Monday, 8 February 2010

Built upon a single note


One Note Samba, or to give it the original Portuguese name, Samba de Uma Nota Só, is a bossa nova standard, composed by Antonio Carlos Jobim, and show-pieced on Jazz Samba by Stan Getz and Charlie Byrd in the achingly cool year of 1963.
When you listen to it, thoughts instantly fly in the direction of a Mad Men cocktail party, the awakening of adventerous young girls under the tutelage of sophisticated older men à la An Education, or, perhaps a little less glamourously, the 90s vogue for chill-out lounge compilations to soundtrack a wave of Ikea/retro 'shag-pads'.
If you try and a cappella the tune to someone, the effect is rather weird. You sound like a baby that's just learnt morse code. As the wikipedia entry describes; "The song title refers to the main melody line, which at first consists of a long series of notes of a single tone played in a bossa nova rhythm (typically D, as played in the key of G). The first eight measures consist of D, followed by four measures of G, and then four measures of D. This is followed by eight measures of a more varied melody line."
And when you learn the lyrics, this pattern and progression to the varied melody line is explained:
        Dbm7          C7           B7/4          Bb7/-5
This is just a little samba, Built upon a single note
      Dbm7               C7              B7/4               Bb7/-5
Other notes are bound to follow, But the root is still that note
         Em9            A7/+5               Dmaj7               Dm7     G7
Now this new one is the consequence, Of the one we've just been through
       Dbm7     C7     B7/4        Bb7/-5         A6/9
As I'm bound to be the unavoidable consequence of you
Dm7                            G7                                  Cmaj7
There's so many people who can talk and talk and talk and just say nothing, Or nearly nothing
Cm7                            F7                                Bbmaj7             Bdim Bb7
I have used up all the scale I know, And at the end I've come to nothing, Or nearly no- thing
     Dbm7              C7             B7/4              Bb7/-5
So I came back to my first note, As I must come back to you
       Dbm7           C7                B7/4            Bb7/-5
I will pour into that one note, All the love I feel for you
   Em9               A7/+5             Dmaj7        Dm7 G7
Anyone who wants the whole show, Re mi fa sol la si do
        C6                B7              Bbmaj7            A7
He will find himself with no show, Better play the note you know
What is so clever about this song is how the concept ties in with the sentiment. It is all about the one note, and the one girl. So simple, perhaps, but a perfect synthesis of words and music that both celebrates and teasingly mocks the limitations and repetitive quality of popular song.
In this clip of Laurindo Almeida and the Modern Jazz Quartet we get a measured instrumental version that impresses, as does this more frantic Ella version, but the nature of embellishment and interpretation, and the forsaking of the lyrics, removes that ironic quality that I like so much about it at its most pared down. For that, look to the effortless Joao Gilberto (Spotify link for the English Version, or here on Youtube in Portuguese), or Betty Carter's full-bodied 'Round Midnight version, all cicada percussion and swaying hips.

Finally, here is One Note Samba being rehearsed by the Philadelphia Clef Club of Jazz Ensemble; a lesson in how it don't mean a thing if you ain't got that swing.

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