João Gilberto, one of the principal architects of the Brazilian musical style bossa nova, has died at his home in Rio de Janeiro, according to a Facebook post by his son. João Marcelo Gilberto wrote that his father, who was 88 years old, died following an undisclosed illness.
João Gilberto is credited by some Brazilian music historians as writing the first bossa nova, or new beat, a style that drew on the country’s African-influenced samba tradition but was performed without the usual battery of drums and rhythm instruments, and at much lower volumes. Gilberto’s intimate and nuanced style of guitar playing and singing, eventually central to the bossa nova sound, were reportedly developed in 1955 when he sequestered himself inside of a bathroom at his sister’s house so as not to disturb her family and to take advantage of the acoustics provided by the bathroom tiles.
“Bim-Bom,” often named as the first bossa nova song, came from that period. Soon thereafter, the style began to sweep Rio’s cafe’s and bars. Gilberto became the center of a vanguard of young Brazilian musicians that included composer Antonio Carlos Jobim and Vinicius de Moraes. Gilberto’s 1958 recording of “Chega de Saudade,” a song written by that pair, became an international hit and launched the bossa nova movement. The two-minute-long song also gave its name to Gilberto’s debut album, released in 1959.
In 1962 American jazz saxophonist Stan Getz heard the style and invited Gilberto to record together. The resulting album Getz/Gilberto became one of the biggest selling jazz albums of all time, winning the 1965 Grammy for album of the year. One of the album’s songs, another composition by Jobim and de Moraes called “Garota de Ipanema (The Girl from Ipanema)” featured Gilberto’s then-wife Astrud on vocals. It was a worldwide hit and won the Grammy for record of the year, helping to cement bossa nova’s soft, lulling beats and intimate vocals across the global musical landscape.
João Gilberto continued to perform well into the 21st century and has been recognized by every generation since his debut as a Brazilian musical pioneer.