The Loudness of João Gilberto, Bossa Nova’s King of Quiet

The Loudness of João Gilberto, Bossa Nova’s King of Quiet

João Gilberto, whose death at 88 was announced earlier this month, was the father of bossa nova — the terse, intimate and cosmopolitan sound that took over Brazil in the late 1950s and helped set the agenda for the global pop of the early 1960s. In 1965, “Getz/Gilberto,” an album he made with the American jazz saxophonist Stan Getz, won the Grammy for album of the year.

The reign of bossa nova — as it was originally intended — was brief. It was an engagement with and a rejoinder to the samba that preceded it, and by the late 1960s, the Tropicalia movement had captured the center of Brazil’s creative imagination. But bossa nova has had a long and not always substantive afterlife; it has become the stuff of car commercials, beach bars and other places a dash of cosmopolitanism is needed.

Gilberto likely hated that. He was a stoic performer, interested in achieving the purest possible sound with his voice and guitar. This week’s Popcast is a conversation about bossa nova’s golden age, Gilberto’s connections to other quiet music, and an assessment of whether Gilberto was, in fact, anything but soft.

On this week’s Popcast:

  • Ben Ratliff, a former jazz critic for The New York Times, who teaches at NYU’s Gallatin School and is the author of “Every Song Ever: Twenty Ways to Listen in an Age of Musical Plenty”

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