12 Influential Brazilian Jazz Albums

Record collection of 12 Influential Brazilian Jazz Albums on a wood shelf with black headphones leansing against them.
Engage a dozon of the best Brazilian jazz albums of all time, (Photo by blocks on Unsplash)

The Brazilian Wave: These albums represent the ebb and flow of decades and generations.

12 influential Brazilian Jazz albums to honor the legacy and alchemy of Brazil’s greatest song makers and storytellers. Enjoy!

‘Brazil’ – Ary Barroso (1939)

My list of 12 influential Brazilian Jazz albums begins here. The same year that Glenn Miller was riding high with ‘In The Mood’, Ary Barroso’s big band was swinging samba with Aquarela do Brasil (Brazil). All it took was an animated push from the Disney studios to make it a worldwide hit. ‘Brazil’ went on to become the first Brazilian song to be played over a million times on American radio and Rolling Stone Brasil lists it as the 12th greatest Brazilian song of all time.

‘Chega de Saudade’ from Chega de Saudade – João Gilberto (1959)

After wearing out his welcome in Rio de Janeiro, João Gilberto turned his self-imposed musical exile into a musical point in time: a new ‘voice and guitar’ style that forever changed how the world would think about Brazilian music. Yes, Jobim had the songs, and Vinicius had the lyrics, but make no mistake: it was João Gilberto’s creativity that created Bossa Nova, and he did it with Chega De Saudade.

‘Desafinado’ from Jazz Samba – Stan Getz and Charlie Byrd (1963)

My list of 12 influential Brazilian Jazz albums would be complete without Jazz Samba. Guitarist Charlie Byrd was among the first of America’s jazz musicians to pick up on Gilberto’s genius during a U.S. State Department tour of Brazil and South America. However, Stan Getz was not convinced until Byrd played a few Brazilian records for the sax star.

The decision to record the album at All Souls Unitarian Church in Washington, D.C. gives it an aural ambiance that’s unmatched. This Grammy-winning, million-selling recording topped Billboard’s Pop Album charts to set the path for…

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‘The Girl From Ipanema’ from Getz/Gilberto – Stan Getz and João Gilberto (1964)

Getz/Gilberto is where Bossa Nova’s ‘north and south’ came together to form Brazilian Jazz. Two million copies sold in a single year, three Grammy wins plus ‘Record of the Year’ and ‘Album of Year’ in 1965. You can read Connect Brazil’s stories behind Getz/Gilberto here.

‘This Happy Madness’ from Francis Albert Sinatra & Antônio Carlos Jobim (1967)

This album was not a commercial success when compared to others on this list, or even to other Frank Sinatra recordings. However, this is the album that indelibly confirmed Bossa Nova as a worldwide music style.

For Antonio Carlos Jobim, it was the beginning of a career year. Jobim recorded three top-charting albums in Brazilian music’s ‘year of year’, 1967. Sinatra found a career boost from this album, too, confiding that he had never sung as softly as on these 10 songs.

‘Wave’ from Wave – Antonio Carlos Jobim (1967)

One of the first albums to bear producer Creed Taylor’s CTI imprint wasn’t by happenstance. It was by choice.

Taylor knew gold when he heard it and Clause Ogerman’s string arrangements sealed the deal. Wave’s success far exceeded its impressive sales and chart performance by virtue of its impact on three generations of fake books.

‘Wave’ and ‘Triste’ became jazz standards, but my personal favorite remains ‘Batidinha.’ Another essential addition to this list of 12 influential Brazilian Jazz albums.

12 Influential Brazilian Jazz Albums

‘The Look of Love’ from Look Around – Sergio Mendes & Brasil ’66 (1968)

Less than two years after their Platinum-selling debut, Sergio Mendes and his group of Brazilian-Americans were on stage for the Academy Awards telecast to perform this song. ‘The Look of Love’ quickly powered its way into Billboard’s Top 10, passing Dusty Springfield’s original version of the song to peak at #4.

Three things: Brasil 66’s version of Jorge Ben’s ‘Mas Que Nada’ was the first to give pop power to a samba since Ary Barroso in 1939. The group did the same with this song from Look Around, a pop hit with no Brazilian connection at all. Finally, Oscar Castro-Neves joined Brasil 66 a few weeks after this release.

‘Also Sprach Zarathustra -2001’ from Prelude – Deodato (1973)

This is where my list of 12 influential Brazilian Jazz albums takes a major turn. Deodato’s Brazilian Jazz Funk version made history as the highest-charting instrumental jazz single on the Billboard Hot 100. It peaked at #2 and stayed in the Top 40 for three months. 

Prelude won a Grammy for Best Pop Instrumental Album, selling more than 5 million copies. Deodato’s resume includes brokering Milton Nascimento’s very first recording contract (with America’s Verve Records) and producing and arranging for an impressive list of pop performers, including Frank Sinatra, k.d. lang, and Kool & The Gang.

‘Harlequin’ from Harlequin – Dave Grusin and Lee Ritenour (1985)

Ivan Lins made his US label debut with this Grammy-winning album, which rose to #2 on Billboard’s Contemporary Jazz Chart. He also made thousands of new fans, and I was one of them.

While ‘Early A.M. Attitude’ is the song that many of us recall from NAC radio, what impressed me was the sheer power of emotion coming from Lins’ voice on the title song.

Harlequin proved to be a game-changer for Brazilian jazz: within the next few years, Lee Ritenour would give US label debuts to Djavan, João Bosco, Gonzaguinha, Caetano Veloso, and Carlinhos Brown.

What began with Harlequin ultimately led to Ritenour’s A Twist of Jobim, featuring Oleta Adams, Herbie Hancock, and Al Jarreau.

‘So May It Secretly Begin’ from Still Life (Talking) – Pat Metheny Group (1987)

Pat kept an apartment in Rio for several years during the mid-80s, and it was there that the seeds for this album were first planted. “I played a lot of concerts there back then,” he said in an interview with Jazz Improvisation Magazine. “There’s a deeply musical sensibility everywhere.”

He also met and recorded with many of Rio’s top musicians including Antonio Carlos Jobim, Celia Vaz, Toninho Horta, and percussionist Armando Marçal.

Broadly, Metheny’s role here is his connection to Berklee College of Music and the generation of Brazilian Jazz musicians who studied there, including saxophonist Leo Gandelman, Jair Oliveira, and Luciana Souza.

‘Ocean Way’ from Last Look – Torcuato Mariano (1994)

The late 80s brought a new Brazilian Wave with a generation of Brazilian instrumental stars. Leo Gandelman, Marcos Ariel, Ricardo Silveira, and Toninho Horta (to name but a few) redefined Brazilian jazz by following Metheney’s brief flurry of Brazilian-inspired recordings.

Among this group was a young guitar-playing Argentine who moved to Rio de Janeiro at a young age. He soon caught on with Gandelman and Djavan before headlining his own debut album. Paradise Station came in 1992, with ‘A Train To Uberaba’ becoming a minor Smooth Jazz hit for WNUA Chicago.

Two years later Mariano returned with guidance from Carlos de Andrade on Last Look. Each of the album’s songs reflects contemporary Brazilian jazz mastery, from ‘I Can’t Help It’ to the title track. But ‘Ocean Way’ stands out as one of the few Brazilian jazz songs to find playlist success with a generation of Smooth Jazz fans.

‘Tanto Tempo’ from Tanto Tempo – Bebel Gilberto (2000)

Two decades ago, Brazilian-American Bebel followed in her father’s footsteps to purposely reboot Bossa Nova. And it worked.

This album embraces tradition without nostalgia, establishing Bebel at the vanguard of something equally as new and exciting as her fathers’ ‘Chega de Saudade’.

Tanto Tempo includes songs from Chico Buarque, Gilberto Gil, Marcos Valle, Baden Powell, and Vinícius de Moraes. It features percussionist Carlinhos Brown and introduces many of us to Nicola Conte, who pioneered Italy’s New Bossa and Lounge revolution. Thank You!

12 Influential Brazilian Jazz Albums

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