Essentials: ‘Getz / Gilberto’ Album Review

If there were a word for “beyond essential” that word would describe this album perfectly. Getz / Gilberto was a great album when it was released in 1963, and it is a great album today. Fifty years from now this recording will still be a must-have for music lovers of every persuasion in every country of the globe. Quite likely there is not another album extant about which that can be said. This music is detached, cool and irresistible, a marriage of North and South sounding today as fresh as when it arrived. If you don’t own it, it’s time to acquire it. If you do own it and haven’t listened for a while, reacquainting yourself with its eternal mysteries will prove one of the greatest pleasures of this or any year.

Miles Davis famously said “Joao Gilberto would sound good reading a newspaper.” To team Gilberto with Stan Getz, who had been a brilliant saxophonist even as a teenager, was the inspiration of Creed Taylor, one of the seminal forces in American jazz in the 20th century. Gilberto was one of the leaders and creators of bossa nova music, and its most talented performer, excelling at both classical nylon-string guitar and subdued but passionate vocals. Antonio Carlos Jobim was not only a wonderful composer, but a sensational pianist and guitarist; he was Gilberto’s co-writer. As for Astrud Gilberto, Joao’s wife, she not only recorded a sensational vocal for “The Girl From Ipanema”, as well as for “Corcovado”, she accomplished something astonishing with those performances; they were her first recordings ever and she turned “Ipanema”, which was intended to be a B side, into an immortal A side.

Eight songs comprise the album. Yes, the music is inspired by jazz masters such as Gerry Mulligan, Chet Baker and Miles Davis, but it achieves something that none of those exalted hipsters ever did. The album brought Brazilian music, cool jazz, soft elegant sambas and the exotic flavours of Rio De Janeiro to mass audiences while providing a classic for elitist jazz fans. How did this happen? Some say that South American music is the greatest music of the 20th century. Others say that once the samba gets into your soul it never leaves.

As Jobim told Gene Lees, the American music writer who wrote the English lyrics for several of these songs:

“the bossa nova was kind of washed, more concise, less noise, less things going on… it came with a very detached beat, very characteristic, that cleaned the whole thing. .. And maybe because of that it became more universal.”

Phil Ramone, who recorded dozens of famous American albums, was the engineer on the record. He stated “there was an indescribable feeling in the room when we made Getz/Gilberto – a quiet energy that put everyone in a happy mood… It was pure magic because of the players and how they sounded in the room at 112 West 48th Street.” And further from Phil regarding Astrud Gilberto, her voice “was beguiling: sexy and coy, yet innocent at the same time.”

Yes, this great Brazilian jazz record was made in New York with an American producer and an American sound engineer.

The album won four Grammys and stayed on the charts for two years, peaking at no. 2 only because 1964 and 1965 belonged to The Beatles.

So, what’s in this 57 year-old record for you in the year of this writing, 2021?

Well, you might be living in Manhattan and working on Wall Street. You’re going to need some music that reflects your sophistication and interest in high end audio. Getz/Gilberto will do that for you.

Or you might be living in Medicine Hat, Alberta, exploring some new music and trying to keep cool throughout the pandemic. Getz/Gilberto will do that for you.

Or maybe you’re just crazy for something that comes out of next week and recharges your neurons.

This record will do that and more. Getz/Gilberto is beyond essential.