One of the coolest guys to ever have walked the Earth, guitarist and vocalist Joao Gilberto (1931-2019) sauntered into international celebrity during the late 1950s, whispering his lyrics and slowing the samba down to match his unique style of syncopated acoustic guitar. Above all, Joao Gilberto was cool, embodying an ultrasuave hipness which put to shame all the U.S. beatniks and jazz cats of the time. When Joao met up with songwriter Antonio Carlos Jobim, they recorded the song "Chega de Saudade," and bossa nova was born. Within the first few years of his recording career, Gilberto became a household word, especially after jazz saxophonist Stan Getz adopted bossa nova as his signature sound, and recorded with Joao and his wife Astrud Gilberto. These albums created a huge craze for bossa nova-flavored jazz.
Gilberto was one of the guiding lights of Brazilian pop, idolized over the years by generations of other artists such as Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil. Over the years, he remained one of the most unusually consistent of the Brazilian superstars.: his records simply soar.
In recent years, Joao's daughter, Bebel Gilberto, has become a star in her own right. Bebel's mother, Muicha, was also a top-tier bossa star.
Joao Gilberto "Chega De Saudade" (Odeon Brasil, 1959)
Gilberto's first record, and the first bossa nova album. This was made only after Antonio Carlos Jobim browbeat the Odeon execs into giving his pal some studio time. Jobim had been writing songs with poet Vinicius de Moraes, but it wasn't until they met the acoustic guitarist Gilberto, with his radically minimalist delivery, that everything clicked into place. The title track -- written by Jobim -- became an international smash, along with songs such as "Desafinado" and "Girl From Ipanema," which were recorded by U.S. jazz stars Stan Getz and Charlie Byrd. Joao Gilberto's original acoustic versions are completely captivating... like magic. This album, along with his next two on Odeon, have been re-released on a single CD on the World Pacific label.
Joao Gilberto "Chega De Saudade" (Expanded Edition) (Cherry Red/El Records, 2010)
An expanded version of Gilberto's revolutionary first album, with bonus tracks including influential early versions of bossa nova songs performed by stars of the era such as Norma Bengell, Elizete Cardoso and Alaide Costa. A nice package... and the first legal, in-print version of this classic record to come out in decades!
Joao Gilberto "O Amor, O Sorriso E A Flor" (Odeon Brasil, 1960)
More fabulous early bossa nova; also included on the O Mito/Legendary Joao Gilberto CD reissue.
Joao Gilberto "O Amor O Sorriso E A Flor" (Expanded Edition) (Cherry Red/El Records, 2011)
Another welcome reissue from the folks at Cherry Red...
Joao Gilberto "Joao Gilberto" (Odeon Brasil, 1961)
More fabulous early bossa nova; also included on the O Mito/Legendary Joao Gilberto CD reissue.
Joao Gilberto "Brazil's Brilliant Joao Gilberto" (Capitol, 1961)
Joao Gilberto "Boss Of The Bossa Nova" (Atlantic, 1962)
American edition of the 1961 Odeon album, Joao Gilberto.
Joao Gilberto "The Warm World Of Joao Gilberto" (Atlantic, 1963)
Stan Getz/Joao Gilberto/Astrud Gilberto "Getz/Gilberto" (Verve, 1963)
THE classic jazz-bossa nova crossover album, against which all others are measured. Almost shockingly intimate, with every tremble of the saxophone reed intact, this 1963 collaboration with Stan Getz and Joao Gilberto contains complete take of the #1 hit, "The Girl from Ipanema," which is the version most folks in the States are familiar with, and which helped make Astrud Gilberto a household name in America. Her hubby Joao's guitar work and whispery vocals are the ultimate in melodic cool. Tom Jobim plays piano, in one of his sweetest performances, and percussion by Milton Banana is a study in economy. A really great album.
Joao Gilberto & Herbie Mann "Herbie Mann & Joao Gilberto" (Atlantic, 1965)
The packaging is a bit misleading: this is actually a repackaging of some previously released Gilberto songs, along with several tracks by flautist Herbie Mann, who got bitten by the bossa bug and flew to Rio, to be accompanied by Tom Jobim and Baden Powell for a jaunty bossa-jazz set. The tracks by the two artists are separate; Mann and Gilberto don't actually collaborate on this album, so buyer beware.
Joao Gilberto "Getz/Gilberto #2" (Verve, 1966)
The live version of the Getz-Gilberto magic, recorded October 9, 1964 at Carnegie Hall. The magic is there, although the studio album is better.
Joao Gilberto "Joao Gilberto En Mexico" (Orfeon, 1970)
In 1969, Gilberto moved to Mexico with his wife, the singer Miucha, and lived there for the first half of the 1970s. This disc is a predictably smooth, low-key album, with a faint pop gloss. Features a bossa nova-ed version of Hal Blaine and Hugh Martin's "Trolley Song," which is as absurd as it is amusing. Joao also tackles "Besame Mucho," which he would reprise on his 1977 Amoroso album. Although not as haunting as 1973's Joao Gilberto, this is still quite nice. (Issued in Brasil as Joao Gilberto and later as En Mexico by Polygram, in 1974.)
Joao Gilberto "Joao Gilberto" (Polydor Brasil, 1973)
Joao's "white album" -- a hauntingly sparse, beautiful, and quite ethereal recording. Upon sober reflection (and countless hours spent listening to it), I think I can quite comfortably say that I think this is the single greatest bossa nova album ever recorded. Gilberto is gentle and graceful beyond the reach of practically any other musician alive, and this record is a masterpiece. It includes revamped acoustic takes on several bossa nova and pre-bossa oldies, along with newer material such as his lullaby for his daughter, Bebel, and one song each by the upstart tropicalistas, Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil. Gilberto sings barely at a whisper, while his percussionist is the absolute model of restraint and economy. Alongside his debut albums of the 1950s, this may be the best work Gilberto ever did -- and that's saying a lot! HIGHLY recommended!
Stan Getz/Joao Gilberto/Miucha "Best Of Two Worlds" (Columbia, 1976)
Standard-issue light jazz, combined with Gilberto's stunning soulfulness. Joao's second wife, vocalist Miucha, sings on a couple of tracks, and her contributions are -- frankly -- negligible. Getz, too, isn't exactly electrifying. But when Gilberto sings and plays guitar, this album lights up. Frequently overlooked and well worth checking out.
Joao Gilberto "Amoroso" (Warner/WEA Brasil, 1977)
A lovely, dreamy, bossa nova album, with mellow, understated strings by jazz arranger Claus Ogerman. Solid, unobtrusive multi-track production gives this the weight of state-of-the-art 70's pop, but never to the detriment of Gilberto's gentle approach. Ogerman's arrangements are less challenging here than on his earlier, moodier albums with Jobim; they accentuate rather than dominate the tunes, and though this is undeniably cheesy, it's also great. Just the thing to have on during a lazy afternoon at home.
Joao Gilberto "Gilberto And Jobim" (1977, USA)
A collection of previously released material from old albums by these two bossa pioneers.
Joao Gilberto "Joao Gilberto Prado Pereira De Oliveira" (WEA Brasil, 1980)
A gorgeous live performance from 1980. Mainly a solo acoustic concert, though several tracks have eerie string arrangements, each by a different arranger (Dori Caymmi, Joao Donato, Gaya, and Guto Graca Mello...) Joao is at his most hushed and evocative, and while the songs are mainly standards, they all sound fresh and new. One of Gilberto's guest vocalists is his teenage daughter Bebel; Rita Lee also contributes a very restrained, lovely harmony on a version of "Jou Jou Balangandas." The 1998 CD reissue includes several extra tracks.
Joao Gilberto/Caetano Veloso/Gilberto Gil/Maria Bethania "Brasil" (Philips, 1981)
MPB luminaries Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gil, Maria Bethania pitch in on this rapturously reserved bossa nova album, which marked Gilberto's return to Brazil after several years abroad. Very listenable and highly recommended. It's much to his credit that Gilberto was able to calm these tropicalia stars down and get such fine, understated performances out of them at a time when MPB in general was becoming overwrought and either cheesily or frantically overproduced.
Joao Gilberto "Amososo/Brasil" (1985, Brasil)
Great praise and adulation to whoever thought of releasing these two gentle masterpieces together on one CD. Lovely stuff -- and such a bargain!
Joao Gilberto "Interpreta Tom Jobim" (1985)
Contains previously released material.
Joao Gilberto "Meditacao" (EMI Brasil, 1985)
More previously released material.
Joao Gilberto "Joao Gilberto Live In Montreux" (WEA Brasil, 1986)
Double CD recorded live at the Montreux Jazz Festival, on July 18, 1985. A hushed, stately performance... Beautiful and elegant, as always. This version includes three songs not included on the single-disc American version: "Desafinado," "O Pato," "Tim Tim Por Tim Tim."
Joao Gilberto "Joao Gilberto Live In Montreux" (Elektra, 1987)
The American edition of the same concert as above, but on only one disc and with three fewer songs. Still quite nice.
Joao Gilberto "Joao" (Polydor, 1991)
Gilberto's innate classiness is occasionally at odds with the ornate modern production of this poppy album. Though an elegant, low-key set, this album drifts into rather cheesy territory. Worth checking out, but it's his one iffy album.
Joao Gilberto "Ao Vivo - Eu Sei Que Vou Te Amar" (Epic-Brasil, 1994)
A live album, recorded April, 1994, at the Palace Theatre in Sao Paulo. Gilberto plays solo acoustic, drifting through stripped-down versions of familiar hits and soft ballads. This disc is dreamy, though monochromatic -- its main liability is the sound editing: overly quick applause fades and unreasonably seamless segues undercut the spell Gilberto weaves as a performer, in unnecessary hope of creating an illusion of slick perfection. His playing should be enough, and the cut and splice act is a distraction. Nice record, though.
Joao Gilberto "Joao Voz E Violao" (Mercury, 1999/Verve, 2000)
Another gorgeous acoustic album, featuring some new material along with many revisited classics and favorites. Yeah, sure, there's not a lot new going on here, but when you're dealing with absolute perfection, what more could you want... really? As ever, Gilberto is a transcendant performer -- calm, unhurried, happy, playful. I rushed out to get this record, and if you do too, I guarantee you won't be disappointed.
Joao Gilberto "Live At Umbria Jazz" (EGEA, 2002)
A fine live performance, recorded at an Italian music festival... No big surprises; just another lovely Joalbum. (This disc can be found through EGEA Records.)
Joao Gilberto "Live On TV" (2002)
An intriguing Japanese import of mysterious provenance. It looks like it may be a reissue of the 1980 album, Prado Pereira De Oliveira, but I'm not totally sure about that... Haven't actually seen or heard it, but I sure am curious!
Joao Gilberto "In Tokyo" (Verve-Universal Classics, 2004)
Another gorgeous live album. Joao's music has always had a timeless and eternal quality about it; now, fifty years into his professional career, he has an added sense of maturity and soulful resonance. With perfect sound quality to match his perfect musical pitch, this set captures a highwater mark of Gilberto's 2003 world tour; with the utmost economy and grace, he slips through a fine fifteen-song set that includes many bossa nova standards, as well as older tunes by samba composers Dorival Caymmi and Ary Barroso, all with the understated elegance that has been Joao's trademark for all these years. Highly recommended.
Joao Gilberto "O Mito" (EMI Brasil, 1988)
The Brazilian version of a disc collecting Gilberto's first three Odeon albums (Chega de Saudade, O Amor, O Sorriso E A Flor, and Joao Gilberto.) Rapture. Greatness. Beauty. Grooviness. They don't call him "the Myth" for nothing.
Joao Gilberto "The Legendary Joao Gilberto" (Capitol/World Pacific, 1990)
GOOD LORD! Why is this CD out of print?? Well, apparently it's Joao's decision: unhappy with the way his records were repackaged for CD reissue (leaving some songs off that were on the original LPs), Gilberto has blocked their reissue ever since. Take that, giant record companies! Too bad the rest of us have to suffer so much as a result. Anyway., this is the domestic U.S. version of the incredible O Mito retrospective, a single CD collection that is just plain stunning, even if it did piss Joao off. Hopefully he and EMI can kiss and make up some day... But in the meantime, if you want to check out Joao Gilberto, this disc is the place to start, extortionary collector prices and all.
Joao Gilberto "38 Titres De Bossa Nova" (EMI/World Pacific-France, 1993)
Oh, but wait! Although the cover art is truly butt-ugly, this French version of the fab O Mito album is the one to shoot for -- at least until the licensing problems that are keeping Capitol from re-releasing this collection stateside. I've had a few readers tell me they've looked into it, and this is currently the only version still in print.
Joao Gilberto "Personalidade" (Polygram Brasil, 1990)
A standard-issue best-of, which certainly won't disappoint, but may pale in comparison to other, more thoughtfully lavish, releases.
Joao Gilberto "Millennium" (Polygram Brasil, 1998)
A standard-issue best-of, probably one of the easiest and most affordable introductions to Gilberto's work that you'll find on the market for now...
Joao Gilberto "Serie Warner 25 Anos" (WEA, 2001)
An interesting set, drawing on his Warner albums, Amoroso, Joao Gilberto Prado Pereira De Oliveira and Brasil. Outlandish, ornate arrangements cohabit with intimate live acoustic performances. A good summary of three distinctive records.
Joao Gilberto "Best Of Joao Gilberto: Portrait De Bossa Nova" (Universal, 2003)
Another nice best-of, though rather on the pricey side, if you ask me... Good song selection, though!
Joao Gilberto "For Tokyo" (Universal-Japan, 2007)
I got all excited when I stumbled across this disc online: the title and white-on-black album art made it look like a companion to Universal's black-on-white 2004 concert album Joao Gilberto In Tokyo, -- with matching graphics and everything! Could this be another trove of delicious live gems, twenty more tracks that got left off the other album? Well, it's not quite. It's actually a generously programmed best-of set, with songs drawn from various phases in Gilberto's career, including collaborations with Stan Getz, Astrud Gilberto, Miucha, and numerous live and studio performances. A great introduction to his work, though perhaps not essential for fans who already have heard his various albums.
Jon Hendricks "Salud! Joao Gilberto" (Reprise, 1961)
This is an album that was recommended by several Slipcue readers & is now thankfully back in print. Amid the flood of American and European bossa nova bandwagon albums of the early 1960s, this effort by the baritone lead of Lambert, Hendricks and Ross is kind of a standout. Hendricks concocted his own versions of these bossa standards, working on the lyric translations with Laurindo Almeida, and commissioning new arrangements by some of the Reprise label faithful. This disc is notable for the restraint Hendricks shows while trying to recapture Joao Gilberto's super-cool softness; although he brings his scat singing hepness to bear, Hendricks doesn't indulge in any of the flashy vocal displays he helped pioneer. It's also interesting to note how this low-key approach, with Hendricks coming close to Al Hibbler's low, sedate rumbling, perfectly anticipates the same style that Frank Sinatra would use when he tackled the same material a few years later. Sometimes the English translations and Hendricks's delivery sound a bit toungetied and halting, although I suspect that this was in part intentional. Worth checking out -- definitely a cut above many of its jazz-bossa contemporaries.
Various Artists "FELICIDADE: A TRIBUTE TO JOAO GILBERTO" (TOSHIBA EMI, 2003)
A tribute to the great master, featuring Japanese jazz and bossa artists...
"Bossa Nova: The Story Of The Brazilian Music That Seduced The World"
By Ruy Castro
(A Capella Books, 2000)
Joao Gilberto is one of the stars of this charming and completely authoritative history of Brazilian popular music, which documents the rise of bossa nova, tracking the careers of Joao Gilberto, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Vinicius De Moraes, Nara Leao and others in a gossipy, informal narrative that's a delight to read. Castro brings the mythic figures of Brazil back down to human scale, poking fun at their humanity, their foibles and years of obscurity, while also pointing out their sheer brilliance, and the adoration that Brazilians feel for their music. The chatty, informal tone adds a nice hometown touch that lets you feel as if you were standing on the corner yourself when that gal from Ipanema walked by, cracking jokes with the rest of the fellas. This book is also notable for its emphasis on the now-neglected figures of the great "radio singers" who ruled the public heart in the decades before bossa hit - legendary figures such as Lucio Alves, Aloysio Oliveira, Orlando Silva, Dick Farney and Sylvia Telles whose stars have faded, but are compelling nonetheless. Castro has complete command of his subject, but doesn't feel stuffy or preachy at all. An outstanding book, and required reading for anyone looking for a deeper knowledge of Brazilian culture.
By Caetano Veloso
(Knopf Books, 2002)
The story is picked up by tropicalia pioneer Caetano Veloso, in his richly informative autobiography. Veloso explains the deep reverence that the tropicalistas held for Joao Gilberto, despite their supposed "anti" bossa nova stance. If you've read Ruy Castro's book, this is the perfect follow-up.
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