Desafinado – Stan Getz & Charlie Byrd
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.
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.
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 1989). 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.
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.
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.
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 Astrid Gilberto became a star after her rendition of Jobim’s The Girl From Ipanema.
There’s a film to be written about this period, as Astrid 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 Aguas De Março. 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.
Incidentally, Desafinado was a hit single in the US, Getz’ cover really spearheading the bossa nova craze which swept up Ella Fitazgeradl, 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 original, the only, Desafinado by Stan Getz and Charlie Byrd.
Stan Getz, Joe Byrd, Charlie Byrd for the Jazz Samba sessions 1962