The following is a transcript of the original Facebook post, made in the days following João Gilberto's passing. Words by Joe Osborne.
As many of you must be aware, over the weekend Brazilian and, indeed, global music lost a true great. The impact João Gilberto had on the musical landscape within and beyond Brazil’s borders is more or less ineffable. Indeed, to convey his true brilliance with words seems an impossible task, and probably something Gilberto himself would have deemed a waste of breath - the reclusive guitarist was never loud or garrulous; his pioneering sound was quiet, spacious and intimate. In Brazil, when describing him, they opt for a single word; he is endearingly nicknamed, O Mito; he is simply “The Legend”. But I thought I’d attempt to add a couple more words to sum up what he means to me, Henry, Brazilian Wax and the rest of the world of music.
Gilberto’s professional career began at 19, when he’d left his native Juazeiro in the north of Bahia, for the state’s (and, indeed, Brazilian music’s) capital, Salvador. He’d moved with the intention of becoming a radio singer but while singing for Rádio Sociedade da Bahia, he was recruited for the vocal quintet, Garotas da Lua and brought to Rio De Janeiro. His stint with “The Moon Boys” was short-lived - he lasted a year and a half before being dismissed for lack of discipline - and this dismissal occasioned a seven-year slump during which time he moved in with his sister, Dadainha, battled with depression and was briefly admitted to a psychiatry hospital.
Gilberto depended on his sister during this time, and it was at Dadainha’s that Gilberto developed his distinctive sound - a sound that had taken Brazil and the world by storm by the early sixties. Having the best acoustics in the house, Gilberto was sat in Dadainha’s bathroom when he penned his first bossa nova, Bim-Bom. The influence for this song came from the unsteady stride of the Rio São Francisco washerwomen, who would balance their linen baskets on their heads while ferrying clothes to and from the riverbank. And Gilberto mirrored their uneven tread with stumbling syncopation as he’d alternate between playing a bass part on the low E and A strings and filling out rich extended chords on the higher ones. Besides being rhythmically innovative, Gilberto’s bossa made possible the intimate setting of the solo performer, tying together a bass part, full chords and a distinct beat within one nylon-sting guitar, and doing away with the large accompanying orchestras of, musical predecessor, samba. The avant-garde bossa nova - literally translating to “new trend” - appeared simple and effortless in comparison to Carmen Miranda’s brash and showy carnival music. Gilberto’s cool, collected croon, floating above his gente guitar, would become as much an image of the sophisticated, progressive Brazil of Juscelino Kubitschek, as Oscar Niemeyer’s modernist Brasilia, or Brasil’s 1958 World-Cup-Winning team.
Justly enthused by his development, Gilberto was back in Rio in 1956, where he got back in touch with the masterful songwriter, Antonio Carlos Jobim who was working for Odeon as a composer, producer and arranger. Jobim was impressed with Gilberto’s new sound and set about finding a suitable song and interpreter for it. In 1957, he settled upon Chega De Saudade and Elizeth Cardoso. Released on her 1958 album, Canção do Amor Demais, Chega… became the first official bossa nova release and features João Gilberto on guitar. His own interpretation of the song came out on his first solo album later that year and was instantly a huge hit.
He quickly became an absolute giant within Rio’s music scene and rubbed shoulders with the likes of Vinicius de Moraes, Baden Powell, Tom Jobim and Nara Leão along the legendary Bottles Alley. But it wasn’t until 1963 that Gilberto reached international stardom on the collaborative album Getz/Gilberto, written and recorded alongside Jobim and American saxophonist, Stan Getz. This album, with its distinctive orange cover (painted by, puertorriqueña, Olga Albizu) changed Gilberto’s life - and, indeed, the lives of its listeners. I distinctly remember sitting on the living room floor at about 13 going through my dad’s records when he put the album on one night. I listened to little else for months to follow - along with Seu Jorge’s America Brasil O Disco, Getz/Gilberto was the album that made me fall in love with Brazilian music. And Getz/Gilberto #2 will always be one of my very favourite albums and I was so excited only weeks ago to discover it in a Bogotá record shop.
When I moved into uni halls 3 years ago, I brought with me a small framed photo of the Getz/Gilberto album cover. And this was one of the first things Henry noticed when he first met me in Leeds’ Lupton Residences. It was a formative record in both of our lives and became a bit of a cornerstone from which our love of Brazilian music grew together.
Gilberto’s influence on us goes far beyond the Getz/Gilberto albums, though. He played a huge role in the making of mine and Henry’s favourite album, Novos Baianos’ Acabou Chorare - an album that Rolling Stone magazine deems the greatest Brazilian record of all-time. Bespectacled and in a sober suit, when Gilberto turned up at the post-Tropicália band’s hippie commune one midnight, the band initially worried the police had arrived. Dressed reservedly and quiet in nature, it seemed incongruous that this man could be the same celebrated João Gilberto that, First Lady, Jackie Kennedy had requested to perform alongside other bossa nova giants in the U.S. Nor the same João Gilberto that influenced some of the States’ biggest musicians - Frank Sinatra, John Coltrane, Dizzy Gillespie, Chick Corea, Joe Henderson… - to delve into Brazilian music. Quiet and humble, yet endlessly engaging, Gilberto stayed up all night with the band, playing guitar and motivating Novos Baianos to look towards bossa nova as inspiration for their new album. He suggested the band should play Assis Valente’s Brasil Pandeiro, a song that became their album opener and Henry’s and my favourite song of theirs.
Beyond Novos Baianos, I can’t imagine there are many Brazilian musicians that Gilberto didn’t inspire in some way or another. Upon hearing of his death, Caetano Veloso wrote that, for him, Gilberto "put everything into perspective, every book I’d ever read, all the poems, every picture, every movie I’d seen. Not just every song I’d heard. And it is through this lens that I went on to read, see and hear […] music would not be music without Joao’s stubbornness and self-will." And, indeed, this meticulous and withdrawn artist - whose perfectionism allegedly compelled his cat to throw itself out his top story window in order to escape the incessant practising - really has affected how we at Brazilian Wax hear music.
Without João Gilberto many of our favourite musicians probably wouldn’t exist. Without João Gilberto, we might not have started Brazilian Wax and had such a laugh DJing and presenting over the last couple years.
So. Obrigado João e descanse em paz.