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5 Ways To Play Like Antonio Carlos Jobim

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The Brazilian pianist, composer, and songwriter Antonio Carlos Jobim was one of the most influential musicians of the past century. Originally from Rio de Janeiro, Jobim found fame providing music for the 1959 film “Black Orpheus.” In 1964, he teamed up with fellow musicians Joao Gilberto and Stan Getz for the album Getz/Gilberto and sparked a worldwide obsession with bossa nova music. Here are five exercises that illustrate some of the important aspects of Jobim’s often-underrated piano work.

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1. Melodic Improvisation

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Ex. 1 is inspired by Jobim’s playing behind vocalist Astrud Gilberto on his storied song “The Girl from Ipanema,” from the 1964 album Getz/Gilberto. Notice the minimalism in the piano improvisation, where octaves paint a simple, consonant melody that outlines the chord changes. Also notice how the bass plays half-notes, adding to the almost impressionistic sonic canvas.

2. Block Chord Solos

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Jobim had a great pianistic vocabulary that he often employed during his solos. Ex. 2 demonstrates his frequent use of block chord solos. Here I’ve harmonized a simple melody with octaves on the outside and chord tones with dissonant notes in the middle. This is a loose interpretation of George Shearing’s block chord style. The important part here is to keep the octaves on the outside with the corresponding harmony on the inside. Slight variations can be seen in measures 5 and 6, where “drop 2” voicings are used. (Drop 2 simply means to take the second note from the top of a piano voicing and drop it down to the bottom note). The last two voicings return to block chord form. It’s nice to switch between these two methods during a chordal solo. These voicings should be played with both hands with whatever fingerings feel most natural to you.

3. Brazilian Clave Comping

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Ex. 3 illustrates a rhythmic comping figure in what is known as a “Brazilian clave,” which Jobim frequently used in his piano work. This rhythm is often heard on the snare drum in bossa nova music. The chord voicing here is in “drop 3” form, which takes the third note from the top of the voicing and puts it on the bottom. Remember that Brazilian music tends to be slightlyfreer and less strict than other forms of Latin music. Practice these rhythms until they feel organic and fluid.

4. Samba-Reggae

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When we reverse the rhythm from Ex. 3, we arrive at the one in Ex. 4 which is sometimes refereed to as Samba-Reggae. Note that we’ve now moved to a major tonality with our drop-3 chord. Both of these last two examples are effective comping rhythms to use on the piano. Remember to change your pattern gently as the tune progresses.

5. Partido Alto

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The rhythm in Ex. 5 is derived from another form of Brazilian music, the samba. This rhythm is known as partido alto and is closely associated with the Rio’s yearly Carnival celebration. While playing a bossa nova tune, try using this rhythm during the solos to add different rhythmic dimension to the mix.

Practice Tip

“Antonio Carlos Jobim’s piano playing is often quite minimal and gentle,” says keyboardist and composer Brian Charette. “Remember that Brazilian music tends to be slightlyfreer and less strict than other forms of Latin music.” Charette has worked with Joni Mitchell, Michael Bublé, and Rufus Wainwright. His latest album is Music for Organ Sextette, on SteepleChase Records. Find out more at