I love “jazz samba”—early bossa nova albums recorded by American jazz artists in the 1960s.
There’s an innocent, soulful sound about them, before the beat became ubiquitous. The bossa nova, of course, began in Brazilian clubs in the mid-1950s. Back then, young musicians in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo cooled off the rousing samba beat with a drier, more laid-back and sophisticated approach. Bossa songs were intimate and had catchy melodies and romantic lyrics delivered in a gentle, hushed singing style. The bossa nova was introduced in the U.S. shortly after the State Department sponsored a cultural tour of Brazil in 1961. The junket included the Charlie Byrd Trio. When Byrd returned to the States, he brought back an armful of bossa nova albums. Yet he was reluctant to record the music, either because he was told by record producers that is was too light for the U.S. market or he himself believed it.
According to David Adler writing in a 2004 Jazz Times article, “Elena Byrd, wife of Joe Byrd and the attorney for Charlie Byrd’s estate, maintains that it was Ginny, Charlie’s late wife, who convinced her husband to do a Brazilian record. But [drummer Buddy] Deppenschmidt insists it was he who asked Ginny to aid his cause, and that she too was initially unmoved. When Byrd finally did decide to approach Riverside with the bossa nova idea, the label said no. Byrd prevailed upon Stan Getz, then a Verve artist, to take the idea to [producer] Creed Taylor, who said yes.”
The first album to successfully merge jazz and the bossa nova was Jazz Samba. Recorded in February 1962 at a Washington, D.C., church and produced by Creed for Verve, Jazz Samba teamed the Charlie Byrd Trio with tenor saxophonist Stan Getz. The album was a hit, and Getz won a Grammy, immediately inspiring jazz artists to record a bossa nova album. The early ’60s list includes Cannonball Adderley, Dizzy Gillespie, Shorty Rogers, Herbie Mann, Lionel Hampton, Paul Winter, Kenny Burrell, Coleman Hawkins, Bill Perkins, Dave Brubeck, Ike Quebec, Zoot Sims, Bud Shank, Paul Desmond and many others.
One of the least known jazz-bossa albums was Buddy Collette’s Bossa Nova, recorded in 1962 for Los Angeles’s Crown label. The flutist and saxophonist was joined by Howard Roberts (g), Jim Helms (g,arr,cond), Mel Pollan (b), Leo Acosta (d,perc) and Darias (cga). Acosta was a Mexican drummer with bossa nova experience and Rogelio Darias was from Cuba and worked extensively in Las Vegas. Helms, who died in 1991, was a West Coast composer, arranger, conductor and producer who worked on a ton of B-films and is probably best known for the theme to TV’s Kung Fu in the 1970s.
On Bossa Nova, Helms had a golden touch, but his arrangements were greatly enhanced by Buddy’s warm and engaging playing on the flute and tenor saxophone. Buddy was among the busiest artists in L.A.’s movie and recording studios. His command, technique and musical elegance were exceptional, even in a town where every other musician was considered extraordinary. Bossa Nova has a soft and driving feel, and it was recorded before Getz’s monster hit, The Girl From Ipanema, was released in 1964. So the ensemble is feeling its way through the genre with Buddy playing plenty of jazz. Best of all, there are no American standards or familiar bossa novas on here. It’s all brand new to the ear.
Buddy Collette died in 2010. You can read my five-part interview with him in 2010 here.
JazzWax clips: Here’s the entire album at YouTube…