My Pop Life #68 : Desafinado – Stan Getz & Charlie Byrd

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Desafinado   –   Stan Getz & Charlie Byrd

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As an entry point into Brazilian music I could’ve done worse – Stan Getz‘ two samba LPs, first with Charlie Byrd & then with Luis Bonfa – Jazz Samba and Jazz Samba Encore!  Stan followed these with a full-on collaboration with the great Joao Gilberto and his wife Astrud (Getz/Gilberto) and these 3 records are among the finest pieces of music recorded anywhere at anytime.

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It is some tribute to Getz, born in Philadelphia to jewish Ukrainian parents, that one cannot really discuss bossa nova without including his contribution.   These three LPs are graced by the compositions and piano playing of the peerless Antonio Carlos Jobim, the man who breathed a new life into samba and Brazilian music at the end of the 1950s in Rio de Janeiro, along with composers Luis Bonfa, Vinicius De Moraes and Ary Barroso.

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The first bossa nova song most people heard was Joao Gilberto’s whispery delicate reading of the Jobim/Moraes song Chega De Saudade (too much longing, often translated as too much blues) which appeared on Joao Gilberto’s first LP in 1959 where it was the title track.   This stunning LP also contains the first recorded versions of Desafinado and E Luxo Só. 

Stan Getz  was blowing his Selmer Mark VI tenor saxophone in Denmark and Sweden, Poland and Germany on the run from morphine addiction and his first wife Beverly Byrne with whom he had 3 children when Chega De Saudade was released in 1959.  He was by then already married again, to Monica Silfverskiöld of Sweden which would also prove to be a tempestuous marriage.   He returned to the US in 1961 and hooked up with guitarist Charlie Byrd, just returned from a US State Department tour of Brazil and was soon recording Jazz Samba, which is in my top five LPs of all time.  It was recorded in the legendary All Souls Unitarian Church in Washington D.C.  in one day (where my hip-hop play Sanctuary D.C. was performed in 1988).   Jazz Samba is simply perfect.   Actually only two of these songs are written by Tom Jobim, but one of them is the classic Desafinado.  Stan Getz blows that horn so sweetly in place of the words that I usually prefer his versions of these beautiful songs.

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I purchased this LP at some point in my early 20s when I was expanding my musical horizons like jet plane taking off, suddenly there was too much music everywhere.  But the bossa nova rhythms, the instrumentation and Getz smooth clear tone hooked me right from the start.  My the time I reached 30 years old I was living in Archway Road and I decided to learn the song on my silver Boosey & Hawkes alto.  This involved learning one small phrase at a time – and we’re in 1987 at this point, so it’s a record player with the needle being lifted oh-so-carefully off the groove, since it’s my favourite LP and all, and being placed oh-so-carefully back about 20 seconds earlier to try the phrase again.  It took hours, days.  I was patient, because I could, eventually, play it.  What unbridled joy.  The little flourishes, the afterthought notes, the lovely sweet tone and tempo were all mine.  I decided to busk it, packed the horn away in its battered old velvet-lined case and headed down to the South Bank.  Did I take a boombox with me to play over ?  Hmm don’t think so, but it’s possible…but in any case the saxophone would have been way louder than the boombox would play.

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I positioned myself at the South Bank side of Hungerford Bridge on the Thames and unpacked the horn, leaving the case invitingly open for spare coins to be carelessly dropped into.  And started to blow.  How many times did I play it ? Plenty.  Round and round I went.  Desafinado is about 6 minutes long.  A few coins, a few 10p pieces, a few 20p pieces, plenty of copper.  Then one chap enthusiastically drops a 50p piece in (yes, it was quite a lot of money in those days) with “that was perfect ! thank you, well done”…. Pretty soon after that I packed up, my bottom lip was getting sore because I rarely played for that long – I was an actor after all, not a musician and I was dabbling in my ghost career, the one I’d left behind at the fork in the road when I was 25 years old.  But I’d done it, cracked the tune to the appreciation of someone who knew it, and liked my version.  At which point my desire to continue playing it evaporated.

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Stan Getz, Joao and Astrid Gilberto and Antonio Carlos Jobim made Getz/Gilberto in 1964 an impossibly good samba LP with most of the songs written by Jobim.   At this point the bossa nova craze peaked in the US and Astrud Gilberto became a star after her rendition of Jobim’s The Girl From Ipanema.

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There’s a film to be written about this period, as Astrud Gilberto left her husband Joao to have an affair with Stan Getz, and he stopped playing bossa nova and returned to cool jazz.   But in a happy footnote, Gilberto and Getz made one more LP together in 1975 after the dust had settled called The Best Of Both Worlds.    Once again they play bossa nova, including the wonderful Jobim song Águas De Março (see My Pop Life #191).    The vocals are performed by Heloisa Buarque de Hollanda (Miúcha), Joao’s new wife and sister of Chico Buarque.   Slightly out of tune ?  Not at all.

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Incidentally, Desafinado was a hit single in the US, Getz’ cover really spearheading the bossa nova craze which swept up Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra and Andy Williams in its warm embrace, but the single version is only 3 minutes long.   I’m a huge fan of the 3-minute pop song, but in this case, I’m afraid that simply won’t do at all.  Here is the unoriginal, the wordless, Desafinado by Stan Getz and Charlie Byrd.

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Stan Getz, Joe Byrd, Charlie Byrd for the Jazz Samba sessions 1962

My Pop Life #35 : Right Said Fred – Bernard Cribbins

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Right Said Fred   –   Bernard Cribbins

…Charlie had a think and he thought we ought to take off all the ‘andles, and the things what held the candles;  but it did no good, well I never thought it would…

All right said Fred, have to take the door off, need more space to shift the so-and-so.  Took the wall down, even with it all down we was getting nowhere and

so

we

had a cuppa tea

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The song is genius.  I must have first heard it sometime in 1962, when it came out, and then every year after that.  It was played on the radio a lot, and particularly on the Children’s Favourites Radio 1 Saturday morning show which was DJ’d by Ed “Stewpot” Stuart from 1968 to 1980.   I think it was called Junior Choice and it played pretty much the same selection of songs every week – at least that’s my not-to-be-trusted memory.  They were mostly comedy gold, like this song, which concerns 3 gentlemen trying to remove a large piano (although it’s never acknowledged as a piano) from an upstairs room in a small house.   They do not succeed, but drink a lot of tea.   It has a marvellous selection of sound effects as the piano and the house are slowly demolished, and a particularly enjoyable spring sound, like a kind of musical punchline punctuation.  Not used enough in music that spring.  Written by Ted Dicks and Myles Rudge, and performed with gentle comedic charm and wit by the great Bernard Cribbins, it is my very favourite ‘novelty song’.   Saturday morning we heard them all – ‘My Brother’, ‘Three Wheels On My Wagon’, ‘Nellie The Elephant’, ‘The Runaway Train’, ‘Puff The Magic Dragon’, ‘The Ugly Bug Ball’.    Charlie Drake, The New Christy Minstrels, Mandy Miller, Mike Holiday, Peter, Paul & Mary, Burl Ives.   What a treasury!   Tommy Steele – Little White Bull, and of course Rolf Harris who was molesting children for most of his career as it was revealed in a childhood-shattering court case last year.  Now filed alongside Saville and Glitter – those who abused their fame and their access to fans for decades.  Featured image

But Rolf can’t tarnish my Children’s Favourites LP.  I bought it when I was in my late 30s, nostalgic for those clever songs whose lyrics I knew off by heart even after all these years.  Later in the 1970s came The Wombles, brilliantly narrated by Bernard Cribbins with musical accompaniment by Mike Batt, in between were TV favourites The Magic Roundabout, Crackerjack, Hergé’s Adventures Of TinTin, Thunderbirds, Star Trek, an embarrassment of riches :  one day I’ll write something about Do Not Adjust Your Set which had the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band playing every week.

Thank you for indulging a Junior’s Choice.  Makes me smile every time.   Time for a cuppa tea.