Bop saxophonist Stan Getz was almost single-handedly responsible for breaking bossa nova big in the United States. Classically trained jazz guitarist Charlie Byrd had toured in Brazil and fell under the sway of the burgeoning bossa nova — an amalgam of samba and jazz influences — movement there. He brought some recordings of the music back to Getz, who quickly went to work making arrangements with Verve Records for the landmark album that the two musicians eventually recorded in 1962, Jazz Samba.
Included on the sessions for the album was Antonio Carlos Jobim, the legendary bossa nova guitarist, pianist, and composer of many of the album’s songs. Getz and Byrd each went on to record more records in the bossa nova oeuvre, but none were as commercially successful as the 1963 hit Getz/Gilberto, with Brazilian guitarist and singer Joao Gilberto. That album included the Jobim-penned, worldwide crossover smash “The Girl From Ipanema.”
Long since a standard, it is amusing to note that “The Girl From Ipanema” did not include the famous sultry vocals of Gilberto’s wife, Astrud, until the last minute. Indeed, she was not even credited on the original release of the record. Over the lilting samba rhythms and around Getz’s cool sax lines, Joao Gilberto had laid down his Portuguese lyrics on the track in his trademark soft and simple voice, but producer Creed Taylor, sensing the commercial possibilities of the song, requested an English adaptation of some of the lines. Astrud, who was just along for the visit to New York, was the only Brazilian who understood English enough to sing the adaptation by famed lyricist Norman Gimbel. With no musical background, she stepped to the microphone and sang the words Gimbel had adapted (they are not a literal translation) with an authentic sense of innocence and austerity, the perfect mood for the lyrics: “Tall and tan and young and lovely/The girl from Ipanema goes walking/And when she passes each one she passes goes ‘ahhh’/When she walks she’s like a samba/That swings so cool and sways so gently/That when she passes each one she passes goes ‘ahhh’/Oh, but he watches so sadly/How can he tell her he loves her/Yes, he would give his heart gladly/But each day when she walks to the sea/She looks straight ahead not at he.”
Like all of Jobim’s compositions, “The Girl From Ipanema” aims directly at the heart and soul with lyrics that celebrate the essence of life, the Zen beauty of nature and love.
– Bill Janovitz, AllMusic