The Girl From Ipanema
Little did a young, teenage Heloísa Eneida de Menezes Paes Pinto know as she made her way to the beach in Ipanema, Brazil in the early 60s, that she would inspire one of the world’s most recorded songs. At the nearby Bar Velosa, a watering hole popular with musicians, poets and artists, Heloísa was spotted by composer Antônio Carlos (Tom) Jobim and poet Vinicius de Morais.
They were working on a musical comedy called Blimp, a story about a Martian who arrives in Rio at the height of Carnaval, the Brazilian festival held before Easter. The story line centered on the reaction of this Martian as he witnessed an earthling in a bikini.
While writing a song they called Menina que Passa (The Girl Who Passes By), they were unable to come up with two verses. When Heloísa passed by, the focus of the young men turned to her and with new inspiration, they finished the song, as Jobim composed the melody on his piano in his house near Ipanema while de Moraes wrote the lyrics in Petrópolis, near Rio de Janeiro.
The song was now titled Garota da Ipanema, when translated to English, became The Girl From Ipanema. Though Blimp never got off the ground, the tune became not only a hit in Brazil, but also the international calling card for a style of music that charmed the world—bossa nova. (1)
The writers were hesitant to let the world know who the inspiration for the song was. Heloísa shed some light on the truth a few years ago. “Vinicius and Tom were a bit afraid of declaring publicly that I was their muse because my dad was in the military, and those were dictatorship times, but a few Brazilian journalists insisted: ‘You must tell the world.’ A lot of people thought it was Astrud Gilberto, the bossa nova singer who first recorded the track along with Stan Getz. That encouraged Vinicius to finally reveal the truth. He wrote a letter to a magazine disclosing that I was the inspiration.” (2)
She was, as de Moreas poetically exclaimed, "The golden girl, mix of flower and mermaid, full of light and grace, but whose sight is also sad because it carries within it, on the way to the sea, the sense of youth that passes, of beauty that doesn't belong only to us." (3)
Helo, photographed while standing on the beach in the early 60s.
Photo courtesy of Heloísa Pinheiro
After guitarist Charlie Byrd returned from a diplomatic tour of South America (including Brazil) for the State Department in the spring of 1961, the first person he phoned was jazz producer Creed Taylor. As Taylor recalls, “I went down to Brazil a few times and spent some time at Jobim’s house and met all the players down there. Then of course after Desafinado became a hit, Jobim wanted to come up and see what New York was like, so he came in to see me right off the bat. That started a long friendship and series of albums.” (4)
Byrd then contacted Stan Getz, a tenor saxophone player known for his smooth jazz sound. With Getz curious about the bossa nova music Byrd mentioned, he listened to some recordings by João Gilberto and Jobim, which Byrd had brought back from Brazil.
Getz liked what he heard and with Byrd and Creed Taylor on board, the three men produced Jazz Samba, an album of seven songs that sold over a million copies, The LP reached gold status as Getz won a Grammy for Best Jazz Performance of 1963 for the single, Desafinado, which reached number fifteen on the Hot 100 in December of 1962. (5)
Sensing a new jazz movement, Getz tweaked the bossa nova formula a bit and produced Big Band Bossa Nova released in December of 1962. It spent 23 weeks on the album charts and eventually reached number fifteen. He followed with Jazz Samba Encore!, an album featuring Brazilian guitarist Luiz Bonfá, and Antônio Carlos Jobim on piano that sold over a million copies by 1964 giving Getz his second gold record. (6)
Through the success of the first four bossa nova albums, Getz still wasn’t satisfied with the sound that the American musicians were producing. To capture the essence of the Brazilian sound, Stan wanted Brazilian musicians.
Antônio Carlos Jobim, Stan Getz, and João Gilberto take a break during the recording of Getz/Gilberto
at the A&R Recording Studio, March 1963.
Photo courtesy of David Drew Zingg/UME
It was Creed Taylor that brought the musicians Getz, Gilberto, Jobim to New York with bassist, Tommy Williams and drummer Milton Banana to record the LP Getz/Giberto on March 18 and 19, 1963. For Getz, the Brazilian rhythm section was the missing puzzle piece. Jobim may have been excited about the prospects of recording in New York, the same can’t be said of João Gilberto.
Speaking not a word of English, João Gilberto was somewhat intimidated by both being in loud and wild New York and his shotgun musical marriage to Getz. Terrified of public spaces, just getting him out of his hotel room to the studio was often a challenge. He was often calmed by his 22 year-old wife, Astrud who also acted as his translator. The couple would also sing together quietly in the studio to each other. (8)
While the group was rehearsing, Creed Taylor heard Astrud singing the Portuguese lyics to The Girl From Ipanema. Figuring that a few songs in English would increase radio play and album sales, Taylor asked lyricist, Norman Gimbel, who also translated Quiet Nights, Meditation and Summer Samba into English, to quickly write different, English lyrics to the melody.
After considering a number of professional singers for The Girl From Ipanema, a consensus was reached that the singer would be Astrud, though she had no professional experience. The choice worked far better than could be imagined. Getz told Astrud, after hearing the playback, her vocal was “a star-making performance.” (8) Simple with a slight twinge of accent, her voice played perfectly against the soft sounds of the instruments behind her.
"No one would have thought when they arrived at A&R Studios on that Monday evening in 1963 that they were about to give jazz such an amazing boost in popularity," author/historian Richard Havers, author of Verve: The Sound of America, continues. "In fact, Getz thought of it as [just] another record to capitalize on the success of his previous one." (7)
Verve released Getz/Gilberto in March 1964 (Jazz Samba Encore! was still selling well in 1963) and The Girl From Ipanema single in April of that year. Both album and single hit the pop charts in June.
Image courtesy of Vocephus from Album Art Exchange
The Girl From Ipanema bridged the language gap with the U.S. audience and won the Grammy Award for Record of the Year in 1964 (awarded to Stan and Astrud) and went to number five on the Billboard singles chart. With three Grammy Awards, Getz/Gilberto spent an extraordinary ninety-six weeks on the charts, fifty of them in the Top 40. (5) (6)
After its release, Getz and Gilberto hit the road to support their effort. The notoriously unreliable and erratic João Gilberto would sometimes show up for gigs and sometimes not. Eventually, Astrud was added to the bill as a replacement. But the musical triangle was also a love triangle, as the Gilbertos divorced in the wake of the album when Astrud and Getz began a short-lived relationship. (7)
Getz would continue to tour and record bossa nova music through 1966, switching to cool jazz and fusion later, and died in 1991. Astrud and João Gilberto had lengthy careers and still occasionally perform - though not as a duo.
Helô Pinheiro in 2015.
Photo courtesy of Gilberto Haider
Over the years, Helô Pinheiro (her married name), ranked with Pelé as one of the goodwill ambassadors of Brazil. She never settled on an occupation, dabbled in acting, then ran a modeling agency. In 1987, she posed nude for Playboy (and again in 2003, with her daughter Ticiane). In 2001, Helô opened the Girl From Ipanema clothing boutique in a Rio shopping center.
Shortly after, the heirs of Jobim (who died in 1994) and de Moraes (who died in 1980) filed a lawsuit, claiming Helô was only inadvertently involved in the song’s creation and didn’t have the right to use it for commercial purposes.
Helô says, “I never made a cent from The Girl From Ipanema, nor do I claim that I should. Yet now that I’m using a legally registered trademark, they want to prohibit me from being the girl from Ipanema. I’m sure that Antônio and Vinícius would never question the use of the name.” (1)
After a lengthy court battle, Helô was able to keep the name for her boutique. Today, she reflects on the early ’60s in Ipanema with nostalgia. “I like the time when everything was prettier because of love, as it says in the Portuguese version of the song. I am still touched when somebody plays the song in my honor.” (1)
The legacy of The Girl from Ipanema was acknowledged during the 2016 Summer Olympics and Paralympics held in Rio de Janeiro: the Olympic and Paralympic mascots were respectively named Vinicius and Tom after the song's co-writers by a public vote, while the Olympics' opening ceremony featured a segment themed around the song and the architecture of Oscar Niemeyer. Jobim's grandson Daniel performed the song during the segment, which also featured an appearance by Brazilian model Gisele Bündchen. (3)
This clip is from the movie Get Yourself A College Girl. Astrud performs the vocal with Stan Getz
cradling his signature sax, vibraphonist Gary Burton, bassist Gene Cherico and drummer Joe Hunt.
The song is performed live in this video from FabTV. The backing group is the same as listed in the movie version.
Finally, Brazilian supermodel Gisele Bündchen takes center stage as local singer Daniel Jobim performs the iconic "The Girl From Ipanema" theme.
1) DeMain, Bill, Performing Songwriter, The Girl From Ipanema, December, 2006. Link
2) Pettengill, Renata, Reader’s Digest International, The Real “Girl From Ipanema,” Link
3) Wikipedia, The Girl From Ipanema, Link
4) Wikipedia, Creed Taylor, Link
5) Whitburn, Joel, Billboard Top Pop Singles 1955-2002, Page 278.
6) Whitburn, Joel, Top Pop Albums 1955-2001, Page 331.
7) Ruggerio, Bob, Houston Press, The Girl From Ipanema – Stiil Turning (Jazz) Heads At 50, June 26, 2014. Link
8) Laymen, Will, Pop Matters, Getz/Gilberto 50th Anniversary, July 11, 2014. Link
Astrud Gilberto circa 1966
Photo courtesy of Ron Kroon, Dutch National Archives