João Gilberto (1931-2019)

João Gilberto (1931-2019)

His career spans nearly 70 years

Brazilian musician, and pioneer of Bossa Nova

Like many others, I woke up to the sad news of João Gilberto’s passing on Sunday. Brazilian music, Bossa Nova in particular, is a research interest of mine, and I have always had a huge appreciation of Gilberto.

I first became interested in popular music when I was 15. I started listening to the Beatles on vinyl. From there I got into other 1960s-70s music. Five months after my obsession with the Beatles started, George Harrison died. Coincidentally this also the story I tell my students when I find out they’re smokers – “you don’t want to end up like George Harrison”… Anyway, my point is, for as long as I’ve been interested in music, I have lived with the fact that many of them are gone. David Bowie’s death in 2016 shook me (you can read more about my response to that in the Liverpool Echo). Prince’s death hit me like a freight train.

João Gilberto: Insensatez 1961

Both Bowie and Prince were very important aesthetic symbols. Gilberto was not as well known – at least in the Anglo-American world – and his influence slightly different, but I felt a similar pang of aesthetic loss upon reading the news. The cultural landscape is changing considerably. So many of the people who shaped the 20th century culturally are no longer with us, and now Gilberto joins the ranks.

Stan Getz / Joao Gilberto: 1964/2011

Through Gilberto’s music you can get a glimpse into a part of Brazil – or, Brasil, really. Gilberto was a pioneer of Bossa Nova, and many will have come across his work with Stan Getz. It was with Getz, and his then wife Astrud Gilberto, that Gilberto recorded the first English version of ‘Garota de Ipanema’, ‘The Girl from Ipanema’. Though some of my Brazilian colleagues have criticised the English version for lacking the ‘sway’ for the Portuguese one. His work with Getz also played a part in developing cool jazz. So if you haven’t listened to Gilberto’s music yet, this is an excellent time to start. If you’re already a fan, let’s listen even more.

João Gilberto – obrigada e boa noite.