Liner Notes Legacy - A Twist of Jobim

by Brazil Club - Let The Music Take You There on 11/20/2017 - 03:41 pm

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Back in the Fall of 1996, Lee Ritenour called to ask if I would be interested in writing the liner notes for an upcoming album tribute to Antonio Carlos Jobim. Jobim had passed away two years earlier in New York and his death came as a shock to the nation of Brazil and also for the jazz world. It didn't take long for tribute albums to find their way to fans worldwide. After all, Antonio Carlos Jobim is still considered to be one of the world's greatest songwriters.

Lee’s approach to the music came from deep respect; a natural balance of reverence for the original, married to the desire to imprint these classic songs with his own creativity. And while that could be said for each of the dozens of tribute albums, it was already clear to both of us that some worked better than others. So, it was no surprise that our phone call that day lasted the better part of two hours.

As I look back at 25 years on the radio with The Sounds of Brazil, this assignment is one of my most cherished; an honor to be asked by Lee Ritenour and great sense of responsibility to write a tribute of my own. I hope you’ll enjoy the (re)read.

~  Scott Adams



Retracing a Brazilian Legend's Footsteps

Deep in Ipanema, an afternoon walk might bring you to a quiet street corner shadowed by buildings and tall trees, and a small bronze bust of Brazilian philosopher Carlos Drummond de Andrade, it’s forehead brightly polished from years of off handed tribute by passing cariocas. De Andrade believed that Brazil’s cultural identity should be developed through the assimilation of other cultures, then re-invented to create something uniquely Brazilian. This philosophy, like the street corner, has faded into prominence to take its place as a part of daily Brazilian life.  And its an important key to understanding the creativity of Antonio Carlos Jobim.

Somewhere (God knows where...!) Tom (as he was known to his friends), who passed away in December of 1994, is smiling, because the album that you’re holding in your hands is true to both the intent and promise of bossa nova. Guided by the able talents of producer Lee Ritenour, A Twist of Jobim is bossa reborn for the 90’s... a re-revolution of the music that was the life work of a musical master intended to reach audiences old and new. Unlike the Beatles or Elvis, Jobim was a musician’s musician, much like Charlie Parker. But when Bird played, many of the musicians who lined up to hear him put their horns down, knowing they could never attain that level of creativity. When musicians heard Jobim’s music, they picked them back up.

To this day, while some Brazilians may decry the role American jazz played in the creation of bossa nova our jazz musicians who  experimented with Jazz Samba in the `50s and `60s will graciously admit to the influence of Brazil upon their own music. So which came first: the frango or the ovo? As de Andrade would surely attest, for Brazilians this melding of cultures is nothing new.

And so, in typically Brazilian fashion, A Twist of Jobim is different. It represents a sea change in the direction of Jobim’s music for generations to follow. This album is less about Al Jarreau, Oleta Adams, El DeBarge or of Herbie Hancock or the prowess of Lee Ritenour, Dave Grusin, Ernie Watts, Eric Marienthal or the Yellowjackets.  It’s about Jobim’s legacy and its relevance to the future of contemporary jazz.  Not for the musicians, but for us.



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Almost Perfect

While this statement may shock you, it doesn’t surprise Ritenour.  “A number of his songs are almost perfect,” explains Lee. ”And that was the hard part of planning A Twist of Jobim. You have to respect that balance between the original and the desire to work with it. The true test of any great songwriter is his music’s ability to stand the test of time. I spent a long time on the arrangements to make sure it came out the way I envisioned it.”

Like many of us, Lee was hooked by the seductive message of Brazil early in his life. He tells the story how his father would play bossa records for him in his younger days.  In fact, Lee’s first major musical role was with Sergio Mendes, and he’s never strayed far since. A Twist of Jobim represents the culmination of a dream: to present Jobim’s music through a purely American perspective.  In choosing the musicians who appear on this album, Ritenour followed another tenet. With the exception of percussionists Cassio Duarte and Paulinho da Costa, all of the musicians are American. This is a tribute, an homage that could only be created from a gringo’s perspective, generations removed from the original.

Jobim’s influence on American jazz and pop music is something that should never be taken for granted. Let’s set aside the fact that Jobim was a Brazilian for just a minute. Taken purely on a musical level,  even the most casual listener is captured by the warmth and emotion of a Jobim song. And with well over 300 compositions to his credit, Jobim was nothing if not consistently creative.

Take a look at the songs selected for this project. Several unusual choices. Many others of landmark status. All part of today’s future by recalling the past, half a world away.  Of “Captain Bacardi” Lee remarks,  “Not many people remember that Jobim wrote a few Blues tunes. Dave Grusin and I used to play this song quite often years ago, and he immediately remembered our history with the song.” Eric Marienthal, who’s close enough to Brazil to understand the way music integrates with the rest of life, follows Lee’s direction and the song swings and sways with a straight ahead feel not hinted at in the original.

Or El DeBarge and Art Porter teaming up for “Dindi.”  DeBarge transforms the song with an Urban spin, and in doing so sets the stage for Porter’s silky smooth soprano. It was to be Art’s last recording; and his ability to capture the longing and desire of the lyrics stand as testament to his talent and sensitivity to the moment. Lee calls upon Alan Pasqua and Ernie Watts to revisit “Children’s Games” ( the name of the song is Double Rainbow when it appears with lyrics), a tune he earlier covered with the Yellowjackets, who this time around appear on the lesser known “Mojave.” 


Jobim: Lack of Vision

Al Jarreau and Oleta Adams bring their distinct vocal styles to A Twist of Jobim with two favorites and in doing so, will re-shape the perception of the singers’ repertoire. Listen to how Jarreau purposely “undersings” the lyrics as if to pay homage to the original vocal by Joao Gilberto.

With Jobim the tradition of change runs deep. One of the keys to Jobim’s success in the US was the fact that his songs were quickly transformed with new English lyrics, and accordingly acceptance came more easily. But back in the 60’s on Planet Samba, the critics attacked Jobim for bastardizing their sacred song form.  The beat was too slow, the harmonies were all wrong and harsh to the ear. Where is the passion? Is this our future? “Desafinado” (Off Key) was Jobim’s response to his critics lack of vision; the message cloaked in pseudonym as a story of unrequited love:

You insist my music goes against the rules.

Ah, but rules were never made for lovesick fools!

I wrote this little song for you but you don’t care.

It’s a crooked tune, ah but all my love is there...


Of course, back then Jobim often relied on others for the lyrics to his beautiful melodies. “Desafinado’s” original words were penned by Newton Mendoca, for example, with Gene Lees providing the close English translation. The Portuguese lyrics for  “The Girl From Ipanema” were co-written by Vinicius de Moraes and later in English by Norman Gimbel.

Those were heady days for the young composer in Rio, back before Copacabana was widened to it’s four lane super-beach status, back when the so called intellectuals had the run of Ipanema. Plenty of time on their hands; we called them beatniks.

One of my favorite pictures of Jobim during this time is the “totem” shot, famous for it’s generational caricature: four musicians, hands upon the shoulders of the one below. Carlos Lyra on the bottom, Ronaldo Boscoli next, then Jobim and an aging Ary Baroso at the top.  Baroso looks wise, happy to be there to bridge his musical world with those who would follow. Boscoli and Lyra predictably playful; ready for what the day would bring. But Jobim?

Jobim is a study of confidence, his face already showing hints of the character lines that would someday define his faintest smile. A dozen years senior to Joao Gilberto, Mendes, and a host of soon-to-be legends, Jobim’s vision went beyond the late night jam sessions at Nara Leao’s Copa apartment, further than the impromptu beach concerts. Jobim already knew the day-to-day business of music with his position as artistic director for the Odeon label. Where others were swept along with bossa’s torrent, Jobim was there by choice and he was ready for it.

Roughly 12 years would pass before Jobim would venture his own lyrics in English with a song that captured all the magic and misery of life. “Waters of March” today remains an amazing collection of words, formed to create a poetic comparison in rhyme, meter and meaning, all cloaked in the nursery-rhyme simplicity of a melody that would later cover the world as a soft drink jingle. Enjoy the story:


A stick, a stone,

It’s the end of the road,

It’s the rest of the stump,

It’s a little alone

It’s a sliver of glass,

It is life, it’s the sun,

It is night, it is death,

It’s a trap, it’s a gun

The oak when it blooms,

A fox in the brush,

The knot in the wood,

The song of the thrush

The wood of the wind,

A cliff, a fall,

A scratch, a lump,

It is nothing at all

It’s the wind blowing free,

It’s the end of the slope,

It’s a beam, It’s a void,

It’s a hunch, It’s a hope

And the riverbank talks

Of the waters of March,

It’s the end of the strain,

It’s the joy in your heart

The foot, the ground,

The flesh and the bone,

The beat of the road,

A slingshot stone

A fish, a flash,

A slivery glow,

A fight, a bet,

The range of the bow

The bed of the well,

The end of the line,

The dismay in the face,

It’s a loss, it’s a find

A spear, a spike,

A point, a nail,

A drip, a drop,

The end of the tale

A truckload of bricks

In the soft morning light,

The shot of a gun

In the dead of the night

A mile, a must,

A thrust, a bump

It’s a girl, it’s a rhyme

It’s a cold, it’s the mumps

The plan of the house,

The body in bed,

The car that got stuck

It’s the mud, it’s the mud

A float, a drift,

A flight, a wing,

A hawk, a quail,

The promise of Spring

And the riverbank talks

Of the waters of March

It’s the promise of life,

It’s the joy in your heart

A snake, a stick,

It is John, It is Joe,

It’s a thorn in your hand,

And a cut on your toe

A point, a grain,

A bee, a bite,

A blink, a buzzard,

The sudden stroke of night

A pin, a needle,

A sting, a pain,

A snail, a riddle,

A wasp, a stain

A pass in the mountains,

A horse, a mule,

In the distance the shelves

Rode three shadows of blue

And the riverbank talks

of the waters of March

It’s the promise of life

In your heart, In your heart

A stick, a stone,

The end of the load,

The rest of the stump,

A lonesome road

A sliver of glass,

A life, the sun,

A night, a death,

The end of the run

And the riverbank talks

Of the waters of March

It’s the end of all strain

It’s the joy in your heart

Top - Cafe Copa



How 'Twist of Jobim' Came Together

 It’s the way that we live, it’s the story of life. Jobim’s lifeline and Ritenour’s career intersected several times. The first time was during Lee’ stint with Mendes. “It was the same night that I met Dave Grusin. I guess I was about 18 or 19 then. We all jammed at Sergio’s studio that night. I’ll never forget it. It had a big impact on me.”  Over the years, Jobim would be there; at the nightclubs, for the concerts, lending the invisible touch that would guide Ritenour’s recordings with other Brazilians including Joao Bosco, Djavan, Ivan Lins and Caetano Veloso, to name but a few.

In New York about a year and a half ago, Ritenour assembled his first star studded gathering to pay tribute to Jobim at Lincoln Center. That evening became the catalyst for this album when Lee and his Brazilian wife, Carmen, were overwhelmed by the spirit of the moment.  The memories linger here: Herbie Hancock recalls his New York performance with “Stone Flower” recaptured in this recording. Dave Grusin reflects on “Bonita.” Brazil’s superstars took the stage to celebrate where it all began for bossa nova in 1962. To honor the man who defined the music for all time. 

Today, Brazil is undergoing another, less romantic musical revolution. Here, the changes are guided by market trends and there’s a whole generation of young Brazilians who would be hard pressed to remember Jobim’s contribution’s, let alone build upon them. After all, a million seller is a million seller.  But, one must remember that it took the Beatles to knock “The Girl From Ipanema” off the charts in 1966, and million seller hits come and go.

In a world of one-hit wonders it almost seems rhetorical to ask: Is Jobim’s music still relevant? Or has it made its run as it closes in on it’s fifth decade? To discover the answer let A Twist of Jobim take you back to Brazil. To Rio de Janeiro, to Ipanema. Find the street off the beach that intersects with Rua Vinicius de Moreas, and look for an open seat at Garota de Ipanema Bar, the little sidewalk cafe were Jobim’s most famous song was written during a long steamy Brazilian summer. Sit back, order a cold choppe, put on your headphones, and dream. Then, if you want, you can search for that other street corner. The one with the bronze bust. You’ll soon discover that all Jobim needed was a little twist.


Scott Adams

The Sounds of Brazil

Chicago, December 1996