In the spring of 1961 the U.S. Government were instrumental in chasing the face of modern jazz. Guitarist Charlie Byrd was sent on a diplomatic tour of South America; the American government very much saw exporting culture as a positive political tool. In this case, however, it was more a case of what Byrd was about to import to America.
Upon his return Byrd met Stan Getz at the Showboat Lounge in Washington DC and later, at his home, played him some bossa nova records by João Gilberto and Antonio Carlos Jobim. The next step was to convince Creed Taylor who had taken over the running of Verve Records from Norman Granz after he sold out that making a Latin influenced record was a good idea.
In October 1961 Getz and Byrd did some initial jazz samba recordings that were unissued, before getting together with Charlie’s guitar and bass playing brother, Gene Byrd, Keter Betts on bass, drummer, Buddy Deppenschmidt and Bill Reinchenbach on percussion. Betts and Deppenschmidt had been to South America with Byrd so they were well versed in the sound and most importantly the rhythms of Brazil. They recorded together the day before Valentine’s Day 1962 in Pierce Hall at All Souls Unitarian Church in Washington, DC to take advantage of the excellent acoustics.
“It was Charlie Byrd’s idea and none of us expected it to be this big.” – Creed Taylor
Jazz Samba was released in April 1962 and in the middle of September it entered Billboard’s pop album chart and by March the following year it had made No.1. It stayed on the album charts for seventy weeks and made bossa nova the coolest music on earth. ‘Desafinado’ had also made No.15 on the singles chart so together these two records were not only the catalyst for a craze but also extremely lucrative for Verve. It’s interesting to note that Dizzy Gillespie, always a champion of Latin jazz played ‘Desafinado’ at the Monterey Jazz Festival in 1961, possibly at the urging of his then pianist, Brazilian, Lalo Schifrin, but also because Dizzy had also toured Brazil in the summer of 1961 – Brazilian rhythms were in the air.
Even before Jazz Samba entered the charts Taylor put Getz with the Gary McFarland Orchestra to record Big Band Bossa Nova and Cal Tjader cut ‘Weeping Bossa Nova (Choro E Batuque)’. Before the year was out Ella recorded ‘Stardust Bossa Nova’ and on New Year’s Eve the album, Luiz Bonfa Plays And Sings Bossa Nova that features the guitarist with Brazilian pianist, Oscar Castro Neves was recorded. Big Band Bossa Nova made No.13 on the Billboard chart – Bossa Nova was big.
On 27 February 1963 Stan Getz recorded Jazz Samba Encore, but with none of the musicians from the original, this album featured Antonio Carlos Jobim on piano and guitar along with Luiz Bonfa; this was far less successful than the first album, which is often the way with a phenomena, but for many people it is a more satisfying album.