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Discernment. Online

'Bossa nova is generally accepted to have taken shape in, and won wide popular appeal from, the work of Antonio Carlos Jobim and his colleagues in the late '50s, but the roots of the style go much deeper'


A beat and its roots

Where did the bossa nova rhythm originate? In Brazil or the USA?

Hello Jazzebel,

On Bossa Nova, in Brazil they the Brazilians did not invent Bossa Nova. In 1984 I had a conversation with the late Laurindo Almedia and he being a very modest man, said that he, along with Bud Shank and Harry Babasin and Roy Harte, first put together the rhythms that became Bossa Nova. This was done in Los Angeles on Santa Monica Blvd. in the early 1950s. Laurindo said: I took 25 copies of the original 10 inch LP, and gave it to friends and they paid close attention to it. So Bossa Nova took South America (Brazil) by storm, not the other way round as most people incorrectly think! Anyone who disagrees may e-mail the editor of The Music Magazine.

Ron La Rue

A matter of emphasis

My thanks to Ron La Rue for drawing my attention to a lesser known fact of jazz history. After reading his e-mail, I decided to consult my rather meagre collection of jazz books on the subject and, finding no mention of bossa nova in any of them, concluded that my knowledge of the subject was entirely derived from whatever I had heard about jazz history, particularly bossa nova and Antonio Carlos Jobim, in BBC World Service radio programmes. (If that looks like an attempt to shrug off responsibility, it isn't: the BBC has been an invaluable element in my admittedly sparse education. Mr La Rue himself accepts that "most people'' have the same impression as I do, and there is probably a shortcoming in the literature here.)

Finally, anyway, I turned to a dictionary of jazz: All Music Guide to Jazz (ed. Ron Wynn, Miller Freeman Books, San Francisco, 1994). On Laurindo Almeida, it says that he led a trio in Los Angeles in the '50s, and recorded the two-volume Brazilliance with Bud Shank in 1953. On the albums themselves, it says "It is almost possible to hear the birth of bossa nova in these albums." The entry on Jobim says, on the other hand, that he persuaded Odeon Records, as its music director, to record Joao Gilberto performing (Jobim's) "Chega de Saudade" (in 1958), a recording that helped launch a reshaping of samba into bossa nova.

Putting together what All Music Guide and Mr La Rue say, as well as the generally accepted lore that Jobim and others popularised the style at the end of the '50s, I should think a fair account would say: bossa nova is generally accepted to have taken shape in, and won wide popular appeal from, the work of Antonio Carlos Jobim and his colleagues in the late '50s, but the roots of the style go much deeper, discernible in Laurindo Almeida's work with American musicians such as Bud Shank on the West Coast in the early part of the decade. I defer to Mr La Rue's knowledge but demur somewhat in interpretation or emphasis.

If that doesn't sound as categorical as Mr La Rue's judgment, I'd be glad if he can point me towards some sources (available on the Internet, preferably, since I have very limited access to printed material) that weigh in more decisively on the side of Almeida's work. Either way, I myself wouldn't make too much of the share of the Americans in the parentage. Mr La Rue himself says that Almeida being a very modest man, he said he put together the rhythms that became bossa nova with Bud Shank et al.; i.e., Almeida, a Brazilian, probably had a major share in the development. Secondly, I'm always more than happy to credit Americans with a huge share in the induction, even integration, of bossa nova into jazz, since I think Stan Getz, Charlie Byrd, Dizzy Gillespie, Joe Henderson, Herbie Hancock and other American jazz musicians put much more emphasis on improvisation -- without which I feel there is no jazz -- in bossa nova than the Brazilians in general did. And I always say so at the slightest opportunity!


Published on 8 April 2003

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