The first time I heard Stan Getz, Joao Gilberto, and Astrud Gilberto perform “The Girl from Ipanema,” I couldn’t believe it was recorded all the way back in 1963. That surprise owes a great deal to the skill of the recording engineers enlisted for that bestselling album, Getz/Gilberto. But it also has just as much to do with the composition created by Antonio Carlos Jobim and poet Vinicius de Moraes, which pulls off the rare trick of immediately and richly evoking the early sixties while remaining, in all the important ways, simple and timeless. (It was as true when Gilberto and Jobim reunited to perform the song as it was on the record.) They wrote the song fifty years ago next month, a span of time in which it has become the second-most covered song of all time, right behind the Beatles’ “Yesterday”.
But why do the proverbial dance about the architecture when you can simply listen? “The Girl from Ipanema” — second only, of course, to “Yesterday” — offers you the pleasure of countless thousands of interpretations, personalizations, and reimaginings. Listen to enough versions, and you’ll feel as if you’ve examined the song from every possible angle, revealing its vital essence. You can hear it from Frank Sinatra, Amy Winehouse, Sammy Davis Jr. Cher, Herb Alpert, Diana Krall, Donna Summer, and even Mike Tyson. The song resonates all over the world, producing covers from Pizzicato Five in Japan, Odd-Arne Jacobsen in Norway, Acoustic Cafe in Korea, and KOMPRESSOR in Germany. And just when you think it’s been played every possible way, another artist, usually one with with their own highly distinctive trademark sound, most recently guitarist Pat Metheny — finds a way to expand the canon: