Jobim was born in Rio de Janeiro to an affluent, locally distinguished family. His father was a writer and diplomat with ties to many Brazilian public officials and politicians. This combination of local and global awareness fueled Jobim’s interest in Brazilian musical icons such as Pixinguinha as well as leaders in European musical composition such as Maurice Ravel and Claude Debussy. Jobim’s music reflects all of the untamed, impulsive passion of Brazilian jazz, but also the masterful purpose and narrative structures of the great classical composers of Europe.
After years of building upon his musical education, Jobim made a name for himself in Brazil as a composer for the the play Orfeu de Conceição (1956), working with his frequent writing partner – the poet and diplomat Vinicius de Moraes. The play gained widespread popularity, with notable interest in Jobim’s musical arrangements. This success led Jobim to many additional opportunities to compose for the stage and silver screen.
Jobim’s greatest international success came with the release of the album Getz/Gilberto, a collaboration between American jazz saxophonist Stan Getz and Brazilian singer João Gilberto, for which Jobim composed many of the songs. The most famous of these, “The Girl from Ipanema,” drove an international bossa nova craze and remains one of the most recorded songs of all time. The song won Jobim the Grammy Award for Record of the Year, while the album ran the table for Album of the Year.
There is no overestimating the impact Jobim has made on jazz, bossa nova, and world music. Artists such as Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Herbie Hancock, Caetano Veloso, and Gilberto Gil – to name a few – have performed Jobim’s music and expressed appreciation for his mastery of the bossa nova style. Jobim was granted the Grammy Award for Lifetime Achievement in 2012. Jobim’s home country of Brazil has also made numerous efforts to honor him and his work, even going so far as to name a major airport after him. This is testament to not only his musical influence, but also to the benefits Jobim’s work offered Brazil both socially and economically.
Jobim was able to tell a story about his country in a way that both inspired national pride and sparked outside interest. As Americans and Europeans became familiar with Brazilian music, they often became immersed in the culture and major issues affecting the Brazilian people. He was determined to rally against the poverty and corruption plaguing his people, and he shined a light on these issues by using his music to bring worldwide awareness and appreciation to Brazilian culture and the people of Brazil. Bossa nova, and Jobim’s contributions, defined the sound and sentiment of Brazil to the world.