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Bossa Nova at Carnegie Hall

Bossa nova was largely unknown in popular music circles outside of Brazil—it wasn’t even particularly well known in its home country—when a lineup of Brazilian superstars teamed up with American saxophonist Stan Getz to roll the lilting fusion of Brazilian samba and West Coast “cool jazz” onto one of the biggest concert stages in the world. João Gilberto, Luiz Bonfá, and Sérgio Mendes were among the many performers who gathered that night on November 21, 1962, to shine the spotlight on bossa nova in New York and beyond.

In addition to presenting a new sound (literally—“bossa nova” means “new style” in Portuguese) to North America and the world, the concert also produced the Getz/Gilberto ensemble, which included Antônio Carlos Jobim from the night’s lineup, and whose 1964 debut recording took bossa nova to an even higher level of international recognition. (The now-ubiquitous song “The Girl from Ipanema,” which was featured on the album, was written by Jobim and popularized by Gilberto and Getz.)

Brazilian musician Gilberto Gil recalled the impact of the evening in Brazil, when word of the event and the bossa nova sound was spread in the American and then the Brazilian press: "The reaction was so good that we just could not ignore it in Brazil. Somehow, it was a surprise for us, too, because at that stage the bossa nova movement in Brazil was not so big yet … [The concert] was fundamental for the spreading of Brazilian music in America and worldwide."

The legendary New York Times jazz critic John S. Wilson was less enthusiastic. He grumbled about the “forest of microphones,” and muddy amplification that “reduced the Brazilian instrumental groups to a monotonous mush.” Gilberto, who sang the delicate “Outra Vez,” was deemed “several notches above” the other visiting singers, and Bonfá’s “subtle and lyrical” guitar in the plaintive “Manha do Carnaval” also escaped his criticism.

For most of the artists—including Gilberto and Mendes—November 21, 1962, was the first of many future performances at the Hall, but their debut in particular has remained at the forefront of the cultural history of bossa nova and its rapid flowering into a pillar of Brazilian music and American jazz.

Listen to Live Recordings from the 1962 Bossa Nova Event

Photography by David Drew Zingg, courtesy of LOOK Magazine Photograph Collection, Library of Congress.

 

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