Tall and tanned and young and lovely
the girl from Ipanema goes walking
and when she passes
each man she passes
Well, it has been 50 years since that Brazilian miss from Ipanema caught the attention of Antonio Carlos (Tom) Jobim and Vinicius DeMoraes as she passed them on her way to the beach in Rio di Janeiro.
When she moves it's like a samba
that swings so cool and sways so gently
that when she passes
each man she passes
Despite her moving like a samba, the girl ushered in a new form of music, the bossa nova (or new trend), when Jobim on piano and Joao Gilberto on guitar performed their song for the first time in public in a Rio nightclub in August 1962.
The bossa nova sound made it to North America that same year, but it took another two before The Girl landed on U.S. shores.
Saxophonist Stan Getz and guitarist Charlie Byrd's 1962 instrumental album Jazz Samba made Brazil's bossa accessible to American listeners, and U.S. jazz greats such as Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie and Ella Fitzgerald jumped on the bandwagon.
When The Girl arrived, it was with English lyrics composed by American Norman Gimbel and sung by Astrud Gilberto, the then-wife of guitarist Joao, on her first professional job. And what a job. The Girl has been sung and recorded by stylists as diverse as Frank Sinatra and Amy Winehouse, making it the second-most-recorded song in the world after the Beatles' Yesterday, but Gilberto's breathy version remains the benchmark.
The All Music Guide's online biography of Astrud Gilberto, explains that "producer Creed Taylor wanted a few English vocals for maximum crossover potential, and as it turned out, Astrud was the only Brazilian present with any grasp of the language. After her husband laid down his Portuguese vocals for the first verse... Astrud provided a hesitant, heavily accented second verse in English."
AMG's website lists 1,363 versions of the tune, vocal and instrumental, by the likes of Nat (King) Cole, Herb Alpert, Charles Mingus, Kenny G, Peggy Lee, Vic Damone, Lena Horne, Louis Armstrong, Cher, Eliane Elias, Toots Thielemans, Archie Shepp, King Curtis, Henry Mancini, John Coltrane, Carol Welsman and Oscar Peterson.
As well as The Girl, Gimbel wrote lyrics for other Jobim tunes, such as How Insensitive, Agua de Beber (Water to Drink), Meditation and Adventure.
Those songs all appear on a new recording by Minneapolis singer Connie Evingson, Sweet Happy Life, an album of 16 tunes featuring lyrics by Grammy and Oscar winner Gimbel. His English lyrics for Adventure, written to a little-known ballad by Jobim, Ohla Maria, get their debut on Evingson's disc.
Evingson sings the songs with a mellow swing, and has an intimate knowledge of The Girl that allows her to give the song a nuanced reading, one that nails the emotion of the lovestruck composer. How Insensitive takes a melancholy turn amid some hip-swinging samba and bossa.
Even though Gimbel had success composing lyrics for music by the likes of Jobim and Luis Bonfa (the title song here), he also scored big in 1973 with Roberta Flack's recording of Killing Me Softly With His Song (music by Charles Fox), which won him a Song of the Year Grammy. Evingson sings a pensive reinterpretation of Killing Me on Sweet Happy Life.
Gimbel's later career included composing for film and television, but his English lyrics for The Girl can be considered a career high, winning him a Record of the Year Grammy.
Not to take anything away from composers Jobim and DeMoraes, or Astrud Gilberto's singing, it isn't a stretch to suggest that Gimbel deserves his share of credit for helping The Girl From Ipanema spread from Brazil and become a five-decade global success.
For her part, singer Evingson is helping that success continue.