Normally I remember exactly where and when I have bought my albums, particularly the most important ones. This time, though, the details escape me. It must have been long ago when Stan Getz and João Gilberto came into my life, because I named my first cat, as a nominally independent nominal adult, ‘Stan’: a beautiful tabby with a white shirt-front who spent his first couple of months bonding with me on my shoulders. After that, he got a little heavy.
So I would have been living in an old railway worker's cottage in Brighton that will now be worth a small fortune. It was my first foot up on the great Property Ladder that stretches from here to eternity. I suspect that I bought it during a visit to Bath to see my parents and grandparents. If so, it would probably have been in a fabulously old-fashioned shop called Milsom's, which was annexed to a music shop that went by the miraculous name of Duck, Son & Pinker.
'The Girl from Ipanema' would have already instilled itself into my sub-conscious mind – via tepid versions no doubt by the likes of Perry Como and/or Andy Williams. It's this track that opens this coolest of cool albums, but it's quite a different kettle of easy listening. If you were being unkind, you might describe it as 'soporific', but never 'tepid'. It's one of those songs, like Sly Stone's 'It's a Family Affair' that's barely awake. It sounds like it must have been recorded either early in the morning or very late at night, when the musicians and the crew were still in their pyjamas.
First, João Gilberto sings the refrain in Portuguese and then his wife, Astrud, who had never before sung professionally, made a career for herself by telling in slightly stilted English of the tall and tan and young and lovely girl who goes walking and turns people's heads because when she walks she's like one of the sambas on this album written by Antonio Carlos Jobim with his poetic cohort, Vinicius de Moraes. And when Astrud sings in that voice of hers that's as limpid as a pool of water in early spring, I still to this day go Aaaaaaah.!(upload://eH0cxkMzNvgvVqAXx7Rg3Vfjj6Y.jpg)
And then... and then... Stan enters on tenor sax. The word 'mellifluous' was invented to describe Stan Getz's tenor playing. B.B. King, bless his cherry-red guitar, described jazz as 'the big brother of the blues. If a guy's playing blues he's in high school. When he starts playing jazz it's like going on to college'. Stan graduated from the West Coast school of cool jazz in the 1950s and he played the most educated tenor on the scene for the rest of his days. He might not have been able to improvise like Sonny Rollins or play with the speed of Johnny Griffin or the intensity of John Coltrane, but he certainly gave his instrument sax appeal (and I told myself that I would resist the pun).
And when Stan enters on sax, it's one of the most seductive bit of heavy breathing that you're ever likely to hear. Off hand, I can think of only one other musical moment in jazz that's quite as sensual: when Ben Webster follows Art Tatum's piano on 'Gone With the Wind'. In fact, the tenor sax of Getz and the voice and gentle acoustic guitar of Gilberto constitute a marriage made in some post-coital heaven.
Jobim, who supplies most of the songs with Moraes, plays piano throughout and one mustn't forget that the unobtrusive drums are played by the colourfully named Milton Banana. Half man, half tropical fruit. Including classics of the genre like 'Desafinado', 'Corcovado' and 'O Grande Amor', there are only eight numbers on the album and they run in total to a measly 30 minutes or so. But that's half an hour of some of the most impeccable small-combo playing ever recorded in New York City – or anywhere else for that matter.
The album won a Grammy for Album of the Year the year after its release in 1964 and the single version of 'The Girl from Ipanema' sold a million. Stan Getz had already made Jazz Samba with guitarist Charlie Byrd in 1962 and had thereby introduced the great record-buying public outside Brazil to bossa nova, but it was Getz/Gilberto that really cemented the 'new trend'. And just as well, because jazz was in the doldrums and the competition for the teenage dollar was fierce. Everyone jumped on the bandwagon to try to rack up a few sales. Even Coleman Hawkins, as venerable a figure in his way as Louis Armstrong, made a bossa nova record (and it's not half bad, in a somewhat derivative kind of way).
Enthusiasm had long been curbed by the time that I got hip to Getz/Gilberto. But the prime reason why it became such an important album in my own private Idaho was that it led me to the musical treasures of Brazil. To my ears, there is no music on this earth that has such a unique melodic stamp as Brazilian music. Whether it’s the keys or chords they use or the combination of notes, I’m not sure, but I only have to hear a bar or two to know that a piece of music derives from Brazil. I’m sure I’m not alone in that respect.
I don't play Getz/Gilberto quite as much these days as I used to, but that's partly because I don't need to. Thanks to Stan and João, I can now choose from the likes of Jobim, Caetano Veloso, Milton Nascimento, Joyce Moreno, Gal Costa, Jorge Ben, Marcos Valle, Gilberto Gil, Carlinhos Brown and many, many others whose melodious rhythmic music makes my soul sing with joy.
When I walk, if I remember to, I try to be like a samba.