Stan Getz & Charlie Byrd – Jazz Samba (1962)

By 1962, Stan Getz had already established himself as a pioneering jazz saxophonist in America, but it would be on this latest offering Jazz Samba where he took a new direction musically and again prove why he was one of the select few in music who were way ahead in the game. Jazz Samba was an album of bossa nova music, a style of music which originally came from Braziland was developing a strong following in America and other western countries in the late 50s and early 60s. Bossa Nova meaning “new trend”, as a style fused together elements of both samba and jazz, namely the 2/4 tempo and batucada rhythms of samba, as well as the complex harmony and chord structures of jazz. As a style of music it was also quite sophisticated in sound and structure, with very distinctive rhythms but also containing less of a percussive element to it. Not only was this album significant for Getz because it was quite removed from his usual sound, but it was also the first significant bossa nova album to come out of the American jazz scene, as well as being the first one to be recorded by American jazz musicians making it a landmark album in American jazz.  

Getz was introduced to bossa nova and Brazilian music by the album’s co-creator guitarist Charlie Byrd, himself a renowned gypsy jazz player whose influence is dotted across the album. Byrd’s delicate classical guitar playing in a gypsy jazz style that also features a strong emphasis on finger picking during solos combines beautifully with Getz’s signature be bop and cool jazz sound, a sound which features a warm full tone and amazing control of dynamics. These two players in unison draw you in as listeners with their warm floating sound, leading you to an almost hypnotic meditative state as you listen, it is that absorbing. Getz and Byrd are complimented nicely by some top session players on double bass and drums, of which the drumming of Buddy Deppenschmidt is a strong standout with his very distinctive bossa nova drumming style made up of continuous eights played on the high-hat and a heavy use of brushes. Syncopated rhythms are also a strong feature both in the drumming and guitar playing especially. These rhythms delicately float underneath the main motif of each song allowing Getz to go off on his own and explore different harmonies and melodic experiments. When listening to these rhythms, one can not begin to imagine how hard these are to master and the complexity involved in the playing, it is just pure magic to listen to leading to amazement at how they manage to do it so effortlessly.

So what of the tracks themselves? Well there are some great examples of jazz playing on this record leading me to conclude that there is definitely not a dud track on here. The opening track “Desafinado” sets the mood for the rest of the album and the tracks to follow and is probably the best example of bossa nova on display on the record. Getz’s cool jazz melodies combine with Byrd’s gypsy playing fantastically, resulting in five plus minutes of pure goodness. “Desafinado” is followed by “Samba Dees Days”, a fast-paced number which marks the point of the album where the Latin influences really kick in. This track almost has a celebratory fiesta feel to it while the playing is quite loose in comparison to the precision of the previous track. “Samba Dees Days” also features a stellar solo from Byrd, something which is a massive feature of the record with Getz taking a backseat in allowing Byrd to have his moment to shine. The Latin flavour continues during the middle of the album with “Samba Triste”, a mellower track featuring some exquisite smooth playing from Getz, as well as some subtle light gypsy jazz from Byrd. This is followed by the equally Latino flavoured “Samba de Uma Nota So”. Coming in at over six minutes, this quite complex track showcases some brilliant harmony playing from Byrd and Getz who also feed off each other’s notes and riffs with counter-melodies, rhythms and motifs. The album comes to an end with the shuffling “E Luxo So”, a track which has plenty of melody as well as some complex rhythms, and the stylistically different and quite mysterious “Baia”, a track which could almost pass as alt-jazz if it were recorded today.  

Jazz Samba was a massive release in the history of jazz in Americaand came at a time when jazz was blessed with pioneering players such as Davis, Coltrane and Brubeck who were making some of their best work. It helped to continue the growth of bossa nova in the States and the western world, while bossa nova itself would take off big time throughout the rest of the decade. The album’s opening track “Desafinado” would become a cross-over hit earning a Grammy award in the process, while the album itself would go number one on the billboard top two hundred. From a jazz perspective this album was very ahead of its time musically, as apart from a handful of jazz musicians who were pioneering changes in the genre, jazz was still quite conservative and traditional as a style of music and by the early-60s was only just beginning to branch out and experiment with new musical ideas. Getz who was an established jazz musician took quite a risk releasing this album, but it proved a masterstroke for himself as well as the jazz community as a whole, firmly entrenching his legacy as a jazz and music legend, while importantly helping to spread the great music of bossa nova. If you like jazz you will definitely be in to this album with its Latin flavour and complex rhythms. This is a perfect soundtrack for night time wine sessions and entertaining, so get on it, relax and enjoy.
– Sam

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