Bossa nova

Bossa nova is a style of Brazilian music, which was developed and popularized in the 1950s and 1960s and is today one of the best-known Brazilian music styles abroad. The phrase bossa nova means literally "new trend" or "new wave" (). A lyrical fusion of samba and jazz, bossa nova acquired a large following in the 1960s, initially among young musicians and college students.


In Brazil, the word "bossa" is old-fashioned slang for something that is done with particular charm, natural flair or innate ability. As early as 1932, Noel Rosa used the word in a samba:

"O samba, a prontidão e outras bossas são nossas coisas, são coisas nossas." ("Samba, readiness and other bossas are our things, are things from us.")

The exact origin of the term "bossa nova" remained unclear for many decades, according to some authors. Within the artistic beach culture of the late 1950s in Rio de Janeiro, the term "bossa" was used to refer to any new "trend" or "fashionable wave". In his book Bossa Nova, Brazilian author Ruy Castro asserts that "bossa" was already in use in the 1950s by musicians as a word to characterize someone's knack for playing or singing idiosyncratically. Castro claims that the term "bossa nova" might have first been used in public for a concert given in 1957 by the Grupo Universitário Hebraico do Brasil (Hebrew University Group of Brazil). The authorship of the term "bossa nova" is attributed to the then-young journalist Moyses Fuks, who was promoting the event. That group consisted of Sylvia Telles, Carlos Lyra, Nara Leão, Luiz Eça, Roberto Menescal, and others. Mr. Fuks's description, fully supported by most of the bossa nova members, simply read "HOJE. SYLVIA TELLES E UN GRUPO BOSSA NOVA" ("Today. Sylvia Telles and a 'Bossa Nova' group"), since Sylvia Telles was the most famous musician in the group at that time. In 1959, Nara Leão also participated in more than one embryonic display of bossa nova. These include the 1st Festival de Samba Session, conducted by the student union of Pontifícia Universidade Católica. This session was chaired by Carlos Diegues (later a prominent Cinema Novo film director), a law student whom Leão ultimately married.


Classical guitar

Bossa nova is most commonly performed on the nylon-string classical guitar, played with the fingers rather than with a pick. Its purest form could be considered unaccompanied guitar with vocals, as created, pioneered, and exemplified by João Gilberto. Even in larger, jazz-like arrangements for groups, there is almost always a guitar that plays the underlying rhythm. Gilberto basically took one of the several rhythmic layers from a samba ensemble, specifically the tamborim, and applied it to the picking hand. According to Brazilian musician Paulo Bitencourt, João Gilberto, known for his eccentricity and obsessed by the idea of finding a new way of playing the guitar, sometimes locked himself in the bathroom, where he played one and the same chord for many hours in a row.

Drums and percussion

As in samba, the surdo plays an ostinato figure on the downbeat of beat one, the "ah" of beat one, the downbeat of beat two and the "ah" of beat two. The clave pattern sounds very similar to the two-three or three-two son clave of Cuban styles such as mambo but is dissimilar in that the "two" side of the clave is pushed by an eighth note. Also important in the percussion section for bossa nova is the cabasa, which plays a steady sixteenth-note pattern. These parts are easily adaptable to the drum set, which makes bossa nova a rather popular Brazilian style for drummers.


Certain other instrumentations and vocals are also part of the structure of bossa nova:

Bossa nova and samba

Bossa nova has at its core a rhythm based on samba. Samba combines the rhythmic patterns and feel originating in former African slave communities. Samba's emphasis on the second beat carries through to bossa nova (to the degree that it is often notated in 2/4 time). However, unlike samba, bossa nova doesn't have dance steps to accompany it. When played on the guitar, in a simple one-bar pattern, the thumb plays the bass notes on 1 and 2, while the fingers pluck the chords in unison on the two eighth notes of beat one, followed by the second sixteenth note of beat two. Two-measure patterns usually contain a syncopation into the second measure. Overall, the rhythm has a "swaying" feel rather than the "swinging" feel of jazz. As bossa nova composer Carlos Lyra describes it in his song "Influência do Jazz", the samba rhythm moves "side to side" while jazz moves "front to back". Bossa nova was also influenced by the blues, but because the most famous bossa novas lack the 12-bar structure characteristic of classic blues, as well as the statement, repetition and rhyming resolution of lyrics typical of the genre, bossa nova's affinity with the blues often passes unnoticed.


Aside from the guitar style, João Gilberto's other innovation was the projection of the singing voice. Prior to bossa nova, Brazilian singers employed brassy, almost operatic styles. Now, the characteristic nasal vocal production of bossa nova is a peculiar trait of the caboclo folk tradition of northeastern Brazil.

Themes and lyrics

The lyrical themes found in bossa nova include women, love, longing, homesickness, nature. Bossa Nova was often apolitical. The musical lyrics of the late 1950s depicted the easy life of the middle to upper-class Brazilians, though the majority of the population was in the working class. However, in conjunction with political developments of the early 1960s (especially the 1964 military coup d'état), the popularity of bossa nova was eclipsed by Música popular brasileira, a musical genre that appeared around the mid-1960s, featuring lyrics that were more politically charged, referring explicitly to working class struggle.

Notable bossa nova recordings

  • Luiz Bonfá :* Luiz Bonfá Plays and Sings Bossa Nova (recorded December, 1962) :* Jazz Samba Encore! with Stan Getz (recorded February 8, 9 & 27, 1963)
  • Bob Brookmeyer :* Trombone Jazz Samba (recorded August 21 & 23, September 14, 1962)
  • Charlie Byrd :* Jazz Samba with Stan Getz (recorded February 13, 1962) :* Latin Impressions (recorded April 18, 1962) :* Bossa Nova Pelos Passaros (recorded April and October, 1962) :* Once More! Charlie Byrd's Bossa Nova (recorded February 21 and April 4, 1963) :* Brazilian Byrd (recorded 1965) :* Brazilian Soul with Laurindo Almeida (recorded 1981) :* Latin Odyssey with Laurindo Almeida (recorded 1983) :* Latin Byrd (compilation, 1996)
  • Paul Desmond :* Bossa Antigua with Jim Hall (recorded July 28–29, August 20, September 8, 1964)
  • Stan Getz :* Jazz Samba with Charlie Byrd (recorded February 13, 1962) :* Big Band Bossa Nova (recorded August 27 & 28, 1962) :* Jazz Samba Encore! with Luiz Bonfá (recorded February 8, 9 & 27, 1963) :* Getz/Gilberto with João Gilberto (recorded March 18 & 19, 1963) :* Getz/Gilberto #2 with João Gilberto (recorded October 9, 1964) :* Getz Au Go Go with Astrud Gilberto (recorded May 22 and October 9, 1964) :* The Best of Two Worlds with João Gilberto (recorded May 21, 1975)
  • João Gilberto :* Chega de Saudade (recorded 1959) :* O Amor, o Sorriso e a Flor (recorded 1960) :* Getz/Gilberto with Stan Getz (recorded March 18 & 19, 1963) :* Getz Gilberto #2 with Stan Getz (recorded October 9, 1964) :* The Best of Two Worlds with Stan Getz (recorded May 21, 1975)
  • Antônio Carlos Jobim :* The Composer of Desafinado Plays (recorded May 9 & 10, 1963) :* The Wonderful World of Antonio Carlos Jobim (recorded 1965) :* Wave (recorded May 22–24 and June 15, 1967)
  • Baden Powell :* Os Afro-sambas with Vinícius de Moraes (recorded January 3, 1966)
  • Walter Wanderley :* Rain Forest (recorded May 16 & 17, 1966) :* A Certain Smile, a Certain Sadness (recorded September 20–23, 1966) :* Batucada (recorded May 16 – June 25, 1967)
  • Paul Winter :* Jazz Meets the Bossa Nova (recorded 1962) :* The Sound of Ipanema (recorded 1964) :* Rio (recorded 1965)

    Notable bossa nova artists

  • Laurindo Almeida
  • Leny Andrade
  • Juliana Areias
  • Badi Assad
  • Milton Banana
  • Luiz Bonfá
  • João Bosco
  • Chico Buarque de Hollanda
  • Oscar Castro-Neves
  • Gal Costa
  • João Donato
  • Luiz Eça
  • Eliane Elias
  • Manfredo Fest
  • Clare Fischer
  • Stan Getz
  • Gilberto Gil (early years)
  • Bebel Gilberto
  • João Gilberto
  • Astrud Gilberto
  • Vince Guaraldi
  • Antônio "Tom" Carlos Jobim
  • Nara Leão
  • Edu Lobo
  • Carlos Lyra
  • Tim Maia
  • Herbie Mann
  • César Camargo Mariano
  • Maysa Matarazzo
  • Sérgio Mendes
  • Newton Mendonça
  • Roberto Menescal
  • Minas
  • Heraldo do Monte
  • Doris Monteiro
  • Vinicius de Moraes
  • Paula Morelenbaum
  • Dario Moreno
  • Paulo Moura
  • Sitti Navarro
  • Paulinho Nogueira
  • Lisa Ono
  • Os Cariocas
  • Rosa Passos
  • Baden Powell de Aquino
  • Quarteto em Cy
  • Elis Regina
  • Pery Ribeiro
  • Wanda Sá
  • Dom Salvador
  • Sambalanço Trio
  • Walter Santos
  • Lalo Schifrin
  • Bola Sete
  • Wilson Simonal
  • Elza Soares
  • Raul de Souza
  • Sylvia Telles
  • Toots Thielemans
  • Toquinho (Antônio Pecci Filho)
  • Caterina Valente
  • Marcos Valle
  • Ale Vanzella
  • Caetano Veloso
  • Rosinha de Valença
  • Walter Wanderley
  • Zimbo Trio