As soon as Creed Taylor heard the Brazilian records that guitarist Charlie Byrd played for him over the phone in 1961, he knew the feel would be perfect for tenor saxophonist Stan Getz. Creed called Getz and told him about the records. Then he asked Byrd to play the records for him. After hearing the music, Getz agreed to record a Brazilian album with Byrd. In February 1962, Creed and Getz flew from New York to Washington, D.C., where Byrd and his rhythm section were based.
The result was recorded at Washington's All Souls Unitarian Church and would turn out to be the first in a long line of wildly successful jazz-bossa nova albums that Creed produced for Verve. In short, Creed imagined the beauty of Getz pressed up against a Brazilian soft samba, visualized the sensual result and even anticipated the popularity of this new intimate form of Latin-jazz.
Today, in Part 2 of my five-part series with Creed on his Verve years, the legendary producer talks about how Jazz Samba got its name, the making of Getz/Gilberto, why Joao Gilberto was late to the session, and who initially opposed Astrud Gilberto [pictured] singing the English lyrics to The Girl from Ipanema:
JazzWax: What happened when you returned to New York and listened back to the tape of the Stan Getz-Charlie Byrd recording?
Creed Taylor: I knew instantly that something new was happening there. I called Stan and told him I was going to call the album Jazz Samba. He said, “Great, OK” [laughs]. He didn’t care. You had to know Stan. He didn’t care one way or the other. It was only about the music. He was nonchalant about almost everything else.
JW: What did the Verve marketing people think about the album's title?
CT: I didn’t bother running it by management. I never did. After I mixed the album and added Jazz Samba to my in-production list, that’s when they saw the title for the first time.
JW: What did they say?
CT: They weren’t happy. They said, “You can’t put the word ‘jazz’ on the cover if you want to sell copies.” I said, “Look it’s simple: It’s jazz and it’s samba. We don’t have any other way to describe the music. That’s the way it has to be.” There was no such term as “bossa nova” then, and this was the clearest way to describe the music for buyers.
JW: What was their reaction?
CT: They didn’t like it, but they didn’t have a better alternative. So we went with Jazz Samba. I guess the title turned out OK after all [laughs].
JW: You knew in your gut that the bossa thing was going to be hot right away, didn’t you?
CT: I had no idea what was going to happen except that I heard the songs on the phone when Charlie Byrd called and liked them and wanted Stan to record similar material.
JW: What happened next?
CT: We released Jazz Samba in April 1962, and it steadily climbed the pop album charts. The single reached No. 15 in September 1962. The album hit No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart in March 1963.
JW: As soon as the single started moving, you knew that the bossa nova concept was hot, yes?
CT: Sure. After that album, we bossa-ed all over the place. I knew early on that Antonio Carlos Jobim was special. At the time, I didn’t know he would wind up being called Brazil’s George Gershwin. But I knew that here was a composer who could take what seemed to be a mundane song structure and turn it into a gorgeous gem.
JW: The album’s success led to Jazz Samba Encore!, recorded in February 1963. Now you had Jobim and Luiz Bonfa joining Getz. What happened between the two dates?
CT: I knew that this music had enormous appeal. I thought, who better to help express it with Stan than two of Brazil’s best artists. I called Jobim in Brazil and said why don’t you get Bonfa and come up and record with Stan. Jobim knew who I was. We had already met when I was down in Rio years earlier.
JW: A month later you recorded Getz/Gilberto, with Brazilian vocals by guitarist Joao Gilberto. How did the recording come about?
CT: All of the previous bossa nova albums I recorded had been instrumentals, except for Maria Toledo's vocals on Jazz Samba Encore! Now I wanted to record an album that included a few male vocals by Joao. Astrud Gilberto was married to Joao at the time and was tagging along. Including her vocal on The Girl From Ipanema was an afterthought by Stan. No female vocal had been planned. I didn’t even know who she was until Jobim introduced me to her at the session. I think at the time, Jobim and Joao may have been against her singing. She was viewed simply as Joao's wife and not a trained singer. I think they were afraid she was going to bring the session down or something. But Stan pushed.
JW: What did you think when you heard her sing?
CT: I heard her accent and thought it was great. She was the girl from Ipanema that Joao was singing about. As soon as Stan suggested it, the idea sounded like the smart thing to do. I told her when she got to the “ah’s,” like at the end of the line “each one she passes goes ah,” to make the “ah” sound like a sigh. It was perfect. [Photo of Getz and Gilberto by Chuck Stewart]
JW: You had Joao sing the lyrics in Portuguese and Astrud sing them in English. Why?
CT: Guess [laughs].
JW: Because it would sell more albums?
CT: Well, yeah. Look, if you want to get people to spend their cash on something, you’ve got to give them a reason to do so.
JW: Stan really didn’t mind Astrud singing?
CT: Not at all. You've probably heard stories about what a nasty sort of guy Stan was. When it came to music, all bets were off regarding that side of his personality. [Photo by Chuck Stewart]
JW: What about all those stories that Stan didn’t treat her well.
CT: Stan treated a lot of people not well [laughs]. There was no tension in the studio that day whatsoever. At the end of the session, Stan said, “Astrud, you’re going to be famous.” He had an intuitive genius for sound, as crazy as he was.
JW: Anything from the Getz/Gilberto session that stands out as you look back?
CT: Yes. On the first day of recording at A&R Recording, everyone was there except Joao Gilberto. Which is why Jobim had to introduce me to Astrud. So I asked Monica Getz [pictured], Stan's wife, whether she could go over to Joao’s hotel and get him to the studio to record. Monica went the three blocks to where Joao was staying, between Sixth Ave. and Broadway.
JW: Did she find him?
CT: Monica went up to Joao’s [pictured] room and found him sitting in the dark playing the guitar. I think he was agoraphobic. Anyway, she got him downstairs, put him in a cab and drove three blocks to the studio.
JW: What happened when he got there?
CT: He just took out his guitar and started playing, as if he had arrived on time.
JW: As the music was being recorded, did you feel swept away?
CT: One of the most standout things from the session was the sound that Jobim got out of the piano. Those simple little one-note lines were incredible. When he played chord clusters, they sounded different from anything anyone else had ever played on the keyboard. Jobim had a sensitivity that stood out for me from the get go. Joao’s guitar, too, for that matter.
JW: Anything that you had to do as a producer on the session?
CT: This was a very loose date. I just talked to everybody when necessary to get them to take a different position at the mike and so on. There were no musical arrangements, you know. A&R Recording was a great place to record, but the best thing technically about the session was engineer Phil Ramone [pictured]. He was and is very personable and good at putting the artist at ease. He's also superb at placing mikes in just the right position. He had been doing a lot of dates for me up to that point.
JW: In May 1963, you put Jobim together with arranger Claus Ogerman for The Composer Plays, a piano-strings bossa nova date.
CT: I had started recording with Claus early on. Claus has this European graciousness and air about him that everything is wonderful. He’s just a gentle guy, and he got along with Jobim beautifully. Nobody else to my knowledge can write unison strings like Claus. It’s a technical thing he does with all the strings playing notes in tight configuration. That sound also is a specialty of Phil Ramone’s. He knows exactly how to mike the strings. That was a fantastic date.
Tomorrow, Creed talks about the Kai Winding hit that was inspired by a transistor radio in a manhole, recording Cal Tjader's Soul Sauce, how Bill Evans' Grammy-winning Conversations with Myself was recorded, and, for the first time, sheds light on Evans' ill-conceived Plays the Theme from the V.I.P.s.
JazzWax tracks: The albums Jazz Samba, Jazz Samba Encore! and Getz/Gilberto are available as downloads at iTunes and as CDs at Creed's site, CTIJazz.com.