The Girl from Ipanema, Bossa Nova at the Beach, Brazilian Style

During the months of January and February, my Blog Posts featured several songs that have become standards. Among the selections that I recorded and wrote about was a Bossa nova called Desafinado. Since I found it so inspiring as well as energizing to share this song with you last month, I decided to present a series of posts about this style of music.

They say that art imitates life.  Perhaps when I chose Desafinado for my previous post, it was inevitable that the song that prepared the way for the Bossa nova’s rise to prominence, should turn out to get you ready to enjoy more of the music that followed this tune. In keeping with this, it seemed fitting to me that The Girl from Ipanema should be the song to start this series.

Ipanema is a section of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. It was established in 1894 and became internationally famous as a result of the popularity of none other than the song, The Girl from Ipanema. Composer Antonio “Tom” Jobim (1927-1994) and lyricist, Vinicius de Moraes (1913-1980) were actually natives of Ipanema. Enter American lyricist Norman Gimbel (born 1927).

Music publisher Lou Levy introduced Jobim to Gimbel in 1963. By this time Gimbel’s career was already well established (he had penned the lyrics to the 1956 hit song Canadian Sunset). It was Gimbel’s English lyrics for The Girl from Ipanema that were sung by Astrud Gilberto in the version that went on to become one of the most well-known singles of all time, winning two Grammy Awards and even surpassing the rank of the Beatles’ A Hard Day’s Night.

Perhaps because jazz saxophonist Stan Getz was the most well known performer on that historic recording, his colleagues couldn’t help but take notice of this Bossa nova style from the south. With this being Getz’s second album (Desafinado had been the featured number on the previous LP) devoted to this new genre of jazz, it didn’t take long for The Girl from Ipanema to become a standard. Now performers included this song and other Bossa novas in their repertoire along with the music of Gershwin, Arlen, Ellington and others.

The Girl from Ipanema, as well as Jobim’s other compositions; brought a rhythmic freshness and flow that lent itself better to jazz than did the other Latin America dance styles. The use of syncopation (displaced rhythmic accents) is a common component in this music. For example, in the first eight measures of Ipanema, only the first bar features the melody note starting on the downbeat (the first beat of every measure is considered the strong beat). All of the other measures sound their first melody note on the second half of the first beat or on the second beat. Because the accompaniment provides a strong pulse, the contrast of the melody notes occurring on weak beats keeps you on your toes.

Another feature of The Girl from Ipanema is that the harmony incorporates chromaticism (use of the half step relationship). Rather than use the customary ii-V-I chord progressions, the Gb7 chord (tritone substitute –bII) appears as a replacement for C7. Then the bridge starts with a Gbmajor7th chord. Since the song is in the key of F Major, this use of Gb is certainly providing the listener with fresh sounds.

As I mentioned in the When You Feel Good, Blame It on the Bossa Nova blog post, the composer also chose his melody notes from the more adventurous chord tones. For example, the first two measures use the 9th (G), 7th (E) and 13th (D) of the F Major7th chord for the tune. The 6th measure mainly uses a C melody for melody. This is the #11 of Gb7.

So you can see why The Girl from Ipanema became a vehicle for many jazz performers. As a standard, vocalists as well as instrumentalists could also take more liberties in their interpretations of the song. Because listeners knew the tune and wanted to hear it, many artists sought to present the song in their personal style, as I’ve tried to do in my own recording this week. Although there are plenty of beautiful renditions which are closer in style to Getz’s ground breaking recording, many others explore more of a variety.

Frank Sinatra’s recordings clearly keep his Chairman of the Board identity. Ella Fitzgerald’s up tempo samba interpretation includes quotes of Fly Me to the Moon, Temptation and other tunes along with her well-know scat singing and high energy. Bluesy jazz vocalist Lou Rawls sings The Girl from Ipanema in a medium swing tempo which works beautifully. On the instrumental side, jazz pianist Oscar Peterson incorporates his unmistakable improvisational lines into his trio recording. Jazz organists Richard “Groove” Holmes and Brother Jack McDuff keep the Bossa nova beat strong in keeping with their down home blues style.

Although I could continue to mention many more recorded versions of The Girl from Ipanema, I think you can see by now that this standard offers much for any pianist. If you want help learning how to play The Girl from Ipanema, another Bossa nova or simply another selection from among your favorites, contact the Mascari Piano Studios today.

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