Ever since my dad first played his Cal Tjader’s Soul Sauce LP on the hi-fi he built back in the early 1970s, I have been hooked on Latin Jazz. While in college, friends and I enjoyed dancing and rocking out to samba rhythms that had found their way into a genre known as Jazz Fusion by musicians such as Jeff Lorber and Yutaka Yokokura and bands including the Yellowjackets and Spyro Gyra. All we needed to hear was that samba rhythm, and we were on the dance floor.


Today, as a piano teacher, I find myself sharing my love of Latin Jazz with my students. When they ask “What is Latin Jazz?”, I explain that Latin Jazz is not simply Jazz from Latin America. It is a complex mixing of African and Latin American rhythms with jazz and classical harmonies from Latin America, the Caribbean, Europe and the United States. I had seen the terms, Samba and Bossa Nova on various recordings over the years, but I was not aware of the distinction between them.


It was the riveting NPR interview with Brazilian singer and composer, Luciana Souza that made me want to learn more. Ms. Souza discussed in depth the differences and similarities between Samba and Bossa Nova, playing examples that made her points very clear. What I took away was the idea that Bossa Nova evolved from the Samba, becoming less percussive and having its rhythm slowed down to a stillness that honors the subtlety of the lyrics. The silence is as important as sound. Ms. Souza basically took standard samba pieces and recreated them anew in the Bossa Nova style. The difference was visceral. I was intrigued and ended up purchasing selected MP3 recordings from her albums, The New Bossa Nova, and Brazilian Duos I, II and III.



Luciana Souza's "The New Bossa Nova"

Luciana Souza’s “The New Bossa Nova”

Luciana Souza's "Brazilian Duos"

Luciana Souza’s “Brazilian Duos”

Luciana Souza's "Brazilian Duos II"

Luciana Souza’s “Brazilian Duos II”

Luciana Souza's Brazilian Duos III

Luciana Souza’s Brazilian Duos III

Wanting to know more about its origins, I dug up a little history and discovered that the Bossa Nova originated in the 1950s, by notable Brazilian musicians such as Antonio Carlos Jobim and João Gilberto, The phrase, Bossa Nova translates literally to new trend. From what I could find, the word “bossa” is old-fashioned slang for something that is done with particular charm. The exact origin of the term “bossa nova” remains uncertain. According to Ruy Castro, author of Bossa Nova: The Story of the Brazilian Music That Seduced the World, within the artistic beach culture of the late 1950s in Rio de Janeiro, the term “bossa” was used to refer to any new “trend” or “fashionable wave”.  “Bossa” was already in use in the 1950s by musicians as a word to characterize someone’s knack for playing or singing in their own unique style.


Bossa Nova debuted in the United Statues in the early 1960s. In 1962, American tenor saxophonist, Stan Getz collaborated with Gilberto and Jobim on the album Getz/Gilberto. In 1964, Getz recorded The Girl from Ipanema with João Gilberto and his wife, Astrud on vocals, along with Tom Jobim, the song’s co-composer, on piano. The album Getz/Gilberto spent 96 weeks in the US charts and ‘The Girl from Ipanema’ would become the world’s second most played song behind the Beatles’ Yesterday.

For newbies to Bossa Nova and fans alike, please enjoy the following recordings that exemplify the style:


Antonio Carlos Jobim – “Girl from Ipanema”

Antonio Carlos Jobim


Celso Fonseca – “Bom Sinal”

Celso Fonseca


Kevyn Lettau – “Nana Das Aquas”

Kevyn Lettau


Luciana Souza – “Eu Não Existo Sem Você”

Luciana Souza


I hope this blog whetted your appetite for Bossa Nova and will inspire you to explore it further.

Linda Wehrli is the founder/instructor at Pastimes for a Lifetime Piano School and avid fan of Latin Jazz. To learn more, visit the school’s Facebook fan page and sign up for posts on local musical events and student concerts.


Linda Wehrli

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