A few months ago my friend invited me to a free concert in the city, put on to celebrate the music of the late Brazilian singer Tom Jobim. Jobim was the guy who composed Garota de Ipanema (known in many English speaking countries as The Girl from Ipanema), which is the second most recorded song of all time behind The Beatles’ Yesterday. He is regarded by many as not only being one of Brazil’s most successful recording artists, but also as one of the country’s most influential. As you can probably imagine then, the concert held on a sleepy Sunday afternoon was absolutely packed!
|Vanessa da Mata|
On the day of the event a selection of his most popular hits were interpreted by Grammy award winning singer Vanessa da Mata. Midway through the gig though she walked off stage and old video footage of Jobim singing his signature song Garota de Ipanema was played to the thousands in attendance. Tom Jobim wasn’t singing this song alone though, he was duetting with Ol’ Blue Eyes himself, Frank Sinatra.
Prior to moving to Brazil, the version sung by Sinatra was the one I was more familiar with. However, the longer I’ve been here, the more exposure I’ve had to Jobim’s version. So as each of the singers took turns to sing in their native language, I found myself being intrigued by this collaboration.
“Listen to Frank Sinatra” said one of my friends a minute into the video. As I turned to look at him I noticed a look of absolute disdain etched into his face. He was not impressed. “Frank Sinatra sounds REALLY shit!” he said, with such a strong emphasis on the word ‘really’ that his opinion sounded so final.
“Yep” said another of my friends, who affirmed this opinion almost instinctively. As I looked around I noticed that my other friend was also nodding in agreement too; confirming that he also thought Frank sounded ‘REALLY shit’. Had I not said anything I’m pretty sure everyone would have returned to their zombie-like states to watch the rest of the concert.
“Sorry?” I remarked a little melodramatically, a little bit like when Keanu Reeves tried to sound sincere in The Matrix.
“Did you just say that you thought Frank Sinatra sounds…shit?”
Of course, I knew the answer to this. I just wanted to hear confirmation.
|A young Tom Jobim|
“Absolutely” said my friend with an air of superiority, and he was now looking at me like I was a fool for even asking. “Frank Sinatra is just growling (he didn’t actually say the word ‘growling’, but from the Exorcist-like noises he was making I’m pretty sure this is what he was getting at), he doesn’t sound nearly as good as Jobim”.
“Andrew” he said whilst pointing over to the big screen and almost hitting the woman’s head in front of us.”This is Tom Jobim, one of the greatest singers in the world. Sinatra shouldn’t have even tried to sing The Girl From Ipanema with him”.
Now, I’m no big Frank Sinatra fan, but I’ve always respected him as being one of the all time greats. Of course, I know that Tom Jobim’s version of Garota de Ipanema is for many the definitive, but to hear Sinatra being trashed as if he were Justin Bieber or Will I Am… well this really surprised me!
As the video finished everyone applauded, and Vanessa de Mata reappeared on stage to continue the concert, draped in what looked like a white duvet cover with holes cut out to accommodate her head and arms. No more was said about Frank and Tom until after the concert on the train ride home, where I broached the subject again.
“I’m not saying I don’t like Frank Sinatra” said my friend, “because I do. It’s just that his voice isn’t really melodic enough to sing The Girl From Ipanema. Only Tom Jobim can do that well”.
|I’m guessing this ‘Nothing But The Best’ album didn’t include
The Girl From Ipanema for the Brazilian version!
The next day in class, I also asked my students for their opinions on the song sung by both artists. Naturally, they unanimously told me that they preferred Jobim’s version.
“Andrew, the way he sings it is just beautiful” said my first student of the day, before enthusiastically bursting into song. “Olha que coisa mais linda, mais cheia de graca. You see, it’s just more beautiful in Portuguese. It loses something when it’s sung in English. And Andrew, it’s a Brazilian song, not an American one”.
In fact, a number of the students I asked that day channeled their inner Glee to sing the first two lines to me, like they WERE actually Tom Jobim!
I guess the reason I wrote the blog is because I’d not really thought about someone’s culture playing such a significant role in the interpretation of music. For me, the English version by Sinatra is the definitive version. Yet over here in the land where Jobim is regarded both so highly and affectionately, it makes sense that his version is appreciated to the extent it is. And got me thinking, is the song more beautiful when Jobim sings it to when Sinatra sings it? Does it sound better in Portuguese? Is Jobim’s version better because it’s the most famous song to have come out of Brazil, and therefore culturally important enough not to have been sung by anyone else other than a Brazilian? Music is so subjective, but I really didn’t think the music of ol’ blue eyes was!