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A Felicidade

April 14, 2019: Jason Vieaux, guitar

Composer, pianist, guitarist, and arranger Antônio Carlos Jobim was greatly influenced by the American West Coast jazz composers of the 1950s, such as Jerry Mulligan, Chet Baker, and Barney Kessel, and, he said, by French Impressionist composer Claude Debussy. But he always infused his music with a bit of Brazilian samba, which gave it an exotic uniquenesss that attracted enormous popularity. Jobim is especially known for helping to launch the bossa nova craze, the movement that sprang up in the late 1950s in Rio de Janeiro as a stylistic shift in the urban samba.

The term bossa nova may have first been used publicly in 1957 by journalist Moyses Fuks in promoting a concert by the Grupo Universitário Hebraico do Brasil, but it was a style that was already being pioneered by guitarist João Gilberto. His recordings of bossa nova songs by Jobim and lyricists Vinicius de Moraes and Newton Mendonça took the world by storm. The term combined bossa—slang in Rio for “shrewdness”—together with nova to describe the new complex melodic intervals, harmonies, and rhythmic structure. The subdued, almost spoken delivery, blending with the innovative guitar style—Gilberto had just recently invented his now-famous “stammering” guitar stroke—became just as important for bossa nova as its melodic, harmonic, and rhythmic innovations.

Jobim is known especially for his bossa nova song “Girl from Ipanema,” composed in 1962 with Moraes, but another of his famous songs, also written with Moraes, came at the outset of the bossa nova craze. They wrote “A felicidade” in 1958 for the French film Orfeu Negro (Black Orpheus), directed by Marcel Camus and released in 1959. Sung by Agostinho dos Santos with Roberto Menescal on guitar, the song accompanies the opening credits. Jobim underlays its lyrical, haunting melody with exuberant bossa nova rhythms, exemplifying the conflict of its opening lines: “Sadness has no end, happiness / happiness does.”

In 2001 guitarist, composer, and arranger Roland Dyens arranged “A felicidade” for guitar only, dedicating it Gilberto. He added idiomatic figuration and flourishes that make it a great virtuoso showpiece.

© Jane Vial Jaffe

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