From Ipanema to the Elevator: Bobby Lee Rodgers Jazz Trio Brings Bossa Nova to Life at Green Room Tonight

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-- Brian Zimmerman

Picture this: You're in an elevator, alone, when suddenly, a gentle island ditty starts piping through the speakers.

It starts with a guitar, a wave-like rhythm that reminds you of white sand and lapping waves. Then the melody kicks in. It sounds familiar, strangely familiar, and you probe your mind for where you've heard it before. Fragments of lyrics start to assemble in your brain. Your foot begins to tap. Suddenly, you're singing: "Tall and tan and young and lovely, the Girl from Ipanema goes walking..." Then you stop and wonder: How the hell do I know this song?



Well, if you're like anyone else in America, you've probably heard this song a thousand times -- although you might not have known it. Its name, quite appropriately, is "The Girl From Ipanema," and it was written by Antonio Carlos Jobim, a Brazilian pianist and composer who helped pioneer the bossa nova genre.

Today the song is the default track for elevators and shopping malls around the country, and chances are, if you've ever been put on hold, this is the song that's pumping through the phone. But believe it or not, this song wasn't always a Muzak cliché. In fact, there was once a time when bossa nova was immensely popular in the United States. And much of that popularity can be attributed to Antonio Carlos Jobim, whose song about a real-life girl on a real-life beach helped make bossa nova a worldwide phenomenon.  

Since the 1950s, when the music was first heard on American airwaves, the name Jobim has been synonymous with bossa nova. Jobim's style -- a blend of African rhythms, Brazilian melodies, and European harmonies -- meshed perfectly with the already popular "cool jazz" of the American West Coast, and for the next few years Jobim collaborated extensively with cool jazz artists to bring his music to the United States.

Then in 1958, bossa nova witnessed a wild surge in popularity, spurred on by a Portuguese-language movie called Black Orpheus. The movie's score -- which featured a bevy of soon-to-be classics like "Manha de Carnival," "Samba de Orfeu," and "A Felicidade" -- was written by none other than Antonio Carlos Jobim and fellow Brazilian Luiz Bonfa. The movie's soundtrack was an instant hit with American audiences, and by the time The Girl From Ipanema album was released in 1964, with saxophone by Stan Getz, bossa nova was a full-fledged craze. For the youth of beat-generation America, whose members were never without their bongos or acoustic guitars, bossa nova was a fun and exotic companion to American popular music, and Jobim, the mastermind behind it all, had become a musical icon.  

But the wild success enjoyed by bossa nova during the 1950s and early '60s came to a close just as another kind of music was beginning to sweep the country: rock 'n' roll. Soon enough, the island sounds of Jobim and his contemporaries were replaced by the surf-rock melodies of the Beatles and the Beach Boys. California girls, after all, were much more familiar to Americans than the ones from Ipanema. Before long, bossa nova was all but extinct. Though it retained small pockets of dedicated followers throughout the country, especially in regions with sizable Latin American communities, its commercial appeal was ultimately lost. The Brazilian music, literally translated as "the new beat," had become old news.  

But we, as South Floridians, can change all that. With the distinct advantage of living in close proximity to South America, where the tropical breezes blowing in from the coast carry with them the rhythms and harmonies of Rio de Janeiro, we are in the perfect place to put bossa nova back on the map. After all, this region is rich in Brazilian culture and art. Just look at the statistics. Several of our cities, like North Bay Village in Miami and Deerfield Beach in Broward, have some of the highest percentages of Brazilian residents in the U.S. (North Bay ranks number two on the list; Deerfield is number eight). So if there's going to be a bossa nova revival in this country, it has to start here.

So how can you bring bossa nova back to life? One way is by heading to the Green Room this Thursday night, April 26, to check out the Jazz Sessions concert with the Bobby Lee Rodgers Jazz Trio. If you've never seen a Jazz Sessions concert before (they happen every month and feature music by a different jazz artist each time), you're really missing out.

Now's your chance to make amends for your absence and get your fill of bossa nova at the same time. This month's concert will showcase the music of Antonio Carlos Jobim, but it won't be like any Jobim you've heard before. Bobby Lee, a master of interpretation and a brilliant improviser in his own right, will have you out of your seat and snapping your fingers like the beatnik you know you are. So forget what you heard about Muzak and make sure to check out this month's Jazz Sessions at the Green Room. You won't even have to take an elevator to get there.  

The Green Room Jazz Sessions IV. Featuring the Bobby Lee Rodgers Jazz Trio performing the music of Antonio Carlos Jobim. Thursday, April 26. Doors open at 7 p.m. Tickets, available at ticketmaster.com or Revolution Live Box Office,
cost $5. Visit Green Room Live for more information.

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