I don’t mean to gush overly, but I love the new remastered CD version of Chralie Byrd’s classic Bossa Nova Pelos Passaros, originally recorded in 1962-63, at the very apex of the American bossa nova explosion.
There is a freshness and a subtle excitement (bossa nova is always subtle) to the record, which functions as an introduction to bossa nova’s “greatest hits,” leaning heavily on compositions by bossa demigods Joao Gilberto and Antonio Carlos Jobim. This disc was the follow up to Jazz Samba, the very first American bossa album, which Byrd had recorded with Stan Getz.
This is “mood” music in the finest sense of the word: I often have a hard time getting all the way through any full-length CD, even when I am reading or playing with the 3 year-old or otherwise preoccupied, but I put this on the other night and just blissed out – didn’t even notice when it repeated. Man, don’t tell anyone about that or I’ll never hear the end of it.
Charlie Byrd (1925-1999) was one of the most distinctive guitarists of the ’50s
through the ’90s, bringing the mellow sound of the amplified classical guitar to jazz. Classical guitar technique involves playing with the fingers as opposed to a pick – plucking chords as opposed to strumming them – and the classical guitar uses nylon strings, which have a more muted, organic sound than the steel strings used by most jazz and rock guitarists.
Born in the hills of western Virginia, Byrd started early on classical guitar, but also played jazz, Appalachian folk, blues, and pop. He jammed with the great European jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt as a soldier during WWll, then went on to study classical guitar with Andres Segovia in the early ’50s.
Byrd switched back to jazz to play with Woody Herman in the late ’50s, and led a trio in the Washinton DC area. Then great fortune struck: Dave Brubeck canceled a State Department-sponsored tour of South America in 1961, and Byrd agreed to take his place. He became enthralled with South American music in general, and Brazilian music in particular, and he and Stan Getz started the worldwide bossa nova craze with the aforementioned Jazz Samba album in 1962. The single “Desafinado” was an international smash.
Byrd then recorded some excellent Latin jazz albums, as well as straight jazz, and some rather syrupy pop albums.
In the mid ’70s he joined the Great Guitars group with Barney Kessel and Herb Ellis. Byrd was best heard live, where he combined his mastery of all of these styles in a tuneful, elegant but relaxed manner.