Bossa Nova: From its Origins to Musicians Today

Let's delve into the birth of bossa nova and its rise to global popularity

Salsa dancer at a performance behind curtian
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Bossa nova, which is loosely translated from Portuguese as “new trend,” is a popular form of Brazilian music that developed out of the marriage between Latin samba rhythms and elements of West Coast cool jazz.

Explaining the Name

Though the music became popular in the early 1950s, the word "bossa” was used as early as the 1930s to mean anything newly trending in popular culture. By the 1950s, musicians had co-opted the word to describe anyone who played with a high degree of individuality.


João Gilberto is often referred to as the founder of bossa nova. He created the style by playing variants of samba rhythms on the guitar and layering in more complex harmonies than were normally heard in Brazilian popular music. But more recent sources also point to late night jam sessions happening in and around Rio de Janeiro during the early '50s as the birthplace of the genre. Ensembles like the Grupo Universitário de Brasil (University Group of Brazil) regularly performed a fledgling form of bossa nova before American and Brazilian musicians began collaborating to bring the idiom to a larger audience.

Rise to International Renown 

Ohio-born wind player, Bud Shank’s collaborations with Laurindo Almeida in 1951 are frequently suggested as the international coming out party for bossa nova. Shank and Almeida had played together with Stan Kenton before the latter enticed Shank, bassist Harry Babasin and drummer Roy Harte to record with him on two albums, now known as Brazilliance Nos. 1 and 2.

Antonio Carlos Jobim’s 1958 recording “Chega de Saudade” (“No More Blues”) was an instant hit and is now recognized as a landmark of bossa nova as an international style. Gilberto's solo debut album in 1959 was also a watershed event as was a Carnegie Hall concert staged in 1961. By the early 1960s, bossa nova was a worldwide craze, making international stars of Jobim, Gilberto and their frequent collaborator, Stan Getz.

Essential Bossa Nova Albums, Songs, and Artists 

Getz worked with Gilberto and Jobim on the album "Getz/Gilberto," which was released in 1964. The “Gilberto” in the album’s title refers to singer Astrud Gilberto, João’s wife at the time. Astrud was not a professional singer before she recorded with Getz, but her clear and tranquil voice became an immediate sensation upon the album’s release.

Many bossa nova songs have worked their way into the jazz repertoire, especially Jobim’s “The Girl From Ipanema,” “Corcovado (Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars),” and “How Insensitive.” Often, musicians will apply the bossa style to songs that were not originally bossa nova.

Important bossa nova artists beyond those mentioned include Oscar Castro-Neves, Carlos Lyra, Baden Powell de Aquino, Bola Ste and Caetano Veloso. The singer, Eliane Elias, recently released a bossa nova record entitled Made In BrazilDiana Krall also rekindled the spark of bossa nova with her album Quiet Nights.