ONE OF THE KEY musical fads of the last quarter-century started in a church on 16th Street in Northwest Washington. In February 1962, guitarist Charlie Byrd and his group collaborated with tenor saxophonist Stan Getz at All Souls Unitarian Church. The year before, Byrd had come back from a State Department tour of Latin America buzzing with excitement over a style of music he'd discovered in Brazil. No record company was interested, however, and Getz himself was hardly familiar with it when the recording session started. Still, by day's end, Byrd, Getz and company had laid the foundations for the bossa nova craze that would sweep the country for the next two years.
The album, "Jazz Samba," contained such gems as "Desafinado" and "Samba de Una Nota So" and quickly rose to the No. 1 spot and stayed on the charts for 18 months. Now it's back as part of a five-record boxed set of Getz performances called "The Girl from Ipanema: The Bossa Nova Years." Also included are his collaborations with Antonio Carlos Jobim ("Jazz Samba Encore") and Jaoa and Astrud Gilberto ("Getz/Gilberto," which stayed on the charts for two years), his work with Luis Bonfa, Laurindo Almeida and Gary McFarland ("Big Band Bossa Nova"), and a fifth record that ties up loose ends.
Bossa nova -- its supple, infectious swing a modification of the hotter samba beat and its languid, melancholy melodies an intriguing twist on American popcraft -- seemed tailor-made as a bridge between jazz and pop music. And Getz offered the perfect vehicle in his sax. His sweet, airy playing, marked by a flowing legato rhythmic approach and lush tone, was inherently nostalgic/romantic, gently prodding the sinuous melodies provided by Jobim, Gilberto and Bonfa. Exquisite tunes such as "Desafinado," "Manha de Carnival," "Corcavado," "Ipanema," "Insensatez," "Baia" and "No More Blues" certainly inspired Getz' melodic expansion; he came off like a pearl nestled in an exotic cushion.
Like many fads, bossa nova burned itself out fast (all this material was recorded in a 13-month period), mostly through overexposure and indiscriminate imitation that all too quickly established its conventions. Admittedly watered down for American taste, it nevertheless broke down some longstanding cultural barriers between North and South American music, and introduced several major songwriters to a worldwide audience. Bossa nova was both warm in spirit and cool in mood and its considerable charms remain intact two decades later.
STAN GETZ -- "The Girl from Ipanema: The Bossa Nova Years" (Verve 823 611-1); appearing at Blues Alley Friday through Sunday.