John Pizzarelli on the Beauty of Antonio Carlos Jobim

Guitarist and singer picks five of his favorite cuts by the Brazilian music legend

JohnPizzarelli_JacobBlickenstaff

John Pizzarelli (photo by Jacob Blickenstaff)

Brazilian music has always been very captivating to me, and I’ve always found it fascinating the way Jobim worked: the way he put together those songs, what influenced him along the way, his love for American music and standards and even Chopin, when you think about “How Insensitive” and songs like that. He changed the landscape of music at the same time that the Beatles were around. In fact, the Sinatra-Jobim album, Francis Albert Sinatra & Antonio Carlos Jobim, lost the Grammy Award for Album of the Year to Sgt. Pepper’s.  I had made a bossa-nova record before, and I always knew there was going to be another. It happened to be the 50th anniversary of the Sinatra-Jobim album, so I asked Daniel Jobim, Tom Jobim’s grandson, to do a tribute to that LP with me, and went back to listen to a lot of Jobim.

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“DINDI”
The Wonderful World of Antonio Carlos Jobim
(Warner Bros., 1965)

I had to learn “Dindi” for a record I made with Rosemary Clooney, called Brazil, and she said, “I want you to do that number ‘Dindi’ like Jobim.” I was like, “Thanks a lot.” The record I found had this arrangement by Nelson Riddle, with Jobim singing in English. I thought, “Wow, this is beautiful.”  It was so touching to me. You can hear these hints of Riddle in his writing, his little trademark chords, that made it so special. I think Riddle was a little more restrained with Jobim [than he was with Sinatra]. He was trying to stay out of Jobim’s way; he had more of a relationship with Sinatra.

“THE GIRL FROM IPANEMA”
Francis Albert Sinatra & Antonio Carlos Jobim
(Reprise, 1967)

I love hearing Jobim play the guitar on that, and he makes a statement when he starts singing in Portuguese. There’s a video of them [available online] doing it on a television show, and they look like the two kings from different parts of the world. When Jobim sings, Sinatra says, “Yeahhh … [That’s] the only way.” Sinatra loved that Jobim was playing the guitar; what Jobim did was allow [Sinatra] to be so intimate. He knew he could be close to the mic. I think that defines the bossa-nova sound for Sinatra.

Photo of Frank Sinatra and Antonio Carlos Jobim
Frank Sinatra and Antonio Carlos Jobim

“ÁGUAS DE MARÇO”
Elis & Tom (Philips Brazil, 1974)

The album that Elis Regina made with Tom Jobim is such a seminal record in the bossa-nova canon. There’s even a video [online of them performing this tune in the studio], where they’re singing and having so much fun, and you can tell there’s so much love between the two of them. She’s sort of the Billie Holiday figure to his Sinatra. I never got to see Jobim perform, so it’s great that we have video of him.

“DESAFINADO (OFF KEY)”
Terra Brasilis (Warner Bros., 1980)

When he sings the translation in English, I’m captivated by the part in the song where he sings, “And then I took your picture with my trusty Rolleiflex.” The first time I heard that I thought, “I’ve got to get that lyric.” This [version] is a literal translation—you hear him pronounce Rolleiflex in Portuguese. I played it on my first bossa-nova record [Bossa Nova, 2004] by myself, and I’ve had people from Brazil tell me, “I love that lyric in English.” My dad [guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli] plays on “Double Rainbow” on this Jobim record. There’s also a lot of [arranger] Claus Ogerman on it.

“DESAFINADO”
Live at Minas (DRG; rec. in 1981, rel. in 2006)

This album is just Jobim singing and playing piano. He explains the songs and sings them, and it is so beautiful. He’s like a quiet little orchestra. You don’t even need to know what he’s saying. There’s an absolute silence in the room—you can hear him breathing at the beginning—and then he begins with this song. There’s this determination; it’s so organic. You think, “That’s the beginning? Where is he headed?”

“SÓ DANÇO SAMBA”
Antonio Brasileiro (Sony, 1995)

I learned this song phonetically from João Gilberto’s record that he did with Stan Getz [Getz/Gilberto, 1964]. It was fun to hear a different arrangement of it. There’s a little intermission riff in there that comes from Stan Kenton. There are so many different recordings of this song and they’re always so interestingly different.

[As told to Jeff Tamarkin]