Sergio Mendes and Bebel Gilberto bring back the bossa nova

Sergio Mendes.
Sergio Mendes

The first song recorded in the bossa nova style is usually credited as “Chega de Saudade.” Composed by Antonio Carlos Jobim with lyrics by Vinicius de Moraes, the title translates roughly from the Portuguese as “No More Longing.”

Melancholy is a constant characteristic in the Brazilian bossa nova, the “new wave” of jazzy, often hushed, samba-based music that became a staple sound of the international jet set in the 1960s. But there’s an abundance of buoyance in the music, too.

On Friday, two of bossa nova’s longtime ambassadors, representing multiple generations of the music — the 1960s pop hitmaker Sergio Mendes and the innovator Bebel Gilberto, a daughter of bossa nova royalty — will share the stage at the Berklee Performance Center as part of a brief tour celebrating the 60th anniversary of bossa nova. The concert is presented by the Celebrity Series of Boston. (The Berklee show is sold out, but they’ll also be performing in Concord, N.H., Saturday.)


It was 1958 when João Gilberto recorded his version of “Chega de Saudade,” announcing, in the supplest of tones, the arrival of a new style. Gilberto, sometimes called the “father of bossa nova,” went on to record “The Girl From Ipanema,” the bossa nova song that everyone recognizes instantly, with Jobim, the tenor saxophonist Stan Getz, and Gilberto’s then-wife, Astrud.

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For Mendes, Jobim was the acknowledged master of the form. He wrote or co-wrote many more of the genre’s best-known songs, including “Corcovado,” “Desafinado,” and “Agua de Beber,” and he helped bring bossa nova to the English-speaking mainstream with his work with Frank Sinatra.

“Without a doubt, for me Jobim was the most important,” says Mendes, on the phone from his home in Southern California, where he has lived for decades. “His music is so contemporary, even today. ‘Girl From Ipanema’ doesn’t sound like it was written 60 years ago.”

As the headliner, Mendes plans to perform several Jobim classics, as well as songs by Baden Powell, Gilberto Gil, João Donato, and his own mentor, Moacir Santos. He’ll also present some of the vocal-group hits — “Mas que Nada,” “The Look of Love,” a Top 10 cover of the Beatles’ “The Fool on the Hill” — from his LA-based ensemble Brasil ’66.

Since that heyday, Mendes’s brand of Brazilian pop has enjoyed periodic revivals. He has worked with admirers from Stevie Wonder (writing the Portuguese lyrics for Wonder’s bossa-flavored 1974 song “Bird of Beauty”) to Erykah Badu and the Black Eyed Peas. In the new year, Mendes will release an album and be the subject of a feature-length documentary, both titled “Sergio Mendes in the Key of Joy.”


“When you think about Brazilian music, it’s about joy,” says Mendes, 78. “It’s not about suffering. That’s what I think is so seductive to the world.”

But “saudade” — a very specific kind of longing — is endemic to the music, too. Bebel Gilberto, João’s daughter with his second wife, the singer known as Miúcha, says it was her father’s approach to the music that helped define bossa nova as much as the familiar tunes.

“The way he played guitar, the way he sang so softly, basically whispering — I think that’s the attitude that can be considered the bossa nova style,” she says.

Gilberto, who was born in 1966 — the same year Mendes’s group made its first splash — sang at Carnegie Hall at age 9, with her mother and Getz. During her three decades in the business, she has helped modernize the music. Her album “Tanto Tempo” (2000) proposed an electronic reassessment of bossa nova, and she is currently working on a new album with the producer Thomas Bartlett (St. Vincent, the National, Yoko Ono).

Gilberto says she had offers to tour around the concept of bossa nova’s 50th anniversary, “but I had zero interest.” Now, a decade later, she’s in a different place, she says — a little more mature, and a little less inclined to emphasize the distance between her own style of music and that of her parents’ generation.


As it happens, the tour will be emotional for her. Miúcha died last December at age 81, and João Gilberto died in July.

The two had been separated for years, Bebel Gilberto says, but they lived near each other in Brazil and remained close. The tour had already been planned when she lost both her parents, she says. Now “the whole thing is very different for me,” she admits.

If there’s any solace, she’ll find it inside the music itself. Bossa nova can be disconsolate, or it can be joyous. Above all, however, it is comforting.

“Absolutely,” Gilberto says. “Absolutely.”

60 Years of Bossa Nova

At Capitol Center for the Arts, Concord, N.H., Oct. 19 at 8 p.m. Tickets $39-$69, 603-225-1111,

James Sullivan can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @sullivanjames.