It is a rare thing to be able to say that one man was responsible for the creation, almost single-handedly, of a whole new musical style. But this honour goes to the Brazilian composer Antonio Carlos Jobim ( known throughout his life as Tom ), now rightly referred to as the " Father of the Bossa Nova " .
Tom died as recently as 1994, at the age of 67, from which it is clear that the Bossa Nova is an extremely recent phenomenon, a fact which, I admit, came as quite a surprise to me.
For a full and detailed history of the Bossa Nova click this link
Bossa Nova was effectively launched in 1958 when singer / guitarist Joao Gilberto recorded and popularised some of Tom's songs. The phenomenon spread north into the States when the jazz saxophonist Stan Getz and guitarist Charlie Byrd joined the bandwagon, which continued rolling for a decade until eventually running out of steam.
Tom drew on the extrovert rhythms of Brazil's native samba, which he quietened, adding the more formal Brazilian folk style of Heitor Villa-Lobos and some of the harmonic colour of Claude Debussy to produce a subtle and intimate music which the jazz elite devoured with the same relish that they had the music of Gershwin.
Probably his most well-known song is Garota De Ipanema, popularised as The Girl from Ipanema , which has been covered by a multitude of artists worldwide. But many consider Desafinado, with it's lilting melodic lines shifting slowly across mildly discordant harmonies above a beautiful Bossa Nova rhythm, to be his masterpiece.
Both of these songs, in keeping with much of his output, have an alluring sadness and yet exude a joy for life, although my personal view is that his music, like that of Burt Bacharach , loses its vitality and sinks into blandness if given the over-orchestrated instrumental treatment it gets all too often. It cries out for the human touch that lyrics bring, and needs to be kept as sparse and simple as it's intricate nature permits.
Tom Jobim was one of the truly great songwriters of the 20th century, and should be remembered for his music, not for muzak.