboard’s tribute to Gilberto, they dubbed his impact “The Delicate Revolution.” 

In an interview for their 1998 book, The Brazilian Sound, guitarist, Oscar Castro-Neves, told authors Chris McGowan and Ricardo Pessanha, “It changed everything, for every young musician in Brazil… Once we heard what João was doing with the guitar and the voice, we all had to find a way to figure out how he did it.” 

Sadly, Gilberto’s catalog is sparse, with only ten studio albums spanning a six-decade career. Even so, his partnership with writer and arranger, Antônio Carlos Jobim, produced one of the top-selling jazz albums of all time. If you’re a jazz fan, you likely know the seminal 1964 Verve release,Getz/Gilberto, a collaboration with saxophonist, Stan Getz – whose 1962 album, Jazz Samba, was heavily influenced by Gilberto. Jazz Sambawon the Grammy for album of the year in 1965. If you’re not a fan of jazz, then you probably still know one of the tracks sung by Gilberto’s then-wife, Astrud:  The Girl from Ipanema(Garota de Ipanema).

Astrud Gilberto Sings The Girl from Ipanema with Stan Getz & His Band

While most artists wouldn’t want to be defined by one creation – even if it were an especially good one – The Girl from Ipanema is the thing for which I will best remember Gilberto (both João and Astrud). Love it or hate it, the tune is infectious. Hear it and you’ll be humming it later. 

As Judy Cantor-Navas writes for Billboard, “Since its appearance on the album Getz/Gilberto, the song, written by Jobim, with lyrics by Vinicius de Moraes and, in English, by Norman Gimbel, has been recorded by everyone from Frank Sinatra to Amy Winehouse, and tinged, variously, with flamenco, reggae and mariachi brass.” 

Love it or hate it, the tune is infectious. Hear it and you’ll be humming it later. 

While it might be tempting to simply write it off as “elevator music,” CNN.com reckons it is second only to The Beatles’ Yesterday in its number of different recorded versions. Given that it bests the likes of Louie Louie and My Way in terms of iterations, it’s safe to say somebody likes it (Note: click Cantor-Navas’ name above for 15 different versions).

Which brings me to a small confession. I collect covers of this song. I have a few dozen – not even a drop in the bucket of what’s out there. Then again, just because an artist took the challenge doesn’t mean I want to hear it more than once. I know a terse German rendering that one might use to scare children off your lawn.

Frank Sinatra Sings The Girl from Ipanema with Antônio Carlos Jobim

With all due deference to Astrud Gilberto’s incomparable rendition, I have other favorites. There’s Sinatra with Jobim, Lou Rawls, Ella Fitzgerald, Vince Guaraldi with Bola Sete, Maynard Ferguson, the Oscar Peterson Trio… I could go on… and on… and on… but I won’t restrict your own pilgrimage to Ipanema with my prejudices.

Many of you will doubtless not share my enthusiasm for this song. You’re wrong. Just know this as you waste the rest of your lives. What you myopically fail to see is that its central theme speaks to an experience we’ve all had: unrequited love. What is more human than to want something you cannot possess? We pine. We ache. We watch helplessly. “She looks straight ahead, not at me…” Simple, painful, profound. 

Speaking of Things We Want but Cannot Have: Amy Winehouse Sings The Girl from Ipanema.

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