RIO DE JANEIRO – Tall and tan and young and lovely ... Youve heard of her. The Girl From Ipanema.
You might have come across the bossa nova classic while on hold on the phone, during a long elevator ride, or in a cafe in Beirut or Bangkok – but youve heard it. Its been recorded by everyone from Frank Sinatra to Amy Winehouse, and survived bad lounge singers and Muzak incarnations to become, according to Performing Songwriter magazine, the second most recorded song in the world.
The quintessential bossa nova tune, inspired by a young woman who passed the songwriters in a beachside bar on her way to the sea, introduced Rio de Janeiro to the world.
Now, the song written by Antonio Carlos Jobim is 50 years old, and to its legions of fans, the decades have only heightened its allure, adding a wash of nostalgia to this hymn to passing youth and beauty.
I love this music and had been searching for this place, said Venezuelan tourist Xiomara Castillo, who with her husband was taking pictures inside the bar where the songs authors watched their muse saunter by in the songs eponymous neighborhood.
Rio is in the levity of the song, its absolute elegance, the way it doesnt take itself seriously, said Ruy Castro, a writer and journalist who has chronicled the city, its music and its nightlife.
This girl who swings so cool and sways so gently first stepped out in public Aug. 12, 1962, in a cramped Copacabana nightclub.
On stage together, for the first and only time, were the architects of bossa nova: Tom Jobim, as he was known, on piano and Joao Gilberto on guitar, with help from the poet Vinicius de Moraes, who gave The Girl her lyrics. Also performing was the vocal group Os Cariocas.
Bossa nova was still young then, somewhat of a novelty, even in Rio. The name meant new trend or new way, and thats what it was: a fresh, jazzy take on Brazils holiest tradition, the samba.
The rhythm was the same. But where samba was cathartic, communal, built on drums and powerful voices, bossa was intimate, contemplative, just a singer and a song.
The melody, on guitar or piano, stepped up to the front. Percussion receded, played sometimes with brushes for a softer texture reminiscent of surf washing on the sand.
The 1962 show at the club Au Bon Gourmet established bossa nova, wrote Castro in his book about the genre. It didnt just introduce Girl; other bossa classics, such as So Danco Samba and Samba da Bencao, also were played publicly for the first time.
The small club – 20 by 130 feet – sold out every night as patrons realized something extraordinary was happening on the cramped little stage.
Severino Filho was there when it happened. As an original member of Os Cariocas, he was one of the first to ever hear the song.
At first, people in the audience just listened. But theyd come back and would start to sing along, he said. After that, bossa nova just exploded.
That was also the year most Americans first heard bossa nova. The 1962 record Jazz Samba, by Stan Getz and Charlie Byrd, took the sound of Brazil and filtered it through the sensibility of American musicians, making it palatable to the countrys listeners. Although an instrumental jazz album, it remained on the Billboard charts for 70 weeks.
After that, everyone wanted a bit of Brazil. Jazz greats such as Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie and Ella Fitzgerald made bossa-inspired recordings. Performing Songwriter magazine says only The Beatles Yesterday has been recorded more often.