A Certain Smile: Astrud Gilberto's Way

by Brazil Club - Let The Music Take You There on 03/28/2018 - 10:07 pm

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Woman's History Month: A Certain Smile: Astrud Gilberto's Way                                                 Image - uncredited

Brazil Club 411:  Born in Bahia and raised in Rio, Astrud Gilberto's 'All-American' style made her a cultural icon. But those days are behind her now.


Fly Me To The Moon

Six Degrees of Separation. It used to be that we were only six people removed from anyone in the world we'd like to meet. But Facebook and Twitter have changed all that. Today, the real number is less than three.

That thought crossed my mind while writing these notes to celebrate Astrud Gilberto; it’s her birthday today.

Why? Well, Astrud Gilberto is an enigma. Has been, ever since the evergreen popularity of 'The Girl From Ipanema' assured her role as a 60's cultural icon and one of the most recognized female voices in the world.

But this Brazilian singer has managed to achieve something very rare in our completely connected age: Astrud Gilberto leads a very private life.

Her "slightly off-key" voice and innocent style charmed generations of Bossa Nova fans here in the US and beyond as we musically mark her 77th birthday, just as Bossa Nova celebrates its 60th anniversary.

Astrud's rise to fame began with her marriage to João Gilberto in Rio de Janeiro, where she was part of one of the cliques that orbited around the birth of Bossa Nova in the late 50's.

It was (probably) coincidence that found her in a New York recording studio with her husband, Antonio Carlos Jobim and saxophonist Stan Getz in 1963. Somehow Astrud – who had never sung professionally – became the voice of ‘The Girl From Ipanema’.






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The popular version goes like this: Stan Getz (or Producer Creed Taylor) heard Astrud and Joao Gilberto singing quietly in the corner of the studio during a session break and invited her to sing on two tracks, in English.

Another version has Getz lobbying hard for Astrud’s participation, against the wishes of Jobim and Joao. Astrud strongly states that it was her husband’s idea completely, while Jobim’s favorite Brazilian journalist Ruy Castro writes in his book Bossa Nova, that the Gilberto’s had been hatching the idea together since the first day of recording, practicing in their New York hotel room.

However the decision was made, the result was an historic one. The song and album became top sellers. Not long afterwards, Astrud accepted an invitation by Stan Getz to tour the US with his band, leaving her husband (she’d record with João only one more time) and Brazil in the rear-view camera.


Top - Cafe Copa



Who Needs Forever

She appeared in a pair of films, her recording career blossomed with a series of memorable albums and she became the face of Bossa Nova for Americans coast to coast.

As tech urged the world to grow smaller, Astrud kept pace: The "Plus" album with the James Last Orchestra returned her to the top ranks of Brazilian performers. Her songs have been sampled by The Black Eyed Peas and Cut Chemist, graced the movies Juno and  Down With Love. She recorded with George Michael for AIDS awareness and her self-produced 'Jungle' came along in 2002. 

That’s when she announced that she was taking "indefinite time off" from public performances.

When it comes to appreciating Astrud Gilberto’s desire to live a quiet life away from the attention of past fame, those three words in quotes are instructive: She rarely - if ever - grants interviews, preferring to devote her attention to her personal pastimes: painting, and animal rights. Yes, it's disappointing for her fans, who would love to reunite but perhaps we're just seeing the comet-tail of her wisdom.

For those we admire who have found fame in front of the camera or behind the microphone, the decision on how they want to be remembered comes soon enough. For some performers the answer is always one more world tour.

But for Astrud Gilberto, perhaps it's better to separate the icon from the individual, to enjoy the music and memories that she's given to us over the years.

That's the beauty of her improbable beginnings, an opportunity found half a world away and a life well-lived on her own terms. 

Happy birthday, Astrud.


Fado at City Winery Chicago 4/3 & 4/10 CityWinery.com