Tom Jobim portrait

Antonio Carlos ("Tom") Jobim (1925-1994) was undeniably one of the great Brazilian composers, a globally known songwriter who shares equal rank with the Gershwins, Cole Porter and The Beatles. His arrangements combined modernist classical touches with a suave swing similar to North Amercan "cool" jazz, rendering individual musical parts with such deceptive simplicity that it masks the gorgeous harmonic structures, while captivating listeners and musicians alike. These twin elements combine to make his songs universal classics. Jobim pioneered bossa nova, and wrote many of its greatest hits, notably "The Girl From Ipanema" and "Desafinado." He also helped get the other great bossa nova legend, Joao Gilberto, his first solo recording contract, and helped popularize the new musical style worldwide in the early 1960s.

As a recording artist, however, Jobim can be troublesome. His work with Frank Sinatra and Nelson Riddle is indicative of his crossover ambitions, but it is his endless series of collaborations with jazz-pop arranger Claus Ogerman which define his recording career. Unfortunately, these usually emphasized instrumental work, rather than vocals -- while musically complex, many of these tracks were also abjectly cheesy, if a bit overwrought. still, as more of his concert performances (as opposed to studio albums) come to light, I've come to modify my harsh opinion of Jobim as a performer. Here's a quick look at what's out there...


Various Artists "TOM JOBIM: RAROS COMPASSOS" (Revivendo, 2000) ( = available on Amazon)
Let's start at the beginning. To really get a feel for how revolutionary Jobim's compositions were, we should look at what a tough time his contemporaries had when they tried to take on the new style Jobim pioneered. This phenomenal 3-CD set collects dozens of rarities from the mid-1950s and early '60s (along with a handful of later recordings) and lays bare the stylistic limitations of the Brazilian pop establishment at the time when bossa nova became king. This collection includes many songs written well before the "official" start of the bossa nova, with performances by artists as diverse as Vicente Celestino, Albertinho Fortuna, Isaura Garcia, Sylvia Telles, Dick Farney, Claudete Soares, and others - some who have faded from history's glance, and others who are still well-known. By now, these melodies are etched in our minds, mainly through the effortless style of performers such as Joao and Astrud Gilberto, and the suave bossa performers that came in their wake. It's instructive, then, to hear the relatively awkward fashion with which the pre-bossa crowd tackled this material, and the surprising stiffness of their performances. Hammy baritones, barbershop-ish vocal groups, chirpy, operatic European-styled female singers populated the landscape, and while they were drawn to the new music, they could not summon the graceful elan that the bossa crowd possessed. Jobim, along with contemporaries such as Carlos Lyra and Vinicius de Moraes, liberated Brazil from the bland anglophilia that had taken root in the postwar era, eradicating the attraction of tepid, safe Edmundo Ros-style pop with one gentle, samba-tinged sweep of bossa's magic wand. Anyone seeking to understand the history of Brazilian pop in general and bossa nova in particular should seek this collection out. The Revivendo label also has an amazing assortment of historical, pre-bossa samba recordings, well worth checking out.

Antonio Carlos Jobim "Meus Primeiros Passos e Compassos" (Revivendo)
More of Jobim's earliest work, including the extravagant "Sinfonia de Rio De Janeiro" and "Teresa Da Praia" by Dick Farney and Lucio Alves, one of Jobim's earliest commercial successes. The pop style of the times -- post samba, pre-bossa -- is a little grating at times, but this is, indisputably, where it all began. For an intimate look at the transition into the new Brazilian music, these rare recordings are invaluable.

Antonio Carlos Jobim/Luis Bonfa "BLACK ORPHEUS" (Soundtrack) (Fontana, 1959)
The first major incursion of bossa nova into the minds and hearts of North America and Europe. The soundtrack to the winner of the 1959 Cannes Festival, this record also put Jobim in the global spotlight. Although the album is largely made up of samba de enredo percussive tracks, Jobim's non-Joao Gilberto bossa and Luis Bonfa's acoustic guitar work made quite a splash. Internationally, Bonfa's "Manha de Carnaval" was an big hit, and although the bossa nova sound is still a little unformed here, it makes for lovely listening.

Stan Getz/Joao Gilberto/Astrud Gilberto "Getz/Gilberto" (Verve, 1963)
THE classic jazz-bossa nova crossover album, against which all others are measured. Almost shockingly intimate, with every tremble of the saxophone reed intact, this 1963 collaboration with Stan Getz and Joao Gilberto contains the #1 hit version of "The Girl from Ipanema" which is the one most folks in the States are familiar with, and which helped make Astrud Gilberto a household name in America. Her hubby Joao's guitar work and whispery vocals are the ultimate in melodic cool. Tom Jobim plays piano, in one of his sweetest performances, and percussion by Milton Banana is a study in economy. There are zillions of pressings and reissues of this album; the latest CD version, from 1997, features 20-bit mastering and sounds pretty damn nice.

"The Composer of 'Desafinado' Plays" (Verve, 1963)
Instrumental versions of Jobim's well-known classics, such as "Girl From Ipanema," "One Note Samba," "Chega de Saudade" and others. Features relatively tame arrangements by Claus Ogerman, who would continue to collaborate with Jobim for decades. Jobim's offhanded, uber-cool piano playing is nice, but the rest of the instrumentation is just, in essence, elevator music. Of Jobim's cheesy solo records, this is one of the better ones to aim for.

"The Wonderful World of Antonio Carlos Jobim" (Discovery, 1964)
Much to his credit, U.S. arranger Nelson Riddle frames Jobim's vocals rather well here. The production is solid and familiar; kinda like a Sinatra album... surprise! A couple of instrumental tracks are negligible, but on the whole, this record works This is certainly the best of Jobim's early albums.

"Love, Strings And Jobim" (Warner, 1966)

"A Certain Mr. Jobim" (Discovery, 1967)
An English language re-tread of the Wonderful World formula. Claus Ogerman's arrangements are no match for Nelson Riddle's, and Jobim's Sinatra-esque vocals are kind of on the stiff side. He just doesn't sound comfortable singing in English, and the music is either kind of flat or roller-rink-y. Not terrible, but doesn't quite hit the target.

Frank Sinatra/Antonio Carlos Jobim "Albert Francis Sinatra & Antonio Carlos Jobim" (Reprise, 1967)
A really good match. Sinatra's well-studied cool-guy persona is completely suited to the bossa nova aesthetic, and he understands how to sing on top of pop string arrangements (Claus Ogerman, again...). Some of Jobim and Sinatra harmonizations are particularly nice. Apparently a later Brazilian edition of this album came out in the late '70s (on Warner) which contains the entire recording session, including two songs which still have not been reissued elsewhere.

"Wave" (CTI/A&M, 1967)
Easy listening instrumentals with accompaniment from jazz cats like Ron Carter, Urbie Green and James Cleveland, as well as Claus Ogerman's sizable string section. Jobim's work for the semi-indie CTI label has tremendous cachet with the acid jazz crowd, but others may find it a bit underwhelming, and awfully sappy. The title track is one of his best melodies, though.

"Tide" (CTI/A&M, 1970)
Similar terrain to Wave, though possibly more substantial, or at least with brighter production. Awfully syrupy, though: I would be embarrassed to be caught listening to this at home.

"Stone Flower" (CTI/A&M, 1972)
This one I like -- certainly it's the best of his three CTI-A&M easy listening albums. Jobim's still hanging out with the in-studio jazz crowd -- bassist Ron Carter, trombonist Urbie Green, Hubert Laws and others. Perhaps it's the fusion scene input of fellow Brazilian, Airto Moriera that peps this one up? This breezy, subtle album may be too lightweight for folks in both the jazz and bossa nova camps, but I think it's quite listenable.

"Matita Pere" (Philips, 1973/MCA, 1973)
Jazz arranger Claus Ogerman brings an impressive modernism to bear on this album, with some truly tweaky, challenging string arrangements. At times brooding, jagged and even a bit foreboding, Ogerman's contributions seem strongly influenced by 20th Century avant-classical music. The second half of this album devolves into syrupy mush, though, so tread lightly. Issued in the U.S. under the title Tom Jobim, this is one of his most striking and powerful albums.

Elis Regina/Tom Jobim "Elis e Tom" (Verve, 1974)
A stunning collaboration with legendary vocalist, Elis Regina. Features the definitive version of Jobim's "Aguas de Marco", and some of the nicest, most tasteful music of his career. One of those sublime, perfect, magic albums that has a life of its own. Why couldn't more of his albums approached this level of greatness?

"Urubu" (Warner, 1976)
Similar territory to the 1973 Matita Pere album, though a little less sombre, and way more cheesy. Claus Ogerman's string arrangements are slushy and florid; the last half of the record sounds more like a John Williams score than a bossa-pop album. Jazz bassist Ron Carter adds both class and fusion-y cheese to the proceedings. But again, not my cup of tea.

Vinicius De Moraes/Toquinho/Miucha/Tom Jobim "Gravado Ao Vivo No Canecao" (Som Livre, 1977)
Cool concert album, conducted by legendary producer Aloysio de Oliveira. Lively but also a bit shrill, this gives a nice glimpse at some of Brazil's most charismatic performers... and for Jobim it's a nice look behind the veil of his uber-artsy persona. Singer Miucha, who was Joao Gilberto's second wife, went on to record several albums with Jobim, and they are all quite nice.

Miucha/Antonio Carlos Jobim "Miucha & Antonio Carlos Jobim" (RCA, 1977)
Swanky MPB material... much of the material off this album is collected on a best-of CD (reviewed below).

Miucha/Antonio Carlos Jobim "Miucha & Tom Jobim " (RCA, 1979)

Frank Sinatra/Antonio Carlos Jobim "Sinatra-Jobim Sessions" (WEA, 1979)
This Brazilian double LP set apparently contains the complete late-'60s recording sessions done for Sinatra's Reprise label, including two tracks which are still unavailable elsewhere. Whoo-hoo! It's a collector's item!

"Terra Brasilis" (Warner, 1980)
One of Jobim's most engaging albums. This diverse, elegant 2-LP set reprises many of his old hits, along with several new tunes. About half the songs are sung in English, and Jobim makes the most of the opportunity to make the irony of songs such as "Desafinato (Out Of Tune)" plain to the English-speaking audience. Although this collection has many of the same musical trappings as earlier albums arranged by Claus Ogerman, "Terra Brasilis" is much more restrained and less brazenly cheesy. Perhaps we can thank the positive influence of veteran bossa nova producer Aloysio de Oliveira? Whatever. I'd recommend this as one of Jobim's more listenable albums.

Edu Lobo/Tom Jobim "Tom & Edu" (Philips/Polygram, 1981)
A back-to-basics album along the same lines as Joao Gilberto's "Brasil" album of the same year. Lobo and Jobim are relaxed, the arrangements are sparse and center on simple, sweet piano lines. For me, one of Jobim's more accessible records.

Gal Costa/Tom Jobim "Gabriela" (RCA, 1983)
The soundtrack to a fun Sonia Braga/Marcello Mastroianni film, written by Jobim and conducted by Oscar Castro Neves. The three Jobim/Costa duets are pleasant enough, but on the whole this is a fairly unremarkable album. The highlight is, I suppose, Jobim's solo vocal number, "Walking Through The Forest," though all the instrumentals, with their dated disco-ish filagrees and oceanic, predictable string arrangements barely qualify as aural wallpaper. Maybe I'll have to go back and watch the film again, to see how well this works in its original context.

"Passarim" (Polygram, 1987)
Oy, vey. A VERY cheesy album, full of soft pop arrangements and cotton candy musical back-up courtesy of Jobim's progeny, as well as a couple of Dorival Caymmi's kids. Not recommended.

Antonio Carlos Jobim/Gal Costa "Rio Revisited" (Verve, 1987)
A nice live album featuring Gal Costa on a couple of tracks, and some breezy but appealling arrangements courtesy of Jobim and cellist Jaques Morelenbaum, who later went on to form the Quarteto Jobim-Morelenbaum (see below). Recorded in LA's Wiltern Theatre, this concert is dominated by a perky female vocal ensemble ala the Quarteto Em Cy... But these gals are far less slick than Em Cy, and less bland and technique-obsessed. Engaging, understated performances, with several tunes sung in English... Despite the lackluster artwork, this is one of Jobim's better albums... recommended!

"Tom Canta Vinicius -- Ao Vivo" (Universal, 1990/2001)
A beautiful live tribute to poet/composer Vinicius de Moraes, with Danilo Caymmi on flute, Jaques Morelenbaum on cello, and Paula Morelenbaum on vocals, and Jobim on piano and some vocals, and his son Paulo Jobim on guitar. This is a remarkable about-face for Jobim, almost entirely shedding the sugary overproduction of his later years, in favor of an understated, reverent and leisurely approach to these fab bossa oldies. The Morelenbaums are largely to thank -- Paula has the perfect voice and manner for bossa nova classicism, and as one of Brazil's best modern bandleaders, Jaques Morelenbaum can do no wrong. These musicians later went on to form the equally-impressive Quarteto Jobim-Morelenbaum, whose album on the Velas label is reviewed below. This is a beautiful album in and of itself -- well worth checking out!

"Tom Jobim" (CBPO, 1987; Sony Music, 1995)

"Antonio Brasileiro" (Som Livre, 1994)

"...And Friends - Live" (Verve, 1996)


Antonio Carlos Jobim "Antonio Carlos Jobim: Composer" (Warner Archives, 1995)
A strong set collecting material from his Discovery label and Reprise albums of the mid-'60s. The entire Wonderful World Of... album makes up the first half of this disc, and the rest of the disc is split between songs from three other albums. Some tracks dip into vocal Sinatra-isms, but on the whole this gives a pretty favorable impression of Jobim during his most accessible period. At 28 tracks total, and budget priced to boot, this is a pretty good deal, especially considering that three of the tracks are studio outtakes.

Miucha/Antonio Carlos Jobim "Man From Ipanema" (Verve, 1995)
A 3-CD retrospective, including material recorded with Elis Regina and Miucha.

Miucha/Antonio Carlos Jobim "Focus: O Essential De..." (BMG, 1998)
A surprisingly strong disc, featuring some of Jobim's most understated work -- perhaps not as sublime as his 1974 collaboration with Elis Regina, but continuing along in the same vein. The second wife of Joao Gilberto, Miucha's vocals were variable, but at her best she proves a very able, jazz-oriented vocalist -- imagine Maria Bethania without the stridency, or Gal Costa with more consistent delivery. Admittedly she coouldn't muster the same power as any of the better-known MPB divas, but she does achieve a workmanlike grace, and is ably complimented by Jobim's pleasantly light touch. Miucha's teenage daughter, Bebel Gilberto, chirps along on a version of Chico Buarque's "Calice", originally from the 1978 album, Miucha...

Miucha/Antonio Carlos Jobim "Antonio Carlos Jobim & Miucha" (Iris Musique, 1994)

Antonio Carlos Jobim "Antonio Carlos Jobim's Finest Hour" (Verve, 2000)


Fun stuff. This mostly-European, mostly-French, indie-rock tribute album has several highlights, including a witty rendition of "Girl From Ipanema" by Japan's Pizzicato 5, and a healthy dose of Franco-fied versions of Jobim's bossa standards. Anyone approaching this disc who is familiar with the plenitude of reverential Brazilian versions of these old classics will be struck by the varied and refreshingly new takes on such well-worn material. Swedish rocker Ray Wonder gets major points for his playful, lavishly layered, electric-guitar heavy version of "One Note Samba"; similarly the surf/spy guitars on Tango & Lee Marr's "Agua de Beber" are an unlikely and quite pleasant twist, and Sean O'Hagan (Stereolab, High Llamas) gets in some nice licks as well. Interestingly enough, the British contributions to this project more often than not fall a bit flat -- although Stuart Moxham has a tasteful turn, other tracks by the Walkabouts and John Cunningham are less interesting. In the main, though, this disc is full of rewarding material. If you're ready for a little playful tweaking on the Jobim canon, check this one out!

Quarteto Jobim-Morelenbaum (Velas, 2000)
A sweet tribute to Jobim which features his son, grandson, and Jobim's former cellist and bandleader Jaques Morelenbaum, as well as Paula Morelenbaum, who serves as the group's chanteuse, trading vocal duties with the Jobim lads. Spanning the breadth of Jobim's career, these songs are fairly standard bossa fare, but nice and pleasant... Morelenbaum -- one of the most well-rounded musicians imaginable -- is capable of moodier, more mysterious, arrangements, but I guess he didn't feel that was his job in this instance... But I'm not complaining... this is a pretty solid record. By the way, if you have the chance to see this ensemble perform, don't hesitate -- they are even more ethereal and sublime live!

Various Artists "ANTONIO CARLOS JOBIM SONGBOOK v.1" (Lumiar, 1996)
Includes Carlos Lyra, Edu Lobo, Miucha, Johnny Alf, Quarteto Em Cy, Leny Andrade, and Joao Donato.

Various Artists "ANTONIO CARLOS JOBIM SONGBOOK v.2" (Lumiar, 1996)
Includes Os Cariocas, Joyce, Leny Andrade, Nana Caymmi, Wanda de Sa, Roberto Menescal, Pery Ribeiro, and Nelson Ayres.

Various Artists "ANTONIO CARLOS JOBIM SONGBOOK v.3" (Lumiar, 1996)
Includes Marcos Valle, Edu Lobo, MPB 4, and Sergio Ricardo.

Various Artists "ANTONIO CARLOS JOBIM SONGBOOK v.4" (Lumiar, 1996)
Includes Hermeto Pascoal, Joyce, Elba Ramalho, Joao Bosco, Leila Pinheiro, Roberto Menescal, and Beth Carvalho.

Various Artists "ANTONIO CARLOS JOBIM SONGBOOK v.5" (Lumiar, 1996)
Includes Hermeto Pascoal, Jane Duboc, Chico Buarque, Ed Motta, Leny Andrade and Cristova Bastos, Alaide Costa, and Toninho Horta.

Gal Costa "Gal Costa Canta Tom Jobim -- Ao Vivo" (BMG Brazil, 1999)
A 2-CD live tribute by MPB star Gal Costa.


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