Remembering Astrud: The Hidden Stories Behind Getz/Gilberto

Three Brazilians, two days in a studio, and one legendary recording.

Let’s spend a Brazilian minute exploring the hidden stories behind Getz/Gilberto.

Monday, June 5th, 2023: Astrud Gilberto passed away at age 83, in Philadelphia today. The following day, Sofia Gilberto (Astrud’s granddaughter) posted this lovely note in Portuguese on Instagram. It reads: “Life is beautiful, as the song says, but I bring sad news that my grandmother became a star today and is next to my grandfather Joao Gilberto. Astrud will forever be in our hearts.

Please enjoy this story on how Astrud Gilberto’s singing career began. Thanks for stopping by today.

An Eternal Album

Now in its sixth decade, ‘Getz/Gilberto’ remains the touchstone for Bossa Nova’s worldwide success and the Brazilian sound’s translation into a bona fide jazz idiom. The music of ‘Getz/Gilberto’ is irresistibly romantic, and the production and musicianship sublime. It’s fair to say that few pop albums of any kind have matched its success.

When producer Creed Taylor assembled his Brazilian and American stars in wintry New York at the “dingy but effective’ A&R studio in January of 1963, his vision for Getz/Gilberto was clear.

Bossa Nova singer and guitarist João Gilberto would share top billing with saxman Stan Getz, while Antonio Carlos Jobim’s piano would lead the rhythm section of bassist Tony Williams and Brazilian drummer Milton Banana. João’s wife Astrud, who had dreams of a singing career but had not yet seriously pursued it, came along for the experience of it all.

That’s just one of the hidden stories behind Getz/Gilberto.

Once completed, the project sat on producer Creed Taylor’s desk for more than a year. However, when released, Getz/Gilberto garnered seven Grammy nominations for 1964, coming away with four awards (for Record of the Year, Album of the Year, Best Instrumental Jazz Performance – Small Group, and Best Engineered Record – non-classical), edging out both Barbra Streisand and the Beatles that year.

Straight To The Top

Getz/Gilberto entered the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1999 and ‘The Girl From Ipanema’ single followed a year later.

Sales success? Getz/Gilberto went straight to the top of the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at #2 as a certified million-selling album, and it stayed there for 96 weeks until finally giving way to the Beatles and the musical sea change that followed.

For his part, Stan Getz plays at his lyrical best. In fact, his tenor sax solos have been committed to memory by hundreds of thousands of fans who whistle or hum along with them at ease. With his earnings, he bought a New York mansion.

Buried deep inside the hidden stories behind Getz/Gilberto, is the stark reality of how the Musicians Union viewed Astrud Gilberto’s role.

Paying Her Dues

It’s said that Astrud was paid the standard union rate of $120 dollars for her work, but those who focus on this seeming injustice fail to recognize the opportunity that she created for herself and for Bossa Nova.

She decided to tour with Stan Getz and continued to develop her singing career with Creed Taylor. For Bossa Nova fans, she became the ‘Girl from Ipanema’.

But the magic of this recording will always remain with the Brazilian singer and the American jazzman, and the passionate beauty that resulted from Creed Taylor’s creative vision.

The Aftermath

João Gilberto stayed on in New York with two Grammy awards, but without his soon-to-be ex-wife. Jobim also made New York his ‘on and off’ home, splitting time between the US and Brazil by recording and touring until he came to the attention of Frank Sinatra a few years later.

Creed Taylor reaped the success of those seven Grammy nominations in 1964 when he was approached by Herb Alpert and Jerry Moss of A&M Records and asked to consider a partnership.

The result was the creation of Creed Taylor’s own label, CTI Records, which went on to produce and promote many other Brazilian musicians as well as early contemporary jazz artists including Wes Montgomery, Grover Washington, Jr., and George Benson.

Perhaps Gene Lees summed it up best in his ‘Jazzletter’. “Creed Taylor was treating the music with respect and dignity. Were it not for Creed Taylor, I am convinced, Bossa Nova and Brazilian music generally would, after the (1962) Carnegie Hall mockery, have retreated into itself, gone back to Brazil… and become a quaint parochial phenomenon interesting to tourists, instead of the worldwide music and the tremendous influence on jazz itself that it in fact became. Brazil doesn’t know what it owes Creed Taylor. He would record Walter Wanderley, Milton Nascimento, the Tamba 4, Airto, and others.”

Three Brazilians, two days in a studio, and one legendary recording. For anyone wanting to add to the Brazilian section for his or her CD collection, the Getz/Gilberto album is a great place to start.

Music, Travel, Friends, and Fun! 2023 marks Connect Brazil’s 26th year.

The Hidden Stories Behind Getz/Gilberto

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