This article will introduce you to some of the most popular and best bossa nova albums of all time.
Bossa nova developed in the late 50s and early 60s in Brazil. Blending elements of Brazilian samba and jazz, bossa nova is defined first and foremost by its rhythm, which is derived from samba. Other typical features include acoustic guitar, soft vocals, and harmonically-rich string and flute arrangements.
Bossa lyrics often deal with themes of longing and melancholy. The Portuguese word saudade, captured in the quintessential bossa nova song ‘Chega De Saudade,’ is perhaps the best word to describe the mood.
João Gilberto and Antônio Carlos Jobim are two of the most important figures in the genre, with Stan Getz playing an important role in spreading the genre in North America.
Let’s jump in and discover some of the best bossa nova albums that everyone should know.
1. Chega De Saudade – João Gilberto (1959)
Few would object to the claim that João Gilberto’s Chega De Saudade is the most important bossa nova album of all time. Often referred to as the first ever bossa nova album, the 1959 record was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2001.
The title track and opening song on ‘Chega De Saudade’ is considered to be the first ever bossa nova song recorded. Today, a bossa nova standard, ‘Chega De Saudade’ along with ‘The Girl From Ipanema’ is one of the most famous bossa nova songs.
The music for both songs was written by Antônio Carlos Jobim, and the lyrics were penned by the Brazilian poet Vinícius de Moraes. João Gilberto is responsible for the acoustic guitar and gentle singing that epitomises his bossa nova sound.
Coming in at just 22 minutes and 37 seconds, the album is, unfortunately, characteristically short for the genre. Still, those few minutes are more than enough to make this record one of the most significant jazz albums of all time, and arguably the number one essential bossa nova album of all time.
2. Getz/Gilberto – Stan Getz and João Gilberto (1964)
The first ever jazz record to win the Album of the Year award at the Grammys, Getz/Gilberto is one of the essential bossa nova albums of all time.
The fruits of a collaboration between American saxophonist Stan Getz and Brazilian guitarist João Gilberto, the album has gone down in jazz history.
The album played a vital role in popularising bossa nova, selling over one million units worldwide. As well as winning the Album of the Year Grammy award, Getz and Gilberto also picked up Grammys for Best Engineered Album, Non-Classical, and Best Jazz Instrumental Album.
The record is responsible for introducing the world to the vocal talents of Astrud Gilberto, who went on to become one of the most popular bossa nova singers. The abstract expressionist album artwork comes from Puerto Rican artist Olga Albizu.
3. Jazz Samba – Stan Getz and Charlie Byrd (1962)
American saxophonist Stan Getz and guitarist Charlie Byrd’s Jazz Samba is credited as one of the key records for popularising bossa nova in the United States.
The album is the only one on this list that topped the Billboard 200 album charts, which is as clear an indication you can get of the mainstream popularity the record achieved. The record was nominated for the Album of the Year Grammy.
The album’s opening song ‘Desafinado,’ a bossa nova standard composed by Antônio Carlos Jobim, saw Getz awarded the 1963 Grammy award for Best Jazz Performance. The album also features the popular bossa song ‘Samba De Uma Nota So’ ( ‘One Note Samba’).
The cover artwork is the work of Olga Albizu, who designed several of the most recognisable bossa nova album covers in the era.
One of the truly essential bossa nova albums.
4. Wave – Antônio Carlos Jobim (1967)
Sometimes referred to as the ‘Father of Bossa Nova,’ Antônio Jobim was a seminal figure in popularising bossa nova. His 1967 album Wave stands as one of his most influential and most popular bossa nova albums.
The artist released some fourteen albums during the course of his recorded career between 1963 and 1997, and Wave was his fifth. The album reached number five on Billboard’s Jazz Albums chart, and one hundred and fourteen on the Billboard 200.
At just 31 minutes and 45 seconds, the record is tantalisingly short. It shows Jobim at his sophisticated best, with rich string, flute, and brass arrangements coloring the album.
The iconic, psychedelic album cover art comes courtesy of the legendary jazz photographer, Pete Turner.
5. Domingo – Gal Costa and Caetano Veloso (1967)
A collaboration from Brazilian singer Gal Costa and singer and guitarist Caetano Veloso, Domingo is a gentle, lilting gem of a record.
Despite not achieving particular commercial success, the record is revered by the bossa nova faithful as one of the greatest bossa nova albums.
The record features the gentle acoustic style popularised by João Gilberto, along with some stunning string and flute arrangements. The interplay between the two vocalists is simply perfect.
The record has been described as post-bossa nova, and features a quiet, serious, almost folky atmosphere. From here, both artists went on in a far more experimental direction as part of the avant-garde tropicália movement.
6. Garra – Marcos Valle (1971)
Marcos Valle’s 1971 Garra is a remarkable record, blending bossa nova and samba with elements of psychedelia, soul, and even rock.
With lyrics written by his brother Paulo Sergio, the lyrical content is often political, dealing with themes of government corruption, consumerism, and the black power movement.
Eclectic and diverse, the sound palette of this record is more varied than some of the more straight-down-the-line bossa nova albums on this list. As well as the flutes, strings, and gentle vocals characteristic of bossa, the record sees Valle incorporate mellotron and even choirs.
An iconic and experimental bossa nova album from one of the great innovators of Brazilian music.
7. The Astrud Gilberto Album – Astrud Gilberto (1965)
Brazilian samba and bossa nova singer Astrud Gilberto first rose to fame thanks to her features on Getz/Gilberto (1964).
She is especially famous for singing on the 1964 recording of ‘The Girl from Ipanema’ – which charted all over the world, and is arguably the most well-known and most popular bossa nova song of all time.
Astrud has released sixteen albums in her career, twelve of which were released between 1964 and 1977. The Astrud Gilberto Album is widely considered to be Astrud’s definitive record, although it does not feature the famous ‘Girl from Ipanema.’
The album features fellow bossa nova legend Antônio Carlos Jobim on guitar, and peaked at number forty-one on the Billboard 200.
An essential bossa nova album from the most important woman in the genre.
8. Big Band Bossa Nova – Stan Getz (1962)
The follow-up to Stan Getz’s extremely popular Jazz Samba (1962), Big Band Bossa Nova sees Getz team up with the Gary McFarland Big Band Orchestra.
The album features four original compositions from McFarland, as well as four pieces from Brazilian composers.
Amongst the classics are Antônio Carlos Jobim and Vinícius de Moraes’ ‘Chega De Saudade,’ and Jobim and Newton Mendonça’s ‘One Note Samba.’
Although the album didn’t reach quite the same heights as its predecessor, it was critically-acclaimed, and reached number thirteen on the Billboard 200. It started on the chart for over four months.
9. Samba Esquema Novo – Jorge Ben Jor (1963)
Jorge Ben’s Samba Esquema Novo has gone down in history as one of the greatest Brazilian albums of all time. With Jorge Ben Jor on vocals and violão, the album offers gentle, minimal bossa nova with an experimental edge.
The name Samba Esquema Novo which translates as ‘new style samba.’
The record opens with one of the most famous bossa nova songs of all time, ‘Mas, Que Nada!’ The song was originally written and recorded by Jorge Ben for this album, and later covered by Sérgio Mendes 1966, who took the song to new levels of popularity.
The song, whose title is a colloquial expression roughly translating as ‘whatever,’ ‘no way,’ or ‘yeah, right’ was inducted into the Latin Grammy Hall of Fame in 2013.
10. Francis Albert Sinatra & Antônio Carlos Jobim – Frank Sinatra and Antônio Carlos Jobim (1967)
This collaboration between Frank Sinatra and Antônio Carlos Jobim had all the ingredients it needed to become a big commercial success, and it did just that. The record is by no means the more pioneering bossa nova album, but its popularity earns it a place on this list.
Featuring Sinatra on lead vocals and Jobim on guitar, piano, and backing vocals, the record spread bossa nova to an even wider North American audience.
The album features a mixture of bossa nova and American jazz standards performed in bossa nova style. The record was nominated for the Album of the Year Grammy Award in 1968, losing out to the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
Jobim classics on the album include ‘The Girl from Ipanema,’ ‘Dindi,’ ‘Corcovado,’ ‘Meditação,’ ‘Insensatez,’ and ‘O Amor em Paz.’
11. The Composer of Desafinado Plays – Antônio Carlos Jobim (1963)
Arguably Antônio Carlos Jobim’s most important album, the title of the record reveals the significance of the song ‘Desafinado’ in the artist’s career.
The album demonstrated, however, that Jobim was going to be known for far more than just ‘Desafinado.’
The record is jam-packed with Jobim’s greatest compositions including ‘The Girl from Ipanema,’ Agua de Beber,’ ‘O Morro Não Tem Vez,’ ‘Insensatiz,’ ‘Só Danço Samba,’ ‘Chega de Saudade,’ and others beside. You would be hard-pressed to find a single song on the album that has not become a jazz standard.
Of the record, Pete Welding allegedly claimed, “If the bossa nova movement had produced only this record, it would already be fully justified.”
A huge record for the history of jazz music, and in a word, an essential album for any fan of bossa nova.
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