14 June 2023

The Girl from Ipanema


Astrud Gilberto died earlier this month.  She was famous, of course, for her breathy vocals on “The Girl from Ipanema,” which made Bossa Nova a brand name in the U.S. market.  The single sold five million copies.  She was paid scale, and never saw any royalties.

Bossa Nova, in Brazil, developed from samba.  An early iteration is said to be the soundtrack from Black Orpheus, in 1959.  In other words, not so much nova as it is a novel style.  The two big homegrown names were Joao Gilberto and Antonio Carlos Jobim, who popularized it worldwide.  In the States, though, Boss Nova was a fad, like calypso or the Twist, and it fell out of fashion after the Sixties.  But in the meantime, it put Sergio Mendes and Stan Getz on the AM charts, and “Girl from Ipanema” and “Desafinado” have become standards.  (“Ipanema” is supposedly the second most covered song in the world, after “Yesterday.”)

Getz/Gilberto was released in 1964.  It was recorded the year before, but Creed Taylor, who produced for Verve, was afraid it would be a dud.  The LP went platinum, and won the Grammy for album of the year.  The previous Getz, Jazz Samba, with Charlie Byrd, had been a hit - “Desafinado” charted for sixteen weeks - Getz/Gilberto was a phenomenon.  It set the bar. 

Stan Getz is one of the great tenor horn players, no question.  And they’re very distinctive.  Lester Young, Coleman Hawkins, Sonny Rollins, Coltrane.  It’s a muscular instrument, and these are guys with muscle.  You can hear ‘em honk.  Getz, though, is incredibly warm.  He doesn’t attack, like some, he caresses.  Getz on tenor curls up with you.  This isn’t to say he was necessarily a nice guy.  Let’s be honest, we don’t always want to meet our heroes.  Sometimes they turn out to be jerks, be they writers, jazz musicians, or whoever.  But when he played the horn, Getz was sweet.  “If we could all play like that,” Coltrane once said of him, “we would.”

That said, the guys didn’t want to give Astrud the credit. Getz and Creed Taylor made it seem like they’d done her this huge favor, putting her on the record.  (The vocals on the album version of “Girl from Ipanema” were Astrud and Joao, in English and Portuguese; the single was engineered to be Astrud alone, with only the English lyrics.)  The whole thing just sounds churlish.  Sixty years gone by, you can’t help thinking they’re a couple of total dicks. 

Anyway, the song put her on the map.  Her first solo album, with Jobim, came out the following year, and included “Insensatez” (“How Insensitive,” but more accurately translated as “Foolishness”), another much-covered standard – Sinatra, Peggy Lee, William Shatner, Sting.  She’s never gone away, either.  You can argue that such-and-such didn’t happen, but it doesn’t seem to have cramped her style. 


Tall and tan, and young, and lovely

The girl from Ipanema goes walking

And when she passes, he smiles

But she doesn’t see


  1. Interesting!!

    Oh my, how I loved that song. Still do. I think it was the first one I learned on the guitar.

    Thanks for this post.

  2. Ah, now that brings back a whole summer's entertainment. Yes, I heard that Astrud never got the royalties she deserved, and that Getz treated her like crap. But she got an international career out of it, so that's something.

  3. Elizabeth Dearborn14 June, 2023 16:10

    Yes, it's too bad Astrud Gilberto didn't get all the money & props she should have had! She was a big influence on other musicians though. Diana Krall plays piano & sings, & is a big fan of bossa nova. She sings "The Boy from Ipanema" in her shows. We have tickets to see her in August.

    1. I didn't know that about Krall, Elizabeth. I have to admit I haven't followed her since her first album, but a French friend is mad for her. If I send my friend an iTunes song or two, what do you recommend?

  4. Oh man, David. You know something about everyone!

  5. Elizabeth Dearborn15 June, 2023 17:19

    Leigh, if your friend has access to YouTube, this is Diana Krall & Tony Bennett singing "I've Got a Crush on You" - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3TS3Ltbn2bY

    But this is the one I was going to tell you about: Diana, her husband Elvis Costello, & Willie Nelson performing "Crazy" - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7EYzQG9ICJE


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