The Brazilian pianist, composer, and songwriter Antonio
Carlos Jobim was one of the most influential musicians of the past
century. Originally from Rio de Janeiro, Jobim found fame providing
music for the 1959 film “Black Orpheus.” In 1964, he teamed up with
fellow musicians Joao Gilberto and Stan Getz for the album Getz/Gilberto
and sparked a worldwide obsession with bossa nova music. Here are five
exercises that illustrate some of the important aspects of Jobim’s
often-underrated piano work.
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1. Melodic Improvisation
Ex. 1 is inspired by Jobim’s playing behind
vocalist Astrud Gilberto on his storied song “The Girl from Ipanema,”
from the 1964 album Getz/Gilberto. Notice the minimalism in the
piano improvisation, where octaves paint a simple, consonant melody that
outlines the chord changes. Also notice how the bass plays half-notes,
adding to the almost impressionistic sonic canvas.
2. Block Chord Solos
Jobim had a great pianistic vocabulary that he often employed during his solos. Ex. 2 demonstrates his frequent use of block chord solos.
Here I’ve harmonized a simple melody with octaves on the outside and
chord tones with dissonant notes in the middle. This is a loose
interpretation of George Shearing’s block chord style. The important
part here is to keep the octaves on the outside with the corresponding
harmony on the inside. Slight variations can be seen in measures 5 and
6, where “drop 2” voicings are used. (Drop 2 simply means to take the
second note from the top of a piano voicing and drop it down to the
bottom note). The last two voicings return to block chord form. It’s
nice to switch between these two methods during a chordal solo. These
voicings should be played with both hands with whatever fingerings feel
most natural to you.
3. Brazilian Clave Comping
Ex. 3 illustrates a rhythmic comping figure in what
is known as a “Brazilian clave,” which Jobim frequently used in his
piano work. This rhythm is often heard on the snare drum in bossa nova
music. The chord voicing here is in “drop 3” form, which takes the third
note from the top of the voicing and puts it on the bottom. Remember
that Brazilian music tends to be slightly freer and less strict than other forms of Latin music. Practice these rhythms until they feel organic and fluid.
When we reverse the rhythm from Ex. 3, we arrive at the one in Ex. 4
which is sometimes refereed to as Samba-Reggae. Note that we’ve now
moved to a major tonality with our drop-3 chord. Both of these last two
examples are effective comping rhythms to use on the piano. Remember to
change your pattern gently as the tune progresses.
5. Partido Alto
The rhythm in Ex. 5 is derived from another form of Brazilian music, the samba. This rhythm is known as partido alto
and is closely associated with the Rio’s yearly Carnival celebration.
While playing a bossa nova tune, try using this rhythm during the solos
to add different rhythmic dimension to the mix.
“Antonio Carlos Jobim’s piano playing is often quite minimal and gentle,” says keyboardist and composer Brian Charette. “Remember that Brazilian music tends to be slightly freer
and less strict than other forms of Latin music.” Charette has worked
with Joni Mitchell, Michael Bublé, and Rufus Wainwright. His latest
album is Music for Organ Sextette, on SteepleChase Records. Find out more at kungfugue.com.