Getz/Gilberto made its way into my life because of a crush: specifically, a girl in my drawing class junior year of high school, who low-key, intimidated the shit out of me.
I’d known her for a couple years, but this was the first time we’d had a class together, save for driver’s ed. She was smarter than most of our peers, and certainly more cultured. At 17, her parents were in their late 60s or something like that, and I expect this afforded her the unique and exciting outlook on things that she possessed.
She had tattoos. She could draw for really real. And one day, she lent me an album that would allow me my first step into a really beautiful world of sound I knew nothing about.
At the age of 17, I didn’t REALLY know what jazz was, much less, bossa nova.
As this was the early part of my junior year in high school, I probably owned 10 some-odd CDs at the time. Most likely, they were:
Needless to say, “quiet”, “introspective”, and “light” didn’t have much real estate in my collection.
In lending me this album, I can’t really remember what my knee-jerk reaction was. The cover looked cool, and of course, I was going to listen to it, because I wanted to have more to talk to her about, but I can’t remember if I came to my listening experience with any real sort of enthusiasm.
“The Girl From Ipanema” a song that became a standard, begins the album, and it’s indeed worthy of its legacy. When Stan Getz’s saxophone finally enters at the halfway mark, it’s a spellbinding moment. It’s not show-y, but earnest. You can’t help but feel a sense of warmth, listening to him as he coaxes that familiar set of notes from his instrument.
The song sets the tone for the album, establishing both a rhythmic precedent, and perhaps, a bar for all the other songs to clear.
Most of the album is composed of short(ish) numbers that bounce along at what could described as a pleasant tempo. The music never really starts to cook, so much as it maintains a very comfortable and pleasant simmer.
And that’s okay too. This is music that doesn’t require active listening, but it certainly rewards it.
For example, I’ve tried to learn the solo from “Para Machuchar Meu Coração” on guitar by ear, and it’s HARD.
One could easily (and successfully) argue that the stylistic things on display here have since become fodder for countless hours of elevator “muzak” and any number of other unfortunate things. It’s more than that here though, where the compositions are picture frame-able, and Getz’s sax tone can’t help but humble you.
To my ears, he belongs in a category alongside only a handful of other musicians: Carlos Santana, Robert Fripp, John McLaughlin, George Duke and Miles Davis. Like them, Getz is a premier practitioner of his craft, one who needs to play only a single note from his instrument for you to know that it’s him.
His playing is at once lyrical, adventurous, solemn, and joyful.
He shines brightest perhaps on, “O Grande Amor”, a song that may or may not wander into my top 10 depending on the day, and my mood.
I remember being in bed the first time I heard it. It was a weeknight, and it was probably early November.
In the moment, I was completely mesmerized.
I truly believe that great music will bring to life a picture in your mind, and hearing it for the first time, the song called to mind a New York City night in the mid-1940s: a scene with a couple inside a warm, small apartment, with snow falling very gently outside the window, as a train rumbled by.
There was something painterly about it— soft impressionism, and a limited color palette. Foolishly, (as only a 17-year old proto-romantic could), I thought about the girl who lent me the album, and what it would be like for us to maybe share a moment like that one day.
Unfortunately, I had never the guts to say anything to her. She gave me an opening one day too, asking me if there was anyone that I was crushing on at the time. Frozen in the moment, I deflected, saying that there wasn’t, before asking her the same question, thinking she might be straightforward enough to pick up the baton.
Instead, she paused, before she nodded slightly, and began to talk about someone else, who she’d actually end up dating shortly thereafter.
It’s a funny thing to think back on now. I acknowledge that in listening to the music found here, it’s tied up in something nostalgic– a high school crush. Considering how generally excellent the material is, I find it hard to believe that I’d feel any less enthusiasm for it, had it come into my life in a different way, but I also don’t know.
It’s fitting though. There’s great affection in the music, and the album itself begins with one of the great romantic songs of our time.
If you haven’t heard it, I can’t recommend it highly enough. If you have, listen again, and allow yourself the joy to be found in just over half an hour of musical perfection.