Jazz And Bossa Nova: What Is The Difference?

Tom Jobim statue in Ipanema beach, Rio de Janeiro, cradle of Bossa Nova. Wikicommons | VinnyWiki

Even if you’re not a Jazz or Bossa Nova expert, you’ve probably heard songs on both rhythms and noticed a lot of similarities between them. Although the latter is considered more of a musical style rather than a genre per se, the Bossa Nova is indeed analogous to Jazz, but a few minor details make them unique in their own grounds.

Bossa Nova is a type of Samba that borrows rhythmic elements from Jazz, with that Samba infused flavor and pacing being their main difference. So essentially, Bossa Nova is rhythmically similar to Samba but harmoniously closer to Jazz.

To give a better explanation on the differences between Jazz and Bossa Nova, it is first necessary to understand their similarities, how they both stood as musical styles on their own and how they became involved with each other, so a quick history lesson is applied here.

How Did Bossa Nova and Jazz First Met?

The Bossa Nova rhythm was born in the south zone of Rio de Janeiro in the late 50’s as a reinvention of the Samba genre. Its name could be loosely translated into something like “new swag”, which was kind of the intention at the time, to give Samba a fresh take.

In the words of Brazilian music journalist Ruy Castro, Bossa Nova can be interpreted as an “extreme simplification of Samba”, like it was stripped of everything Samba is known for with the exception of the tambourine beat. We wrote a whole article about what Brazilian instruments are played in Brazil and those from Bossa Nova and Samba are featured in that article.

At that same time period, the Jazz genre was suffering from a commercial crisis in the United States caused by the surgeance of rock’n’roll and was in desperate need of reinvention. Artists like Elvis Presley, Pat Boone and Bobby Darin were topping the charts and Jazz musicians were losing territory.

It was when singer Tony Bennett showed jazz sax player Stan Getz the Bossa Nova records he brought from his trip to Rio, that both of these genres would start to merge and influence each other in order to keep things interesting.

And How Did Jazz Influence Bossa Nova and Vice Versa?

So, the Jazz influence on Bossa Nova can be noticed especially on the harmonic changes and less conventional accords throughout songs like “Rapaz de Bem” by Johnny Alf and the famous “Chega de Saudade” by João Gilberto for example. Some music critics would also go on to break down Jazz trends Cool Jazz and BeBop as most evident American post-war influences on the sound of Bossa Nova.

Aside from that, the more gentle and mild vocal style laid out on Bossa Nova tracks, can be traced directly to Jazz artist Chet Baker, who had an major impact in the beginning of the career of aforementioned artist João Gilberto. Other established jazz musicians like Shorty Rogers, Barney Kessel and Cole Porter can also be pointed out as influences.

“Chega de Saudade” can be considered as the starting point of Bossa Nova, being released first by singer Elizeth Cardoso in 1958 and then by João Gilberto in the same year.

Famous Bossa Nova singer Tom Jobim (which is the person honored with the statue in Ipanema beach featured in the cover picture) once went on to state that although Bossa Nova was indeed tinged with modern Jazz vibes, the Brazilian style also seduced a lot of jazz artists with its syncopated rhythm and sophisticated harmonies, giving them a brand-new source to draw inspiration from.

And it indeed happened. After Stan Getz fell in love with Bossa Nova, he recorded a joint album with guitarist Charlie Bird called “Samba Jazz”, helping to shed some light on the Brazilian style overseas.  

He would later on collaborate with João Gilberto on another joint album called Getz/Gilberto released in 1964, which also featured Tom Jobim on piano, earning them a Grammy award and made Bossa Nova famous around the globe.

Getz was a key figure in showcasing Bossa Nova to the world, and that exposure helped put all eyes on the Brazilian music style. The Getz/Gilberto album would later become a worldwide hit, selling over 2 million copies in 1964 alone and spending 96 weeks on the second spot of Billboard’s highest selling album.

Oh Ok, so Bossa Nova and Samba Jazz Are The Same Thing, Right?

Not exactly. Way before Getz and Charlie released that “Samba Jazz” joint album in 1962, instrumental trios consisting of a bassist, a pianist and a drum player could already be seen popping in Rio, essentially playing samba music with a more jazzy approach.

So the main difference between Samba Jazz and Bossa Nova is that, aside from the first using less instrumentation in its compositions and the obvious absence of vocals and lyrics, Samba Jazz was more concerned in providing a Jazz take on samba songs, as Bossa Nova would channel the influence of Jazz in order to provide an original fresh sound to Samba.

I know it can be a little confusing, so maybe it’s best for you to listen for yourself in order to notice the differences. In the next videos, you’ll find both the original Garota de Ipanema sung by Tom Jobim and the Samba Jazz interpretation of the Zumbo Trio:

Tom Jobim singing Garota de Ipanema

Now listen to Zumbo Trio performing the same song:

Noticed how both artists were able to put their own spin on the song?

The Getz/Gilberto album mentioned earlier also featured a new recording of this song with Astrud Gilberto (João Gilberto’s then wife) on vocals, which became a worldwide hit, managing to reach the fifth spot on the Billboard Hot 100 and holding this position for two weeks.

So What Really Sets Bossa Nova Apart from Jazz?

As you can see, both styles managed to borrow from one another in order to reinvent themselves, but although they can be seen as symbiotic in a way, they are still unique in their own terms.

Keeping it short, the Samba background is the main difference between them. While Bossa Nova is pretty much carried and played like most Sambas are, Jazz songs have a pace of their own. Those lines would later become blurred when Bossa Nova became more and more successful, but essentially, that’s the main difference.

The carioca swag (term used to determine people or culture in Rio de Janeiro – check our article on other interesting meanings for the word carioca) can also be pointed out as a key ingredient to set them apart, giving Bossa Nova a personality of its own.

By the way, if you are interested in Brazilian music, you should read our post about what Brazilians like to listen to. We curated a Spotify playlist to go with the post, so you can know exactly what is going on in the Brazilian musical scene right now!

Related Questions

What Genre Is Garota de Ipanema?

Garota de Ipanema is a Bossa Nova song that’s been covered in many different styles and genres throughout the decades. It’s believed to be the second most covered song in history, falling slightly short right after The Beatle’s “Yesterday”.

Lyricist Normal Gimbel wrote an English version of the tune in 1963, that would be later covered by artists such as Frank Sinatra, Cher, Amy Winehouse and Madonna.

Who Wrote Garota de Ipanema?

Garota de Ipanema was composed by Tom Jobim and penned by Vinicius de Moraes in 1962, with its first commercial release featuring singer Pery Ribeiro. Tom Jobim and Vinicius de Moraes are also responsible for records such as “Chega de Saudade”, “Insensatez” and “Samba de Uma Nota Só”, amongst others.

Heloisa “Helo” Pinheiro and her daughter, Ticiane Pinheiro. Helo is the muse who inspired the worldwide famous song “Garota the Ipanema” – “Girl from Ipanema” – Flickr | https://www.flickr.com/people/savaman/


Hi, I am Ana, the creator of this blog. I am Brazilian and currently live outside of Brazil. I love traveling, eating and learning about new cultures. I hope the contents of my blog can help you with those things as well!

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