Monday Notes

Charlie Byrd and Stan Getz, Desafinado. Bossa nova becomes jazz

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[Monday Notes n.30] The album Jazz Samba released in 1962 by Charlie Byrd and Stan Getz introduced Brazilian music to the jazz repertoire. Dizzy Gillespie and others had already been mixing Jazz and Cuban music since the 40’s, while Brazilian music had remained on the sidelines. Let’s listen to and analyze Desafinado.

Jazz Samba contributed to spread among North American musicians a true fashion for bossa nova. Stan Getz became a specialist of this genre, eventually collaborating with the most important Brazilian singer, Joao Gilberto.

Desafinado is one of Antonio Carlos Jobim’s most popular pieces. The title means “out of tune” and alludes to the dissonant phrases in the theme, starting with the opening motif that ends on an unusual 7♭5 chord.

The starting phrase of Desafinado
The starting phrase of Desafinado

Desafinado has a very particular structure, the theme is long and has a complicated form, not very suitable for improvisation. It is a different piece from the typical jazz standards, which usually have a very regular structure, 32 measures divided in sections of 8 measures each. This is instead the structure of Desafinado:

A (1)16 barsF major key
A (2)12 barsF major key
B20 barsmodulation to A major and C major keys
A (3)16 barsF major key

This recording is a demonstration of how insidious Desafinado is, the guitarist Charlie Byrd in fact gets lost during his solo, missing the modulation in A major (2’32”). The bassist is perhaps the first to get lost, in fact he plays unclear phrases and ends up sticking to a single chord. In the end, it is the saxophone that breaks the ties and resolves the situation, resuming playing the main theme (4’00”).

This incident does not compromise the value of the recording, or at least that’s what the musicians and the producer must have thought, since they decided to release this version despite the error.

From this little blunder comes a large central section of the song, which is played on a single chord. The rhythmic aspects of bossa nova prevail in this part. Perhaps it was this that appealed to Charlie Byrd and his bandmates.

Perhaps the musicians were counting on the fact that their contemporaries did not know the original version of Desafinado and therefore would not have noticed their mistake.

Jazz Samba was a pioneering album that opened new paths. It also provides a valuable lesson for anyone playing an instrument: even great musicians make mistakes sometimes.

However, Charlie Byrd and his bandmates were not discouraged by their mistake, they continued to play until the song was finished and eventually decided to release this version! From a mistake, sometimes something unexpected and interesting may come out.

Until next Monday!

This song is part of the list How to learn 100 jazz standards

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