The Brazilian songwriting team of composer Antonio Carlos Jobim and lyricist Newton Mendonça collaborated to produce “One Note Samba,” finishing the piece as 1959 drew to a close.
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Though the composition debuted in 1959, it did not gain traction in the musical community until its inclusion on the Grammy-winning compilation, Jazz Samba, in 1963.
Like many of Jobim and Mendonça’s compositions, “One Note Samba” was penned in Mendonça’s apartment in Brazil.
Absent from the songwriting process were the fun and games surrounding the creation of their previous composition, “Desafinado,” but Jobim and Mendonça certainly kept their sense of humor. The pair could not refrain from poking fun at Ary Barosso, who had previously criticized bossa nova music.
Barosso “vigorously defended the sanctity of the samba” and “was perhaps the only Brazilian composer from the old guard who never flirted with foreign rhythms.” Barosso pioneered the style known as “exaltation samba,” which praised Brazilian national identity and the esthetic grandeur of the country.
In the opening line of “One Note Samba,” Mendonça’s lyrics read, “Eis aqui este sambinha/ Feito numa nota só” (This is a little samba/ Composed of only one note).
The self-effacing lyrics juxtapose the grandiose style of Barosso, but rather than provoke Barosso, Jobim and Mendonça hoped to win him over. In a display of modesty, they classified “One Note Samba” as a sambinha, or little samba.
The song derives its name from the first several measures of the song, which consist of a single note played over the backdrop of a descending chord progression.
Notable covers of “One Note Samba” include recordings by Stan Getz, Frank Sinatra, and Ella Fitzgerald.
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