by Blair Jackson
João Gilberto is not, strictly speaking, a classical guitarist. But it is safe to say that few modern nylon-string players have had as significant an impact on the instrument as Gilberto has, and his influence definitely crosses over into the classical-guitar world, where samba and bossa nova pieces by Antonio Carlos Jobim and others can often be found in programs sitting next to Bach, Barrios, and Albéniz.
Gilberto is still best-known for his 1964 collaboration with tenor sax giant Stan Getz on an album called Getz/Gilberto which included the international #1 hit “The Girl From Ipanema,” featuring Gilberto’s wife, Astrud, on vocals, as well as Jobim—author of the music—on piano, plus a bassist and drummer. Though that song and album created a major sensation, including a bossa nova craze in the United States, Gilberto and Jobim had pioneered the genre back in the mid- to late ’50s, and in 1962 Getz and guitarist Charlie Byrd had put out the landmark Grammy-winning Jazz Samba album, which included a pair of Jobim tunes. Instrumentally, Gilberto’s guitar-playing was at the heart of this new offshoot of the samba; his highly rhythmic chordal playing was far from flashy, yet it was not an easy style to master; it had a deceptive complexity, despite the apparent nonchalance of the guitarist’s subtle but sonorous vocal approach.
Joao Gilberto and Stan Getz in San Francisco. Photo by Tom Copi
The exciting news for fans of that classic album, and of bossa nova and samba in general, is that Resonance Records recently released a CD called Getz/Gilberto ’76, culled from live performances at San Francisco’s famous (but now defunct) North Beach jazz mecca, the Keystone Korner club. Rounding out the quintet are the other players in Getz’ quartet from that era: Joanne Brackeen on piano, Clint Houston on bass, and Billy Hart on drums. The material draws on number of different writers, including three by Jobim, (one each from the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s), three 1940s tunes popularized by the Brazilian singer Dorival Caymmi, a couple by Gilberto, and three others. Gilberto’s instrumental “João Marcelo” is best showcase for his guitar playing, but fans of jazz and bossa nova will find plenty to like on this warm and inviting album.