Bossa Nova Returns to Barcelona

Garry Berman
13 min readNov 1, 2023

The Sant Andreu Jazz Band has, for most of its 17-year existence, been known primarily as a swing big band, but has also included a great deal of Brazilian bossa nova in its repertoire, extending the genre’s popularity — which reached its peak back in the mid-1960s — well into the 21st century among SAJB fans, and among the band’s young musicians as well. The soothing, soft jazz style will return to Barcelona with the upcoming SAJB concert and new CD — but more about that below…

First, a condensed history of bossa nova:

Bossa nova (rough translation: ‘new wave’), first appeared in Rio de Janeiro the late 1950s, having descended from established South American styles such as samba and salsa. But bossa nova presented itself as a mellower, more quietly sensual musical relative, replacing harder-edged Latin percussion with a softer beat. The lead instruments most often include a gently strummed or picked nylon-string classical guitar, piano, and flute or saxophone, with percussion usually created by the use of shakers and soft brushes on the drums. Of course, there are many variations of arrangements, instrument choices, and tempo, but it isn’t difficult to identify true bossa nova upon hearing it, and thus distinguishing it from other branches of its family tree.

The men who can be considered the co-creators of bossa nova were Antonio Carlos Jobim and singer/guitarist Joao Gilberto. Both lived in Rio — Jobim as an arranger and record producer, Gilberto as a musician in local jazz clubs — when they recorded the first-ever bossa nova hit song and album, Chega de Saudade, in 1958.

Gilberto (left) and Jobim serenade the ladies of Rio.

As a collaborator with lyricist Vinicius de Moraes, Jobim quickly established his reputation as a songwriter of gentle yet compelling melodies. Other hits from those early years that would soon become standards include “One Note Samba,” “Desafinado,” “Corcovado,” and, of course, “The Girl from Ipanema.” You might not know them all by name, but chances are good you’d know them if you heard them.

Jobim with de Moraes.

A compilation album, The Legendary Joao Gilberto, contains all of these original recordings, spanning the years between 1958 and 1961 (available on CD). Before long, many other top singers and musicians in Brazil were contributing to the genre, including Dorival Caymmi and Carlos Lyra.

“The Legendary Joao Gilberto” album cover.

Several Amercian jazz musicians, such as saxophonists Stan Getz, guitarist Charlie Byrd, and singers Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra, caught wind of bossa nova, and began making their own recordings in the genre, sometimes with Jobim or Gilberto by their side. Stan Getz and guitarist Charlie Byrd collaborated on the album Jazz Samba, released in February of 1962. Others jumped on the bandwagon. Later that year, jazz legend Cannonball Adderly recorded Cannonball’s Bossa Nova — with a young, unknown Sergio Mendes on piano.

Unfortunately, however, some of these high-profile American musicians failed to give due credit for bossa nova to their innovative Brazilian counterparts. Even worse, perhaps, is how some opportunistic American lyricists bought the English language rights to a number of Jobim-de Moraes classics, only to replace the original lyrics with their own, which often bore little resemblance to what they express in the original Portuguese.

Gilberto, Jobim, and Getz rehearsing.

One of the landmark bossa nova recordings, Getz-Gilberto, was released in March of 1964. American saxophonist Stan Getz worked with Gilberto and Jobim to present a fusion of sorts between the Brazilian bossa nova strains and American “West Coast” jazz. The track listing for that album includes the Jobim classics “Desafinado,” “So Danco Samba,” and two tracks sung by Joao Gilberto’s wife at the time, Astrud: “Corcovado (Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars),” and “The Girl From Ipanema,” which won the 1965 ‘Record of the Year’ Grammy Award.

By the mid-1960s, Sergio Mendes had moved to the U.S., bringing bossa nova with him, and signing with Herb Alpert’s label A&M, where he released his first hit, “Mas Que Nada” with Brasil ’66 and continued his recording career with great success.

The classic Brasil ’66 “Look Around” album.

In the decades since the peak of the bossa nova craze — which began to decline in Brazil while still gaining popularity elsewhere in the world — later generations of Brazilian musicians, including Eliane Elias, Ana Caram, and Celso Fonseca, have proudly carried on the tradition.

Musicians in other parts of the globe have also done their share to keep the genre alive — not least of whom has been Joan (pronounced “Jo-ahn”) Chamorro, who was especially inspired by the Getz-Gilberto album. “I think it was one of the first discs that united bossa and jazz,” he says, “That album was one of my all-time favorites.”

Chamorro’s love of Jobim’s music, that album, and of bossa nova in general did not immediately work its way into the Sant Andreu Jazz Band’s repertoire, but the musicians, many of whom have also excelled as singers, felt comfortable with the genre immediately.

Jobim’s music — which celebrates life, love, and nature — continues to inspire singers and musicians to this day. It says much about the lasting impact and influence of his work that subsequent generations of musicians and singers have carried on the style in the decades since the bossa nova craze peaked.

Joan Chamorro and the Sant Andreu Jazz Band.

In that sense, the style is still very much alive, and has found a somewhat unlikely “home” in Barcelona with the SAJB.

The first Jobim song the band performed was ‘The Waters of March’, Chamorro recalls, “which Alba Armengou and Rita Payes sing, and ‘Wave’ (instrumental played by Max Salgado on the French horn). Joel Frahm played tenor sax on both, as a special guest, and we recorded them in 2015 at the Palau de la Musica [“The Waters of March” appears on the SAJB album Jazzing 6, vol. 1, and “Wave” on Jazzing 6, vol. 2]. But before, we had already recorded some bossa novas in other contexts.”

“The Waters of March,” arguably Jobim’s masterpiece, was written in 1972 (he wrote the music and both the Portuguese and English lyrics himself). As performed by Alba and Rita, they adhere to the Portuguese version recorded in 1974 by Jobim and singer Elis Regina.

Alba Armengou and Rita Payes sing their exhilarating version of “The Waters of March” (with guest saxophonist Joel Frahm), which has had 3.5 million views on YouTube so far.

Joel Frahm confesses to being deeply moved witnessing the Alba-Rita duet in rehearsal (quite evident in the rehearsal video posted on YouTube), as well as their later performance onstage: “I can’t tell you how proud I am of having been asked to play with Joan and all of his marvelous young musicians. This particular performance brings tears to my eyes every single time I’ve heard it. The attention to detail paid by the band and vocalists is second to none. The joy and emotion in tandem with the hard work they’ve put in makes them an ensemble like no other I’ve encountered. Bravo to Joan and all of the musicians that have gone through this band.”

Max Salgado on French horn leads the band on “Wave”, with guest Joel Frahm.

In addition to Jobim songs performed and recorded by the full SAJB ensemble, a number of his compositions appear in various editions of the Joan Chamorro presenta… series of albums, with each release showcasing an individual SAJB musican/vocalist, beginning with Andrea Motis in 2010, and continuing with Eva Fernandez, Magali Datzira, Rita Payes, Alba Armengou, Elia Bastida, Joana Casanova, Carla Motis, and other SAJB members throughout the band’s fourteen years.

Andrea became enamored of Jobim and the bossa nova genre at an early age, recording Chega de Saudade on that first album with Chamorro (when she was 15), and performed it often in concert with her quintet. Here she is signing “Corcovado” in 2013, accompanied by guest Scott Hamilton:

The young SAJB singers have all embraced the Brazilian style through the years, which fits in especially well in performances and recordings of the smaller SAJB side groups.

Violinist/saxophonist Elia Bastida, who sang on over a dozen Brazilian songs with the band, says, “I love singing ‘bossa nova’ and Brazilian music…I didn’t know Jobim before I was with the SAJB, because until then I played only classical music. When I heard this kind of music, I loved it because it’s very cheerful. Although it talks about sad things, it has a component that is different from other kinds of music.”

The first Brazilian song Elia recorded as a solo singer with the SAJB was “Baiao de Quatro Toques,” which she has sung “in a thousand concerts” and still loves it. “I spend many hours listening to the music of Jobim, Joao Gilberto, Elis Regina, Maria Bethana, Rosa Passos…” She also co-wrote a song with Joan Chamorro, “Uma Estrela,” for which she wrote the lyrics in Portuguese. “Singing this kind of music for me is very special. The ‘sotaque’ (Brazilian accent) and this language is very lovely to sing, and for me it’s very easy to feel identified with. One of my musical dreams is to be able to go and play music in Brazil.”

Elia Bastida immerses herself in another Jobim standard, “Insensatez (Insensitive)”.

Trombonist Rita Payes, a member of the SAJB from 2013 — 2017, also holds a special place in her heart for bossa nova. “Singing in Portuguese for me is like, more [intimate] to me than singing in English. It’s simply that I love this music. I love listening to Joao Gilberto, Chico Barque…I love that sound, I love the sound of the language, too. It has a big connection with jazz and the harmonies…It’s beautiful because you can learn both at the same time — you can learn a jazz tune, and the next day you can learn a bossa nova tune, and its kind of the same.”

The first La Magia de la Veu (The Magic of the Voice) incarnation in early 2015, with the “Fab Four” of the SAJB — Andrea, Rita, Magali, Eva — singing “Desafinado.”

Chamorro says of bossa nova, “It seems to me a wonderful music, whose music is rich melodically and rhythmically. The harmonies are exquisite and special and combine perfectly with the spirit of jazz to be able to improvise on them. Discovering the music of Brazil and new interpreters is always a great pleasure.”

Once the band had offered its own versions of Jobim’s “Desafinado” and “Corcovado,” as well as “Doralice” (written by Antônio Almeida and Dorival Caymmi), Chamorro pursued the idea to record all of the tracks that appear on the Getz-Gilberto album — which he has done, albeit at different times and in different settings, rather than during one single concert or recording.

Other Brazilian composers and singers further inspired the SAJB to expand that repertoire in their performances. “As the girls got to know the music of Brazil,” Chamorro says, “they went on proposing songs. We knew Elis Regina, Lara Leao, Rosa Pasos, etc.”

Rita brought us one of her most acclaimed performances of Brazilian singer/composer Djavan’s timeless “Flor de Lis.”

The 2018 La Magia de la Veu tour included one of Alba Armengou’s most beautifully elegant performances as both singer and trumpeter, performing Jobim’s “Meditation.” (baritone sax solo by Alba Esteban):

In the years since leaving the SAJB, Andrea has continued to include Brazilian songs in her set lists, and her 2018 album Do Outro Lado Do Azul (The Other Side of the Blue), honors Brazilian composers and includes a few of her own original compositions in that style.

The SAJB’s landmark 15-year anniversary concert in November of 2021, bringing together all 70 past and current SAJB musicians, included a number of bossa nova tunes, of course, including this new version of “Wave,” bringing Rita together with Max Salgado (and Joan Mar Sauqué on trumpet).

In addition, the young, multi-talented ladies who have provided SAJB fans with memorable versions of bossa nova hits through the years came together for a rousing performance of “Chege de Saudade.”

The enthusiasm with which Chamorro and the SAJB have always performed bossa nova culminated at the 2022 Jazzing Fest, devoted solely to Brazilian music — the first time Jazzing presented an overall “theme” for its annual event. Chamorro said at the time, “In the last five or six years, we’ve done a lot of bossa nova recordings with Alba Armengou, Andrea, Rita…” It felt appropriate, he reasoned, to devote the entire festival to the style.

Joan Marti leads Alba, Elia, and Koldo in this excerpt of the classic “Agua de Beber.”

SAJB saxophonist Koldo Munné, who joined the band when he was eight years old, confessed that, unlike most of the band members of past years who quickly fell for the smooth rhythms of bossa nova, he wasn’t fond of it — at first. “We’ve never done a full week with so much Brazilian and bossa nova,” he said. “I was not a big fan of bossa nova before Jazzing, but with all the singers [rehearsing]…now I love it. I’ve fallen in love with it, and the other Brazilian styles, too.”

A brief sample of Koldo singing Jobim’s “Dreamer.”

Josep Traver, the versatile professional guitarist who has been an invaluable part of the SAJB universe since the beginning, conducted a master class on Joao Gilberto’s guitar style. “Even though I play many kinds of music,” he said, “Brazilian music is a special thing, since it’s been played so much by the SAJB.”

Traver plays a video demonstrating Joao Gilberto’s influential style.

Rita took part to play several numbers for one set, and Andrea joined the festival’s Brazilian Jazz Party, during which she led the ensemble for three songs, arranged especially for the occasion by Barcelona pianist/arranger Joan Monné, whose arrangements have long contributed to the high musical standards of the project. Andrea played flugelhorn rather than trumpet for her set, giving her solos a fuller, honey-toned sound more appropriate for the bossa nova treatment. She also shared duets with energetic, 14-year-old Brazilian rising star Analu Sampaio.

In addition to performing, the SAJB musicians were also at Jazzing to learn. “You know that I love Brazilian music,” Alba said, “so this Jazzing was great for me, with all the artists that were invited, all the concerts, and master classes.” One workshop she attended was led by guest Brazilian guitarist Juarandir da Silva, who explained the fine differences between the rhythms of samba and bossa nova. Despite her already extensive knowledge of Brazilian styles and the regions from where they originated, Alba is always open to new information. “I think I will never stop learning,” she says.

One of Alba’s finest selections is the pre-bossa nova tune “Pre Machucar Meu Coracao,” written and recorded by Ary Barrosa in the early 1940s (he also wrote the famous song “Brazil”), and sung by Joao Gilberto on the “Getz-Gilberto” album. Alba’s version appears on her first CD, “Joan Chamorro presenta Alba Armengou.”

La Magia de la Veu 3 ensemble, consisting of current and former SAJB members, continued to include bossa nova in its European concerts, and, even a memorable concert in Bangalore, India in 2022. And, Alba has been performing a number of Brazilian classics with members of her own band.

The SAJB’s upcoming annual November concert, as part of the Barcelona Jazz Festival, is billed as Sant Andreu Jazz Band Abraca Brasil, during which the official CD of last year’s Jazzing performances of Brazilian music will be released. Some of the musical guests at that Jazzing —Carme Canela, Juarandir da Silva, Rita, and Andrea — are scheduled to return to perform and relive the joy that the music continues to bring to both the musicians and the audiences.

Those of us unable to attend will be fighting off “new waves” of jealousy.

Until next time…

[The photo collage at the top of this article was created by our late friend, Bo Sybrandt Hansen, for my May 2020 article, “Jobim is Alive and Well in Barcelona.”]

You can read my previous articles about the Sant Andreu Jazz Band at the links below, and at the “Garry’s Blog” page on my website, www.GarryBerman.com.

“Carla Motis: A Quiet Force on Jazz Guitar” | by Garry Berman | Sep, 2023 | Medium

“Memories of my Visit to Jazzing Fest, 2023” | by Garry Berman | Sep, 2023 | Medium

“Meet Asier Vázquez, The SAJB’s Eager New Guitarist” | by Garry Berman | Medium

“Koldo Munné’s Musical Journey” | by Garry Berman | Jun, 2023 | Medium

“Claudia Rostey’s Rising Star” | by Garry Berman | Jun, 2023 | Medium

“A Film About Kids and Music: Ten Years Later” https://medium.com/@garryberman/a-film-about-kids-and-music-ten-years-later-50d5bf96f53b

“Marching to a Different Bassist: The Music of Magali Datzira” | by Garry Berman | Medium

“Kindred Spirits: How Joan Chamorro and Isidore Rudnick Teach Jazz to Kids” https://medium.com/@garryberman/kindred-spirits-how-joan-chamorro-and-isidore-rudnick-teach-jazz-to-kids-2d0cb80bed77

“The Compelling Music of Elia Bastida and Carolina Alabau” https://medium.com/@garryberman/the-compelling-music-of-%C3%A8lia-bastida-and-carolina-alabau-65da74f07804

“The SAJB’s Koldo Munne Steps into the Jazz Spotlight” https://garryberman.medium.com/the-sajbs-koldo-munn%C3%A9-steps-into-the-jazz-spotlight-238b3231626f

“A Tale of Two Albas” https://garryberman.medium.com/a-tale-of-two-albas-904849a5e697

“How a Kids Band in Barcelona Rekindled My Love of Jazz” https://garryberman.medium.com/how-a-kids-band-in-barcelona-rekindled-my-love-of-jazz-a20ea8873670

“Jan Domenech’s New Chapter as a Jazz Musician” https://garryberman.medium.com/jan-domenechs-new-chapter-as-a-jazz-musician-e1f0da8b19b9

“Joan Chamorro and the SAJB: Past, Present, and Future” https://medium.com/@garryberman/joan-chamorro-and-the-sajb-past-present-and-future-573eedcbff76

“Josep Traver: Guitarist of All Trades” https://garryberman.medium.com/josep-traver-guitarist-of-all-trades-608296f9d00a

“When American Jazz Pros Meet Spanish Jazz Kids” https://garryberman.medium.com/when-american-jazz-pros-meet-spanish-jazz-kids-25c7f5023571

“Claudia Rostey: The Life of an 18-year-old Bacelona Jazz Trombonist” https://garryberman.medium.com/claudia-rostey-the-life-of-an-18-year-old-barcelona-jazz-trombonist-d13b82c770a3

“The Magic of the Voice: The Singers of the Sant Andreu Jazz Band” https://garryberman.medium.com/the-magic-of-the-voice-the-singers-of-the-sant-andreu-jazz-band-208dfb629221

“Jobim is Alive and Well in Barcelona” https://garryberman.medium.com/jobim-is-alive-and-well-in-barcelona-d384b40d8c2e

“Did Someone Say Anastasia Ivanova?” https://garryberman.medium.com/did-someone-say-anastasia-ivanova-dd6f67277c64

“Struck by (musical) Lightning” https://garryberman.medium.com/struck-by-musical-lightning-6583ecb0de13

Sant Andreu Jazz Band CDs and DVDs are available at: https://jazztojazz.com, eBay, and Amazon.com.

Sant Andreu Jazz Band CDs are available at: https://jazztojazz.com/ , eBay, and Amazon.com.

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You can also visit www.GarryBerman.com to read synopses and reviews of my books, and order them via the links to Amazon.com.

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Garry Berman

Pop Culture historian, Freelance Writer, Author, specializing in American comedy history in films, radio, and TV. Beatles and jazz enthusiast, animal lover.