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October 4, 2018

SFJAZZ Collective & Bossa Nova

By Rob Tocalino

Warren and Ed

In addition to an evolving lineup of some of the brightest bandleaders in jazz, the SFJAZZ Collective is known for its distinctive approach to repertoire. Each year the members of the octet contribute original arrangements of a composer's work.  From Ornette Coleman to Michael Jackson, the group has thrived by drawing inspiration from the past while pushing jazz in interesting new directions.

This season, the Collective tackles the work of Antonio Carlos Jobim, composer of countless Bossa Nova classics including "Corcovado," "Wave," "Chega do Saudede" and, of course, "The Girl from Ipanema." 

A song like "The Girl From Ipanema," which is so well known as to be ubiquitous, presents a particular challenge for an arranger. How faithful do you stay to the original, while still attempting to create something unique? SFJAZZ Collective Pianist Edward Simon describes the challenges in this excerpt from the excellent SFJAZZ Blog On The Corner:

“If you’re overwriting his music, there is a danger,” says Simon. “Some of the most beautiful music can be very simple and Jobim is a perfect example of that. Beauty and simplicity: Jobim is the best example I can think of.”

As for “The Girl from Ipanema,” he originally planned to present Jobim’s most well known song as “a nice cool, slow bossa.” But after coming across a YouTube video from the 1979 Montreux Jazz Festival, he changed speeds, literally.

The video pairs two of his favorite musicians, Hermeto Pascoal and singer Elis Regina, in an impromptu and “highly energetic” — meaning fast — rendition of the song: “I was so inspired by it, and the arrangement took a different turn,” Simon says. He chose to introduce the melody with an Afro-Brazilian maracatu rhythm — faster than a slow bossa, but slower than a typical samba — and then to move into “a faster bossa, a slight increase of tempo. It’s great to blow over that groove. And then at the end it goes into a samba, so there’s an intensification of the groove throughout.”

Given its ubiquity, “The Girl from Ipanema” is “kind of an obvious choice,” Simon admits. “So that was the challenge for me, to figure out a way to do it that’s fresh, that’s refreshing and offers a new perspective on the piece. And in a way, that’s what the SFJAZZ Collective is really about. It’s not really a retrospective kind of group. It’s about offering a new, fresh contemporary perspective on whatever repertoire we choose to play.”

Read more about this fascinating project in the words of Collective members. 


Author Bio:  Rob Tocalino is the Director of Marketing at the Robert and Margrit Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts, UC Davis. In his current role, he is responsible for all external organizational communications and strategy including advertising, public relations, and ticket office operations. As part of his work overseeing the ticket office, Tocalino has built successful revenue management and patron loyalty initiatives. He previously served as the Associate Director of Marketing for SFJAZZ, during which time he led a Wallace Foundation-funded effort to attract a younger audience for jazz. The resulting program, SFJAZZ Hotplate, is still in place at the new SFJAZZ Center. Prior to SFJAZZ, Tocalino served as the Managing Director of Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival.