Fri, 14 Oct 1994

A night of nostalgia with `The Girl From Ipanema'

By Dini Sari Djalal

JAKARTA (JP): In 1963, famed American jazz saxophonist Stan Getz and Brazilian jazz guitarist Jiao Gilberto released a record entitled The Girl from Ipanema.

The song became a worldwide success, eventually winning a Grammy for musical excellence. Astrud Gilberto, Jiao's teenage wife and the breathy voice singing on the record, became an overnight celebrity.

Three decades later, the wide-eyed gamin has matured into a respected recording artist in her own right, and was recently awarded by Blue Note Records for outstanding contributions in the field of jazz. From Oct. 10 to Oct. 15, she and her backup band will be performing in Jakarta's Blue Note Jazz Club and Restaurant.

Gilberto began her show here with One Note Samba, a popular piece written by Stan Getz. It was one of the few songs of the evening, along with the exceptional and timeless It Must Be Springtime and The Girl from Ipanema, that were made famous by the series of memorable concerts in the 1960s performed by Astrud Gilberto, Jiao Gilberto and Stan Getz.

There were some traditional Brazilian songs in the set, which, in line with the strong Afro-Caribbean elements of Brazilian culture, featured a lot of vibrant percussion and drumming. A particularly memorable moment was when the band finished playing the calypso tune Festa de Berimbal and drummer Duduka da Fonseca performed solo onstage with only a berimbal. This instrument can only be described as a stringed bow with a coconut attached to one end. Music is made by plucking the string and the coconut slightly. It is amazing how many notes and sounds could be made by one string.

Gilberto then sang scat-style for many funky samba pieces, such as Yokohama and Zurich 3 A.M.. Scat is a free-form style where the singer mutters indecipherable sounds to the rhythm of the music, reacting to the emotions of the song with poignant notes rather than lyrics. She seemed most comfortable singing scat, and her voice was suited to the casual style.

A friend recounted that her mother once saw an Astrud Gilberto concert in the 1960s in Europe. She remembered that Gilberto hardly moved onstage and sang with little expression, while wearing a see-through shift dress. It was astonishing, she remarked, how much charisma and sensuality Gilberto conveyed without actually doing very much at all. Her appeal had much to do with her seemingly naive and youthful demeanor, and with the cultural scene of the 1960s, which was just awakening to European and Latin American cultural influences.

In the 1960s, Brazilian bossa nova was immensely popular in Indonesia. It became a household word with the release of The Girl from Ipanema. Franki Raden, an Indonesian music critic and composer, explained that, "Since western music was banned by President Sukarno in 1959, Latin music replaced it as the base of Indonesian popular music."

Orkes Gumarang, a then-famous Indonesian orchestra, gained popularity by playing Latin music. Percussionist Dullah, who remains in demand today, had long used Latin rhythms. Acknowledging that the roots of jazz lies in African tribal music, and that Latin culture is a hybrid of European and African cultures, Raden remarked that "Jazz music can't leave Latin music."

As for the popularity of Latin music in Indonesia, Raden stated that, "It just takes different forms, but Latin music has always been popular here. In the 1960s it was Astrud Gilberto and bossa nova, and then it was samba, and now it is fusion. Chick Korea may be what is trendy now, but basically it is Latin music that Indonesians like." The strong drumming and percussion element of Latin music may be another aspect to its popularity in Indonesia, which also has a great tradition of drumming in its ethnic musical styles.

On Monday night, Gilberto again was wearing a see-through garment, this time a skirt, with lace leggings underneath. She also limited her stage movements to swaying from side to side. But the audience was no longer filled with bossa nova aficionados eager for a touch of Brazilian style, and, as a result, the impression was less than captivating.

Unfortunately, this has much to do with Gilberto's voice. Gilberto admits to not having any formal training as a singer, and that her professional singing career began by accident.

As a teenager, she made friends with a lot of amateur musicians, and, at 19 she married Jiao Gilberto. She used to sing a lot at home, and, one day, while Stan Getz and Jiao were working in the studio, they asked Astrud to sing The Girl from Ipanema, which was written by Djobim and the Brazilian Poet Vinicius de Morais. Her little-girl voice and deadpan delivery were the perfect complements to the languorous music and winsome lyrics.

Thirty years on, her voice is still the occasionally-cracking monotone. Like Nico of the Velvet Underground, what matters is not her skills, but her enigmatic presence. Astrud Gilberto still gives pleasant performances, but there remains very little of the enigma.

When asked if she is continuing her musical career because she has a deep passion for it, she replies, "I wouldn't use the word passion, but I like music. Creating different things is very motivating."


Perhaps as an acknowledgement to her humble beginnings, she adds that, "Performing is just a detail. Songwriting has become as important to me as singing."

Music has become a family occupation. Her eldest son Marcello, whom she had during her five years with Jiao, is a guitarist based in Philadelphia. He has just completed co- production, with Astrud, of her latest album. Gregory, her son from her second marriage, is currently traveling with her and often acts as her road manager. She has also set up a production company called Gregmar Productions, named after her two sons.

As for her infamous ex-husband Jiao, Gilberto stated that he is still alive, but remains a "secluded person". She has no explanation of why he is so reclusive, especially since he is held in such great esteem by musicians worldwide. "Once in a while, he does concerts in Europe", is all she will add. As for her time with him, she remarked that "It is such a vague memory. I feel like it was in another incarnation."

Astrud Gilberto has been based in New York since the 1960s. She is best remembered for making Brazilian bossa nova and samba music more accessible to American and worldwide audiences, but she acknowledges that success in North America requires singing in English and living in the proximity of recording studios and producers.

When told that many Indonesians enjoy her music but cannot necessarily justify the expense of the tickets -- at Rp 100,000 per person and Rp 50,000 for students -- Gilberto answered that she would like to give a free concert in Indonesia.

The concert that I saw was not particularly well-attended, and the audience did not seem too enthusiastic about the performance, but rather appeared to be there only because they could afford entertainment with their dinners.

Prior to her current engagements, Gilberto had never been to Indonesia, much less performed here. "I enjoyed the Indonesian audience very much, and it is a shame that more cannot attend the concerts," she said. "Maybe I will arrange with the promoters to put on something more accessible to a wider audience."