Thursday, April 21, 2011

April 21: Stan Getz, "The Girl From Ipanema"

Artist: Stan Getz
Song: "The Girl From Ipanema"
Album: Getz/Gilberto
Year: 1963

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Though they are perhaps the most scarce occurrence one can find across the long history of recorded music, it is impossible to deny the rare moments when true musical perfection transpires on an album.  Within almost every genre, one can find a single point that largely defines the rest, and yet even within these landmark songs, there are a few that rise to the top of the list of perfection for one reason or another.  In many cases, it is due to the groundbreaking nature of the song in question, though in many cases, it is due to the tone and mood found on the song that makes it completely unforgettable.  However, even in these elite few recordings, there are some that have become so iconic, yet few know the performers responsible for the music.  This is perhaps no more obvious than when one looks into the fantastic catalog of the great Stan Getz, as one can easily make the case that it was his music that introduced "bossa nova" to the world at large.  It is almost impossible to argue against Getz's place as one of the most elite sax players of all time, and when one looks at his catalog as a whole, one can see that there was no point of "musical plateau" at any point throughout his career.  However, there is also little arguing that Getz was at his best in terms of both composition as well as tone when he led the 1963 session that produced the now iconic song, "The Girl From Ipanema."

While there are many riffs and progressions that have become instantly recognizable across the globe, few hold the status and timeless nature of that found in the opening moments of "The Girl From Ipanema," and within seconds, Getz has set the stage for one of the most perfectly mellow songs in history.  The lone, soft, meandering guitar of Joao Gilberto instantly transports the listener to the oceanside, and one can almost feel the sun beginning to set over the horizon.  The way in which the guitar seems to slowly sway back and forth is the essence of the bossa nova, and it has rarely sounded as good as one finds on "The Girl From Ipanema."  The level of authenticity that can be felt within just the guitar is almost overwhelming, and even after repeated listenings, the song never loses this impact.  Pianist Antonio Carlos Jobim punctuates many of the guitar lines with small fills, and the delicate way in which the drops these into the song manages to make the relaxed feeling even more intense.  However, it is when Getz and his tenor saxophone enter the song that the group runs the danger of altering the face of "The Girl From Ipanema."  Yet even as Getz plays a slight variation on the key phrase, he manages to keep the spirit of the song firmly intact, and it serves as the ideal finishing touch to the brilliant mood and tone found on "The Girl From Ipanema."

Truth be told, while most are familiar with this song, very few have experienced the entire work, as a majority of played versions only contain the second and third verses of the song.  The full recording, clocking in at about five-and-a-half minutes, is actually a split vocal, with Joao Gilberto singing the songs' opening verse, and setting the mood for the vocals just as perfectly as he does with his guitar.  Singing in Portuguese, this simple, soft voice are absolutely phenomenal, and there is no other song from any point in history that finds such an ideal balance of mood without coming off as cliché.  His singing also lends even more authenticity to the song itself, and the sense of innocence in every aspect of the vocals is what has enabled "The Girl From Ipanema" to become so timeless.  However, while Gilberto's vocals are nothing short of superb, most are only familiar with the second and third verses, sung by his wife, Astrud.  Lending a similarly smooth, velvety voice to the song, it stands today as one of the most iconic vocal performances in history, and yet as legend has it, she recorded the vocals at the very last minute, doing so without any backing track to guide her singing.  Though her lyrics are not a literal interpretation of those from her husband, the mood she conveys manages to match it perfectly, and even after more than four decades, "The Girl From Ipanema" remains just as perfect and unforgettable.

Following the release of the Getz/Gilberto version of "The Girl From Ipanema," it almost instantly became a standard, and over the decades it has been covered by everyone from Ella Fitzgerald to The Supremes to Nat King Cole.  However, none ever come close to the sheer perfection found on the original, and it was the massive success of the song that enabled the entire bossa nova style to gain a large following outside of its native Brazil.  Over the years, the song remains the blueprint for the genre, and "The Girl From Ipanema" still manages to make regular occurrences throughout all areas of popular culture, serving as the final proof to the truly unique nature of the recording.  It is perhaps the fact that the musicians manage to capture such a pure and accurate depiction of life that makes the song so intriguing, and though it can be applied to so many situations, "The Girl From Ipanema" was in fact written about a very specific person.  "The" girl from Ipanema was named Heloísa Pinto, and composer Vinicius de Moraes watched her walk past the café where he would write on an almost daily basis.  In reality, Pinto would go on in life to become a model, and it makes the lyrics of the song perhaps even more fitting, and one can argue that more honest words of the praise of beauty have never been written.  Regardless of the source of inspiration, the song remains in a class all its own, and one would be hard pressed to find a more perfectly mellow or absolutely stunning recording than one can find in the 1963 Stan Getz/Joao Gilberto take on "The Girl From Ipanema."

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