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A Mini-History of Bossa Nova

GUEST,AR282 22 Aug 03 - 05:00 PM
GUEST,AR282 22 Aug 03 - 05:01 PM
Leo Condie 22 Aug 03 - 05:10 PM
PoppaGator 22 Aug 03 - 05:39 PM
mack/misophist 23 Aug 03 - 01:55 AM
GUEST,.gargoyle 23 Aug 03 - 12:38 PM
GUEST,Frankham 24 Aug 03 - 12:24 PM
M.Ted 25 Aug 03 - 06:54 PM
Linda Goodman Zebooker 25 Feb 07 - 10:30 PM
GUEST,Bill Britton 06 Jun 10 - 05:33 AM
GUEST,David 06 Apr 11 - 03:14 AM
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Subject: Review: A Mini-History of Bossa Nova
From: GUEST,AR282
Date: 22 Aug 03 - 05:00 PM

One of my very favorite musical styles is bossa nova which originated from Brazil. Typical of Afro-Latino music, bossa nova is an extremely rhythmic and harmonically rich style. The central instrument of bossa nova is the violão or classical guitar.

I write a lot of my own bossa nova numbers and they're pretty good if I do say so myself. But I'm not a real bossa nova guitarist and I know that my technique is not really correct even though it sounds okay. When I listen to the strumming of João Gilberto and Antonio Carlos "Tom" Jobim, I realize how far off I really am. I cannot fathom how Gilberto strums in that odd rhythm while singing so expressively without throwing himself off. I've practically killed myself attempting this and I simply cannot do it and I'm pretty good at playing and singing.

One must bear in mind however that that strumming rhythm is central to bossa nova. I learned to do a reasonable facsimile by listening to bossa nova CDs. I have learned, to name a few, Desafinado, Corcovado, Favela and, of course, The Girl from Ipanema. Stan Getz plays such beautiful, amazing sax on these numbers—except Favela which is was a Jobim-Claus Ogerman collaboration.

Tom and Ogerman are often slagged by bossa nova enthusiasts. One guy had the nerve to say that their collaborations were "cheesy" and "over-orchestrated." I don't know how anybody could say Favela is cheesy and I am utterly at a loss to understand that anyone would be incapable of considering Un Rancho Nas Nuvens to be anything other than one of the most beautiful numbers ever written and performed. But we all have our opinions.

Bossa nova started in its most primitive form sometime in the late 40s when Antonio Carlos Brasileiro de Almeida Jobim (b. 1927), or Tom as he was known, an architecture buff who preferred to spend his days hanging out at Copacabana and Ipanema as a lounge pianist, wrote some of the stuff that would later become indispensable to establishing this genre although at their earliest, these numbers were hardly classifiable as bossa nova at that time but would be later reworked into that format. Jobim loved jazz and the French impressionist musicians. He also loved the native sambas, Portuguese ballads (brought to Brazil by the first settlers from that land and which were originally learned from the Moors) and African batucada rhythms which he stripped down and put to a lush, harmonic backdrop. Jobim was a true musical genius as well as a pioneer.

Another great pioneer was guitarist/singer João Gilberto (b. 1931). He had been in a vocal ensemble called Garota de Lua (Children of the Moon) starting in the late 40s. By about 1951, 20-year-old João began smoking cannabis as well as growing it. He felt that pot made him musically sharper and gave him a mystical outlook he had previously lacked. So prevalent was his use of the herb that the other members of the ensemble (also users themselves) called Gilberto "Joe Reefer." Pot not only was highly prevalent in the Brazilian musical scene, but it also presented João with an alternative to tobacco cigarettes which he was unsuccessfully trying to develop a liking for since all Brazilian musicians smoked. Upon smoking pot, Gilberto gave up cigarettes completely. Years later, João gave up pot as well saying he simply didn't feel like smoking it anymore (try that with tobacco!).

By 1952, João was recording on his own but the record wasn't particularly successful (but fetches a good price today among collectors). Moving in the same musical circles, Jobim and Gilberto met in the late 50s. Jobim's prime concern at that time was making that month's rent (lounge pianists in Brazil were paid atrociously and had to scrap for every paying gig they could get). Jobim, however, wasn't much on reefer, preferring, as many lounge pianists did, whiskey. Tom also played guitar and hung out on the beach playing for passers-by. Tom was essentially a Carioca beach bum while João was basically a Bahian vagabond. João, in fact, rarely lived in the same residence for more than a few months and frequently stayed with friends and acquaintances. He never had money to pay them rent but would never help out around the place, preferring to bar hop and schmooze the ladies while his benefactors worked overtime to pay rent for themselves and him. Some said that if one turned João upside down and shook him vigorously, one could be properly shocked to see so much as a nickel drop out his pockets. Obviously, João would wear out his welcome pretty quickly. Jobim at least kept his own apartment but barely.

After a flower-peddler told Jobim to get off the beach and into a recording studio so people could hear his amazing music, Tom got together with Luiz Bonfá and helped to compose some of the bossa nova numbers heard in the magnificent 1958 Brazilian movie Black Orpheus (called Orfeu Negro in Portuguese). This film won the Cannes film festival in 1959 and rightly so. The film helped to bring bossa nova to the attention of the rest of the world. Black Orpheus is basically the story of Orpheus and Eurydice from Greek mythology. The cast is entirely black Brazilians and hence the title. The film was written by Jacques Viot and directed by Marcel Camus. Viot and Camus adapted the story from Orfeu da Corceicao by Vinícius de Moraes, a poet and lyricist who would later co-author The Girl From Ipanema with Jobim (as well as Favela, Insensatez and Chega de Saudade to name a few).

Black Orpheus takes place during carnival and Camus shot the carnival scenes on a soundstage. The music, colors, costumes and dances are so beautifully filmed and performed that one feels like one has actually been to carnival in Brazil after watching the movie. The women in the movie are nothing short of breathtakingly gorgeous—and I mean gorgeous! And I am sure that female viewers would think the same of the men in the cast. And the music! Oh, the music…

This movie could never have been made in America. It is IMO a Brazilian treasure—much like bossa nova itself. I've been to Brazil but not to carnival. I hear about 2000 people are killed each year at carnival so one has to be careful. I'd go to one anyway if I ever had the chance. I loved Brazil. There's a lot of poverty there but also a lot of beauty and Old World charm. It is one of the best places I've ever been to and I would go again in a heartbeat even though the real (the Brazilian currency) isn't doing too well.

Most of the music in the movie is Afro-Brazilian samba music heavy on the percussion, but there are moments where Orfeu sings beautiful bossa nova to Eurydice.

Lots of astronomical symbolism in the movie. This is one of those movies you need to watch 30 times to catch everything in it and you will be more than willing to watch it that many times because the film is simply a fantastic treat to the eyes and ears. It is shown frequently on the Independent Film Channel, Sundance and Bravo so check your local listings to see if you can catch it sometime. Or maybe you can rent it if you have a cult movie video store in your area. You won't be sorry however you see it.

There is some dispute whether Black Orpheus marked the emergence of bossa nova or whether it was Gilberto's 1958 recording of Bim-Bom and Oba-la-la, both beautiful numbers that were definitely bossa nova. According to João, he got the rhythm for Bim-Bom from watching the hips of a pretty young maid hanging up laundry and that rhythm is what we now call bossa nova. As with other forms such as ragtime, jazz, metal and punk, bossa nova appears to have been an idea whose time had come and so appears to have sprung up independently among certain musicians at the same time. Whatever the truth, bossa nova can be said to have been invented about 1958 by the Gilberto-Jobim-Bonfá-Moraes circle.

Unfortunately for Tom and Luiz, Black Orpheus was a rip-off for them. Despite the brilliant music in the film, they were paid almost nothing for their efforts. Every vulture who had far less to do with the film took his cut first and passed on the rest. By the time the pot got to Tom and Luiz, there was hardly any money left in it for them to take. But bossa nova at least was here to stay.

By 1962, Charlie Byrd and Stan Getz performed Jobim's Desafinado, an indescribably lovely piece that catapulted Tom to international fame. In 1963, he released his own album and also helped João Gilberto, Gilberto's wife Astrud and Stan Getz release Getz/Gilberto. Tom wrote or co-wrote most of the songs and played the piano. This was the album that contained The Girl From Ipanema which more or less cinched Tom Jobim's rep and made bossa nova a household word in America in 1964 where the record sold 2 million copies and went on to became one of the most performed songs of all time second only to McCartney's Yesterday.

The entire album was recorded in two days which was remarkable considering the clashes and disagreements that occurred between Gilberto and just about everyone else. João was very temperamental and difficult to get along with in the studio. He argued with fellow musicians, composers, arrangers, producers, engineers, orchestras, orchestra managers, the assistant who set up and broke down the equipment for the session, etc. These arguments could concern anything from how to sing one word in a verse or changing a single note in a single chord played by the orchestra for less than a second or the urgent need for a different type of microphone clip. Tom took João's irascible nature in stride. He needed him and, if need be, the other musicians could even be dispensed with because, Tom observed, João was an orchestra in and of himself. He could play guitar and sing like no one Jobim had ever seen before (strange especially because Jobim had no idea João even played guitar when he first met him).

Upon first meeting Getz, Gilberto told Jobim in Portuguese, "Tom, tell this gringo he's a moron!" Jobim instead diplomatically told Getz that João had said that he looked forward to working with him but Getz was not about to believe that judging from João's tone of voice. Tom did his best in the interests of getting the sessions recorded and in the can. At another point during the sessions, João was heard to yell at Jobim, "My god, Tom, you really are stupid, aren't you?" (Gilberto then expected Jobim to let him move in with him for free after insulting him and in spite of the fact that Jobim could barely pay his own rent—Tom said no.) The producer, the great Creed Taylor, was left to his own devices to keep the sessions rolling and the tape machines recording. Somehow he managed it.

Getz/Gilberto is nothing short of a brilliant effort by all involved. Stan Getz did some of his best and most imaginative work here. Jobim made sure Stan was well-oiled during the sessions partly because Getz couldn't seem to do much of anything well unless he had a few good stiff ones in him first and partly to keep him smiling and away from the short-tempered Gilberto. The last thing Jobim wanted to see was Getz storming out of the place in a rage. It turned out that Jobim's and Taylor's main problem was keeping Stan from blowing the pop screens off the mikes. To say Getz was playing very loudly was putting it mildly. They managed to keep him restrained on the recordings but Getz would later re-engineer the tracks to make the sax stand out even more and Taylor had to go back re-do everything with his original production values (which were excellent, Taylor outdid himself).

João's wife, Astrud, sang the English parts of Garota de Ipanema (The Girl from Ipanema) but no one is quite sure how this came about. She was not the last minute replacement that the old story relates—that is largely a fiction. Astrud remembers it as João springing the idea on Getz who agreed with it. Getz remembered it as his arguing with the others until they relented and let Astrud sing (she wasn't a professional singer and had never recorded before—believe it or not). Getz was known to have had a thing for Astrud, a very attractive young woman. Others said that Getz's wife, Monica, persuaded the others to let Astrud sing the English lines. Ruy Castro in his book Bossa Nova wrote that Gilberto decided that Astrud would sing the English lines but didn't tell the others. He planned to spring it on them at the last minute so that they would not have the time to argue. Astrud herself pushed the issue, wanting to know if Taylor and Jobim wanted her to do it or not. Both had already heard her sing it and liked her voice and were in favor of it, much to Gilberto's pleasant surprise. Astrud was also chosen to sing the English lines in Corcovado. Getz was oiled up and didn't really care who sang what just so long as it didn't interfere with his sax part.

According to Astrud, Getz later told her, "This song [Ipanema] is going to make you very famous." He was right. Astrud went on to record several more albums of her own; likewise with the drummer, the great Milton Banana. Banana was already a well-established bossa nova artist in his own right and would also release several of his own albums of bossa nova music. The entire cast of musicians and composers of these sessions was pretty much all-star—at least in Brazil.

After the smashing success of The Girl From Ipanema, other bossa nova artists rose up. The great singer Nara Leão and her close friends Roberto Menescal, Ronaldo Bôscoli and Carlos Lyra would all go on to record their own bossa nova albums as well as working with Jobim. Another musician that spun out of that circle was of course Sérgio Mendes.

In 1964, Nara Leão recorded a solo album called Nara which used bossa nova influences but was not strictly bossa nova, having many differences. For some reason, no one had thought to credit this album as the start of MPB (Musica Popular Brasileira—or something like that) until Leão's biographer, journalist Sérgio Cabral, noticed it a couple of decades later. Today Leão is recognized as the originator of MPB. MPB differs from bossa nova just as doo-wop rocknroll differs from big band music. Doo-wop descended from big band. The ululating voices of doo-wop singing nonsense syllables complete with alto, tenor and bass lines (e.g. the Cadillacs' Speedo) are really just a big band reed section which played the same lines. But the modifications lend themselves to further modifying the music until it becomes entirely independent of the style it descended from (just as the heaviest, meanest sounding metal uses the identical dominant 7th scale used in country blues and Dixieland jass from which metal actually descended).

MPB descended from bossa nova but contains so many other influences of pop that it became its own style. One major difference, for example, is that MPB usually utilizes a pick on the violão. In bossa nova, the guitar must always be strummed with the thumb and fingers and never with a pick (although fingernails may be employed for a more brilliant sound and so some bossa nova guitarists grow the fingernails of the strumming hand extra long). Sérgio Mendes and his band Brazil '65 (later Brazil '66) are perhaps the most well known the MPB bands. Their treatment of the Beatles' Fool on the Hill demonstrates perfectly how MPB veers from bossa nova even though one can clearly hear the influence and all the members of the band were experienced bossa nova musicians.

Many guitar-players today want to learn bossa nova. The internet abounds with bossa nova sites that show guitar tabs for various songs. These sites are good for getting the lyrics to songs but are lousy for learning the guitar parts. There seems to be one main guitar tab version of The Girl From Ipanema on the internet. It was made by Doug French, whoever he is. Almost every website uses his guitar tabs. The problem is, those tabs are entirely wrong. Not even close. He starts the song off with F maj 7th, I believe. I took the song straight off the CD and it does not start that way. The version I listen to features João Gilberto singing the first verse in Portuguese (written by Moraes) before Astrud takes up the song in English (Norman Gimbel wrote the English lyrics). Some versions have edited out João's vocal part so, for convenience, I have excluded it as well from my CORRECT guitar tabs below. If these tabs are not right, they are at least much, much closer to the song than what is on the internet.

I have taken the time to learn João's vocal part and I always end up impressing people when they hear me sing the song in Portuguese. I also sing Desafinado in the original Portuguese. Bossa nova simply sounds best in Portuguese and you should really learn at least one bossa nova tune in Portuguese so you can sing it for people. Trust me, they'll love it. The internet is good for getting those lyrics just don't take the guitar tabs with them.

My tabbing method uses EADGBE as a layout with the numbers representing the fret on that particular string. X's indicate muted (or un-played) strings. 0's represent open strings. Here are the tabs for the chords that I took straight off the CD:

THE GIRL FROM IPANEMA (Antonio Carlos Jobim, Vinícius de Moraes, Norman Gimbel)

Intro: 4X334X (Dark and tan and young and lovely the)

Main: X6X66X (girl from Ipanema goes walking and), X4466X (when she passes each), X4456X (one she passes goes), X4656X (ahhh), X7X77X [this chord is thrown in quickly and struck 3 times in a syncopated rhythm and only done this once],

2nd Main: X4656X (When she walks it's like a samba that), X6X66X (swings so cool and sways so gently that), X4466X (when she passes each), X4456X (one she passes goes), X4656X (ahhh)

Refrain: X2X22X (Ohhh, and I watch her so), X0X00X (sadly), X5X55X (How—can I tell her I), X3X33X (love her?), X6X66X (Yes—I would give my heart), X2X22X (gladly—but each), X4X44X (day when she walks to the), X7X77X (sea—she), X6X66X (looks straight ahead not at), X5X55X (me).

(Dark and tan and young and lovely, the girl from Ipanema goes walking and when she passes I smile, but she doesn't see.) [This verse is done using the 2nd Main tablature. This verse is repeated and ends the song with "But she doesn't see" repeated ad infinitum as shown:]

X4656X (But she doesn't see), X5X55X (She), X4656X (doesn't see), X5X55X (She), X4656X (doesn't see) [and this is repeated endlessly].

I wrote that from memory so I may end up having to revise it later on if I did something wrong but I think this is correct as written. Now, if you're going to learn João Gilberto's vocal part then the INTRO and the X7X77X chord are used during his bit only. Of course, that characteristic strumming pattern is not written here. I'm expecting you to research that on your own. I'm just giving you the chords along with the lines where the chord changes occur—you figure out how to strum them. Good luck and have fun.

PS – Stan Getz died in 1991. Tom Jobim died in 1994. João Gilberto is still alive and still recording.

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Subject: RE: Review: A Mini-History of Bossa Nova
From: GUEST,AR282
Date: 22 Aug 03 - 05:01 PM

For those with a real interest in learning the complexities of bossa nova guitar, give a listen to João Gilberto's 2000 CD João voz e violão. As the title suggests, the entire CD is simply Gilberto with his guitar. As Jobim had once noted, Gilberto is an orchestra by himself. He does ten excellent songs including Desafinado ("Out of Tune") and Chega de Saudade ("No More Blues").

I had no idea how complicated bossa nova is until I listened to this. Truly stunning. Gilberto's voice has aged but he still sings very well and his guitar-playing is utterly top-notch. What's strange is to listen to the intros because they sound totally out of tune and chaotic and just as you get ready to wince, it suddenly resolves into an amazingly lyrical set of bossa nova chord changes.

I don't know if Gilberto plays differently in full band setups or whether other instruments mask much of the guitar sounds but as a solo artist, his guitar provides the entire band's range to accompany his lilting vocals. For example, the bass strings provide a firm anchor to practically every chord to the point that you could almost swear there is a string bass in the recording and it's very steady and amazingly melodic. All the bassist could do is follow it without having anything more to add to it because it is so amazingly complete. And yet there is all this strumming and harmony going over top of it and you wonder how one guitar can be doing this. Give a listen to Não Vou pra Casa as an example.

Then on top of all this, Gilberto is singing so expressively. He supposedly idolized Orlando Silva and took his vocal stylings from him. Gilberto also does what Louis Armstrong made so famous in jazz vocalizing which was to hold a note while the music continues on and then sing a quick stoccato of many notes to catch up. When done correctly, it is quite a pretty effect. Gilberto does this in a very soft voice and almost speaks rather than sings it. This has the effect of coming across like he is talking to you rather than singing you a song. The hushed tone of his voice makes it sound as though he is telling you a secret. Hard for me to say since my Portuguese isn't exactly fluent and every word sung here is in that language. As I said, bossa nova sounds best in Portuguese. How Gilberto manages to sing so independently of his impressive strumming techniques is literally beyond me. I've tried harder than any man not born in Brazil has ever tried and I just cannot do it. I'm getting better, though.

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Subject: RE: Review: A Mini-History of Bossa Nova
From: Leo Condie
Date: 22 Aug 03 - 05:10 PM

excellent job, i shall give this a proper read later on. it's certainly a beautiful music and one which i fully intend to dedicate a lot more time to in the coming months. i'm a big fan of tropicálistas like Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gil, Os Mutantes and the like, so Brazilian music has started to become a small obsession for me. Thanks for the history though, as I say i'll give it a full read soon.

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Subject: RE: Review: A Mini-History of Bossa Nova
From: PoppaGator
Date: 22 Aug 03 - 05:39 PM

Thanks for a couple of very nice essays, obviously well researched and deeply felt. While I've never been to Brazil myself, I have several friends who have become quite involved with Brazilian cultgure and music -- one fellow who married a girl from Bahia, and another who found work as a sound engineer for Sergio Mendes and spent most of the 80s and 90s touring the world with his orchestra.

Also, as a New Orleanian, I'm a great fan of Mardi Gras (Carnival), and every year I have to wonder what it must be like in Rio, where Febraury is a summer month, and always think to myself "maybe next year."

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Subject: RE: A Mini-History of Bossa Nova
From: mack/misophist
Date: 23 Aug 03 - 01:55 AM

The music is gorgeous, but I'm sorry to tell you that Ogerman often does over orchestrate. Everyone (almost) did in those days.

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Subject: RE: A Mini-History of Bossa Nova
From: GUEST,.gargoyle
Date: 23 Aug 03 - 12:38 PM

Thank You - wonderful writeup. The bossas nova rhthym for left-hand keyboards requires dilligent practice - but what a fun syncopation.

For awhile in the late 50's early 60's as the bossa nova dance swept through with its popularity the American teenage slang would refer to something "cool"(bitchin) as being "boss" or even "boss anova."

The Life:40 <1954> "I go for you Sam, I think you're boss.

The Life:73 <1955> "His socks were boss, and man, did they cost."

Esquire/I> June: 129 <1960> "That aspirin is a boss kick"

American Graffitti 1978 "He's so boss."


Ref from Randomhouse Hist Dict of Am. Slang

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Subject: RE: A Mini-History of Bossa Nova
From: GUEST,Frankham
Date: 24 Aug 03 - 12:24 PM

Hi Guest AR282

Out in LA I met Oscar Castro Neves. How much of Sergio's material did he arrange? It seems as though he was an influential guitarist. Heard his arrangements in an LA band he put together at a club called Mullberry Street in North Hollywood.

Frank Hamilton

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Subject: RE: A Mini-History of Bossa Nova
From: M.Ted
Date: 25 Aug 03 - 06:54 PM

The reason that all the Tab on the net is in F is that the standard key for playing the Girl from Ipanema has always been F--Jobim and Gilberto did record it originally in Db, but that is a key that is highly unpopular with the instrumentalists who typically make up a jazz combo( though not a problem on guitar) and it got moved to F--Jobim even recorded it there when he did his famous duet album with Sinatra--

The reason that you are having a bit of trouble playing the guitar parts is simple--bossa is the most complicated music that there is(at least of the kinds of music that people actually *like*)--it uses samba style polyrhythms(generally four distinct layers, not counting the melody or solo line) and progressive jazz chordal and harmonic rules(which, especially in 60's jazz, meant *no* rules)-up til Bossa came along, music tended toward either rhythmic complexity or harmonic complexity, Jobim and company thought it would be fun to do both--

Bossa is especially hard on the guitarist, who is responsible for playing all the rhythmic layers, as well as the chords, and, often, is expected to sing over the whole mess, as well.   Still, if you get the proper instruction on how to fit it all together, it works, and over time, even becomes as effortless as it sounds--

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Subject: RE: A Mini-History of Bossa Nova
From: Linda Goodman Zebooker
Date: 25 Feb 07 - 10:30 PM

As a beginner at guitar who really loves this type of music, I'm trying to find any resources I could use already. I can see that the true Bossa Nova and samba chords are way beyond me, though I can do the refrains from GUEST,AR282's posting.

Is anyone aware of any books or websites that would be helpful at this point? I have my eye on a "beginner-intermediate" Mel Bay book by Mike Christiansen, that I'll probably buy on Amazon through the Mudcat - but looking at a sample of it I can see that the chords are still too difficult for now. This site is helpful, but again - the chords are out of reach.

Brazilian is the first type of music I ever heard on a guitar. In about 1963 my mother bought a wonderful album titled "Brazil" with a red cover. I listened to it a few hundred times.


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Subject: RE: A Mini-History of Bossa Nova
From: GUEST,Bill Britton
Date: 06 Jun 10 - 05:33 AM

Dear Linda:

No book will ever do it. Can't learn Bossa Nova guitar rythms from a book.

Try to find an experienced, guitar teacher that understands bossa nova. Otherwise you will waste away 20 years like I did, until I found such a guitar teacher 20 years ago.

And I'm still just "half-rate." I'm chasing Joao Gilberto, but very seldom do I catch him.

Good luck.

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Subject: RE: A Mini-History of Bossa Nova
From: GUEST,David
Date: 06 Apr 11 - 03:14 AM

Much appreciate last two comments on your blog. I'm experiencing the same difficulty of trying to "get" the guitar rhythm with use of staccatos ... and given limitations of internet sources (highly valuable but still limited). Any futher wisdom much appreciated; muito obrigado.

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