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JOÃO GILBERTO,
1931-2019

Brazilian guitarist João Gilberto, an architect of bossa nova whose work with Stan Getz created a beachhead for the music in the U.S., died at his home in Rio de Janeiro. He was 88.

His son, João Marcelo Gilberto, announced his father’s death in a Facebook post without giving a date for his passing.

Raised on samba and other regional sounds popular in Brazil in the 1940s and ‘50s, Gilberto introduced a softly swaying, whispered style that incorporated gentle polyrhythms and airy jazz elements that would define the country’s music in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s and influence future generations of Brazilian musicians. In 1958 he recorded the first bossa nova guitar record—and wrote the first bossa nova song, “Bim Bom,” in 1956— but it was his work with Getz that gave him international exposure.

Getz first explored Brazilian music on 1962’s Jazz Samba with the American guitarist Charlie Byrd, who heard the music a year prior during a U.S. State Department-sponsored concert tour. Bassist Don Payne, a friend of Getz’s, had piqued the saxophonist’s interest when he returned from a Brazil tour with bossa nova records around the same time.

Jazz Samba went to #1 after its release in the spring of 1962, opening the door for the music in the U.S. That fall, Gilberto make his first trip to the States to perform at a bossa nova package concert at Carnegie Hall.

Getz invited Gilberto and his wife, Astrid Gilberto, to record with him, producing Getz/Gilberto, a collection of interpretation of Antonio Carlos Jobim/Vinicius de Moraes songs that would go on to hit #1 and become one of the biggest selling jazz albums in history, receive the Grammy for Album of the Year and introduce the world to future standards of the genre such as "Garota de Ipanema (Girl From Ipanema)," "Corcovado" and "Desafinado."

The album was released in March 1964, the dawn of Beatlemania, when labels were searching for a softer sounds to sell to the adult album market. Getz/Gilberto spent nearly two years on the sales charts, peaking at #2 in August 1964 behind the A Hard Day’s Night soundtrack and ahead of Louis Armstrong’s Hello Dolly!. It would be inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1999.

Their recording of “Ipanema," featuring João singing in Portuguese and Astrud in English, peaked at #5 in the States and charted globally. The record is in the Library of Congress’ National Recording Registry and the Latin Grammy Hall of Fame.

Gilberto would record again with Getz, in 1966 and 1976, and collaborate with the flutist Herbie Mann, but make only 10 solo studio records under his own name. His last release, 2000’s João Voz e Violao, received the World Music Album Grammy.

Recording Academy President/CEO Neil Portnow and Latin Recording Academy President/CEO Gabriel Abaroa Jr. gave a joint statement that read: “An architect of bossa nova music in his native Brazil, João's innovative style and master musicianship helped turn the genre into a worldwide phenomenon. Maintaining an impressive career spanning several decades, he earned six Grammy nominations between 1964-2000, and, along with his musical partner Stan Getz, he took home the coveted Album of the Year award for 1964's breakthrough album Getz/Gilberto. That milestone recording and his classic ‘Chega De Saudade’ have been inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. João will be missed, but his legacy will live on forever.”

As with many purveyors of bossa nova, Gilberto was closely associated with Jobim whom he met in 1957 when the composer was an arranger for Odeon Records. Jobim found a place for Gilberto’s rhythm guitar in the “Chega de Saudade,” which they recorded with Elizete Cardoso in 1958. The record is recognized as the first prime example of bossa nova guitar.

A few months later, Gilberto recorded his version with string  arrangements by Jobim, a record that the musician Caetano Veloso referred to as “the mother ship.”

Gilberto spent much of the 1960s and 1970s living in the U.S. and Mexico, before returning to Brazil in 1980, where he spent most of his days out of the public eye.

Famous for having exacting standards about sound in the studio and in concert, he successfully sued EMI over the quality of the mastering of his albums for CD reissues. At the Hollywood Bowl in 2003, his first time at the venue in 39 years, he turned what should have been a triumphant concert return into a diatribe about microphones

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