João Gilberto released “Desafinado” in 1958 as part of a collection by Antonio Carlos Jobim. Lyrics for the tune were written by Newton Mendoca. 

These studio sessions proved pivotal for Jobim, establishing the Brazilian composer as the originator of bossa nova style.

“Desafinado” began as a hit in Brazil before spreading to the United States. Though the popularity of Jobim’s “The Girl from Ipanema” sometimes overshadows “Desafinado,” the latter is still widely preferred among musicians when sets call for a bossa nova hit.

Tune in to First Take with Chavis and Lando - weekdays from 6-9 am MT – for Stories of Standards to hear our favorite versions of this song all week long!

In 1961, “Desafinado” received a boost in popularity when “Dizzy” Gillespie performed the tune at the Monterey Jazz Festival as part of a “musical safari.”

“We’d like to play a number that we picked—that we stole—in Brazil,” Gillespie joked as introduction to his two-beat samba pulse interpretation.

Stan Getz subsequently contacted Gillespie for some of his samba music, ultimately producing the 1962 recording of “Desafinado.” This 4/4 version, featuring Charlie Byrd, skyrocketed up the charts, reaching number 15 on the Billboard Top 100.

“Desafinado” translates to “out of tune” in English. Though discord in the composition is limited to the standard blues flat fifth, the lyrics draw a parallel between a lack of harmony in music and discord in human relationships. Mendonca’s lyrics depict a man pursuing a beautiful, perfect woman, yet all his actions and advances are construed as out-of-key.

Listeners may notice subtle differences in the lyrics between recordings, as there are two sets of English lyrics to replace the original Portuguese. The first English lyrics were written by Joe Henderson. Gene Lee’s lyrics, though still not a direct translation, more closely mirror the original Portuguese.

Recordings by Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra contributed to the song’s mainstream popularity. Sadly, the earliest recordings of Gilberto performing “Desafinado” were removed from the marketplace following legal disputes and remain largely inaccessible.

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