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Remembering Tom Jobim

December 8, 2011Antonio Carlos Jobim, the beloved composer whose name comes to mind first when people speak of Brazilian music, died on December 8, 1994. Here's our short biographical sketch of Tom Jobim and a 44-minute musical tribute to him, Remembering Tom Jobim, from our radio broadcast on the tenth anniversary of his death, December 8, 2004.

Antonio Carlos Jobim is a composer about whom we could say Brazilian is his middle name and we'd be speaking not just figuratively but literally. His full name is Antonio Carlos Brasileiro de Almeida Jobim, known affectionately simply as Tom.

Tom Jobim was born January 25, 1927 and grew up in Rio's Ipanema neighborhood. His father, a diplomat who also wrote poetry (a remarkable similarity to Jobim's lyricist — poet-diplomat Vinícius de Moraes), died when Tom was eight, and his mother remarried two years later.
From our audio archives

Remembering Tom Jobim
Broadcast December 8, 2004

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At 14, Jobim began studying piano and music theory with Hans Joachim Koellreutter, a German conductor and composer who settled in Brazil in 1938 after escaping the Nazis. Jobim also learned to play the guitar and the harmonica.

At age 19, Tom Jobim began studying architecture, but he left after one year, deciding to dedicate his life to music. He studied theory and harmony intensively and, around 1950, began playing in nightclubs. In 1952, he got a job at the Continental Record company, transcribing songs for composers who couldn't notate music. The next year, he was appointed artistic director for the Odeon record label, for whom he arranged and produced records. At the same time, he began writing songs with Newton Mendonça, an old beach friend from their teenage years. Their songs include Meditação (Meditation), Desafinado (Off key) and Samba de uma nota só (One note samba).

In the mid-1950s, the small clubs on a small Rio street named Beco das Garrafas (Bottles Alley) became the gathering place for the core group of young musicians — many still teenagers — who started a musical revolution. The music was later dubbed bossa nova.

1956 was the beginning of the collaboration between Tom Jobim and lyricist Vinícius de Moraes, though they had met two years earlier. On September 25, 1956 their musical Orfeu da Conceição premièred at Rio's Municipal Theater. It was a smash hit, and an LP of the music was released later that year.

The following year, a French film crew came to Rio to make a film version of the play to be renamed Black Orpheus. The producer wanted new music written, mainly to get control of the copyrights (but that's another story). Jobim and de Moraes were joined by Luiz Bonfá and lyricist Antonio Maria in writing the new music. In 1959, the film won both the Palme d'Or at the Cannes film festival and the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film. In his career, Tom Jobim wrote the soundtracks for nine other films.

Jobim and de Moraes used to pass a great deal of time during the summer sitting at a bar called Veloso. Every day, a beautiful teenage girl with a corpo dourado (golden body) would pass by the bar on her way to the beach. In admiration, they wrote Garôta de Ipanema (Girl from Ipanema).

When the song was released in the U.S. — performed by Stan Getz with Astrud and João Gilberto — it became an instant hit. In 1964, it won the Grammy Award for record of the year. With this one song, the U.S. stereotype of Brazilian culture shifted from Carmen Miranda and her fruit headdress and the silly, culturally-confused Hollywood movie Flying Down to Rio (in which the Brazilian band wears sombreros and takes siestas) to the cool, sophisticated, and dispassionate Astrud Gilberto.

Tom Jobim made his first trip to the United States in November 1962, appearing at a Carnegie Hall concert that introduced the top Brazilian bossa nova players to an American audience. It featured, among others, Jobim, João Gilberto, Luiz Bonfá, Bola Sete, Carlos Lyra, Oscar Castro-Neves, and Sergio Mendes as well as American tenor sax player Stan Getz. (The Brazilian musicians were young; Sergio Mendes was only 21.) The concert was a disaster. Nearly everything that could go wrong, did. The worst problem was the sound system. Still, bossa nova survived the fiasco and the bad reviews to become a dominant force in American popular music and jazz for a few short years.

Over his career, Tom Jobim recorded scores of albums and composed more than 350 songs. Stan Getz called Tom Jobim the greatest melodist of the second half of the 20th century.

Late in his life, Tom Jobim suffered from bladder cancer. In November of 1994, he flew to New York City for cancer treatment at Mount Sinai Medical Center. He returned to Brazil, telling reporters that he had undergone an angioplasty; during his cancer examination, his doctors had discovered he had a heart condition. He returned to Mount Sinai Hospital the next month for heart surgery. It was not successful. Tom Jobim died in New York City on December 8, 1994.

Tom Jobim's body arrived at Rio's International Airport the day after his death. The Governor of the State of Rio de Janeiro declared a three-day period of mourning. A spontaneous demonstration materialized at the airport. A firetruck carried Jobim's coffin, covered with a Brazilian flag, throughout the city. A parade developed lasting more than four hours as Cariocas poured into the streets to bid him farewell. Some in the tearful crowds sang his songs. Others simply stood in silent tribute. Later, the international airport in Rio de Janeiro was renamed for Antonio Carlos Jobim, one of the greatest composers of the 20th century.


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