Conclusion

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[1] I came to study this topic after hearing the comforting sounds of Terri Gross on National Public Radio’s program All Things Considered. On February 11, 2008, Gross was reporting on the GRAMMYs that had occurred the night before. Herbie Hancock, Gross told me, had won Album of the Year for his album, River: The Joni Letters. Gross continued: this was only the second time a jazz album received Album of the Year. The last one was Stan Getz and João Gilberto’s Getz/Gilberto, which won in 1965.          At the time I thought this was a curious tidbit: a bossa nova album being the only jazz album to win Album of the Year until 2008. Why not Charles Mingus’ The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady or Bill Evans’ Conversations with Myself or John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme? I was fascinated by this little nugget of history: a little comment made in passing. I mulled over this radio broadcast for thirteen years. I thought about the importance of bossa nova. I wondered why a genre of music captivated the American public in this way. I thought about why it was the only jazz record to get Album of the Year for 43 years before Herbie Hancock’s River: The Joni Letters swooped in and snatched the distinction from Gilberto in Dennis Rodman-like fashion. The answer to such questions, in part, has culminated in the research presented before you. 

 

[2] Although I was initially captivated by Gross’ reporting, I ultimately discovered that her mention of bossa nova relied on several incorrect premises. Her report, also, inadvertently, perpetuated rather simplistic understandings of bossa nova. First, Gross’ statement that Getz/Gilberto constituted a “jazz album” provides a constrictive definition of bossa nova. Yes, Stan Getz was a jazz artist, but the characterization assumes that bossa nova is a sub-style of jazz, just like hard-bop, or soul jazz, or avant-garde jazz, or post-bop. To a certain extent it was. However, this characterization overlooks bossa nova’s relationship to other styles of music and its performance by other artists who would not consider themselves jazz musicians. Second, Getz/Gilberto’s notoriety risks whitewashing the genre.           The performers on Getz/Gilberto – saxophonist Stan Getz, guitarist João Gilberto, pianist Antônio Carlos Jobim, bassist Sebastião Neto, drummer Milton Banana, and vocalist Astrud Gilberto – all passed and coded as white. Gross did nothing wrong, admittedly. She was just mentioning a wildly successful album from the 1960s. Yet, the prevalence of this album in the public consciousness, and the popularity of performers like Getz, Gilberto, and Jobim, offers an impression that only white musicians played bossa nova. This is not true. Throughout the 1960s, bossa nova was played by black doo-wop groups like The Dells, black rock and roll artists like Chubby Checker, black hard bop musicians like Lee Morgan, and black avant-garde jazz musicians like Archie Shepp. Furthermore, several Puerto Rican, Cuban, and Mexican musicians like Tito Puente – to say nothing of their Brazilian counterparts – recorded bossa nova. Whether or not these musicians from the Caribbean, South America, or Central America identified as white (or were understood to be white by others) does not detract from the fact that bossa nova musicians came from a much larger multi-racial and multi-ethnic background than Terri Gross’s commentary might initially suggest.

 

[3] I am indebted to Gross, whose comments inspired this study of bossa nova, its popularity in the United States, and role within American culture. However, this project partly nuances Gross’ understanding of bossa nova. It was not just jazz music. It was not just performed by white musicians. A quick survey of the musical landscape of the contemporary moment makes this evident. Take Robert Glasper’s version of the Miles Davis song, “Maiysha,” featuring Erykah Badu. The song, released on Glasper’s 2016 album, Everything’s Beautiful, revisits Davis’ song and imbues it with a bossa nova pattern played by a drum synthesizer. The music video takes inspiration from bossa nova as well. In 1964, Astrud Gilberto and Stan Getz performed a famous version of “Garota de Ipanema” that, thanks to three million views on YouTube, has remained in the public consciousness.           In the video, Gilberto steps on stage with her hair done up high and wearing a patterned dress. Getz and a quartet (with Gary Burton on vibes) join her. Together, they are all performing on a stage adorned with curved decorations hanging in the background. The Glasper music video references this performance. Badu, like Gilberto, walks on stage in a similar outfit. She is accompanied by Glasper and a quartet. The stage also bears a passing resemblance to the one Gilberto sang on fifty-two years prior. The similarities are uncanny.

[4] Glasper’s rendition does not just refer to Gilberto and Getz’s performance. It also attests to a long history of musicians playing bossa nova rhythms on home organs and rhythm machines. During the 1960s, several of these organs and machines were being produced. Many included bossa nova patterns for amateur musicians to play along with while at home. Examples included Kimball’s Rhythm Organ and Olson’s Rhythm Instrument.    Many of them were marketed specifically to women consumers. A preliminary list of songs that feature bossa nova rhythms emanating from home organs and drum machines includes Sly and the Family Stone’s 1971 track “In Time,” as well as Timmy Thomas’ 1972 release, “Why Can’t We Live Together.” Such songs not only testify to bossa nova’s longstanding appeal within the black community but also illuminate the extent to which hip hop musicians sample bossa nova of the 1960s. Multiple examples exist. Juice WRLD’s “Make Believe” from 2019 samples Stan Getz and Luiz Bonfá’s 1963 recording, “Saudade vem correndo.” Bossa nova also appears in the politically salient music of Kendrick Lamar. Songs like “FEEL.” and “untitled 06” showcase the bossa nova clave behind Lamar’s socially conscious lyrics that criticize “industry promises” and worldly pleasures.

[5] Bossa nova makes its contemporary appearance within Latin (non-Brazilian) circles as well. Puerto Rican-born rapper and singer Bad Bunny’s 2020 release, “Si Veo A Tu Mamá,” offers an example. Bunny included a synthesized melody of “Garota de Ipanema” in his song, tapping into a long tradition of Latin musicians’ performance of bossa nova. Throughout the 1960s, musicians like Xavier Cugat, Joe Quijano, and Mongo Santamaria released several LPs and singles highlighting their takes on bossa nova. Several of these LPs, notably Perez Prado’s Our Man in Latin America, presented bossa nova alongside other Latin styles such as the cha-cha-chá, rumba, and bolero. This project does not address this history in detail. However, the topic merits future study. Between 1880 and 1930, activists in Cuba, Mexico, and the United States discussed local struggles in relation to racial oppression and imperialism in neighboring nations. As they formulated such ideas, these intellectuals created a type of hemispheric solidarity that emerged across countries.          A similar type of comradery amongst Latin American countries existed during the 1960s as well. During this decade, activists formed a Tricontinental movement that aimed to unify the world’s “colored” people from Asia, Africa, and America in a struggle against global oppression.          Such history serves as a foundation for others to begin placing recordings like Tito Puente’s Bossa Nova by Puente or Tito Rodriguez’s Let’s do the Bossa Nova within a broader context of hemispheric, Latin, or decolonial solidarity.

 

[6] The prevalence of bossa nova idioms in the music of Bad Bunny, Erykah Badu, Robert Glasper, and Kendrick Lamar testifies to the diversity of the genre. Had I been Terri Gross, mentioning bossa nova in passing in 2008, I might have changed my description slightly. She had good reason to compare Hancock’s album to Getz/Gilberto. However, bossa nova, with its influence on rock drummers such as John Densmore, places an album like Getz/Gilberto in a lineage of rock albums, like Steely Dan’s Two Against Nature, which one Album of the Year 2001. Bossa nova, with its suburban white middle class appeal, equally serves as part of a tradition that leads to Tony Bennet and Norah Jones, who won Album of the Year in 1995 and 2003, respectively. The genre’s presence at civil rights concerts and activist circles likewise places the music within a history that leads to Lauryn Hill’s Miseducation of Lauryn Hill (1999). As foreign, Brazilian music, it serves as a precedent for Paul Simon’s Graceland (1987). Carlos Santana, who won in 2000 for his album Supernatural, is a big fan of guitarist Bola Sete as well. The list goes on.

[7] As of writing this, Billie Eilish’s album, Happier Than Ever, is nominated for Album of the Year at the 2022 GRAMMYs. The album contains a song, “Billie Bossa Nova,” which bears a passing resemblance to bossa nova of the 1960s. The song begins with a guitar pattern that distantly alludes to João Gilberto’s batida. It also features a synthesized drum loop which does not necessarily sound like the bossa nova pattern of the 1960s. Instead, it sounds more like the synthesized patterns heard in Glasper’s rendition of “Maiysha.” Listeners of “Billie Bossa Nova” might scratch their heads wondering what exactly about this song relates to “bossa nova.” Yet, other listeners might understand the reference completely. That is almost the point. Bossa nova is diffuse. Historically, it found itself in a variety of musical and social contexts. Just change a little ingredient here. Add a little ingredient there.

[8] In the event Eilish wins, Terri Gross, like she did with Herbie Hancock’s win, might make a report on April 4, the day after the GRAMMYs. Eilish writes idiosyncratic and unique music. However, in an explanation, Gross might contextualize the album, with its heavy focus on downtempo electronic productions and subdued vocals, within something like Daft Punk or Adele, whose albums Random Access Memories and 21 won Album of the Years before. Or she could likewise understandably reference it alongside Getz/Gilberto: an album recorded in a style of music that crept into various genres and cultural circles. Then some poor seventeen-year-old might hear Gross’ comment as well, find such a comparison interesting and thought provoking, think about it for a decade, then write a dissertation about it.

Astrud Gilberto and Stan Getz - The Girl from Ipanema (1964) LIVE, 2012, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sVdaFQhS86E.

“On ‘River,’ Hancock Skates Away with Grammy,” All Things Considered (National Public Radio, February 11, 2018), https://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=18888168.

“Kimball Organ,” Los Angeles Times, January 2, 1968, SG9; “Olson Rhythm Instruments,” Los Angeles Times, June 6, 1968, 27.

Bryan McCann devotes an entire study to the album in Getz/Gilberto, 33 1/3 Brazil (New York, NY: Bloomsbury Academic, 2019).

For more examples of bossa nova in hip hop, see Elias Leight, “How Bossa Nova Is Infiltrating Rap and R&B,” Rolling Stone, May 29, 2019, https://www.rollingstone.com/music/music-latin/bossa-nova-rap-r-n-b-juice-wrld-cuco-hope-tala-837916/.

David Luis-Brown, Waves of Decolonization: Discourses of Race and Hemispheric Citizenship in Cuba, Mexico and the United States (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2008).

Anne Garland Mahler, From the Tricontinental to the Global South Race, Radicalism, and Transnational Solidarity (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2018).

Chris McGowan and Ricardo Pessanha, The Brazilian Sound: Samba, Bossa Nova, and the Popular Music of Brazil (Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press, 1998), 57.