Corcovado Christmas

by Bob Schwartz

It is mid-holiday in the northern tier of North America, caught between Christmas and the New Year.

There is no longer a calendar for Christmas music. Around the world there are radio stations that play Christmas yearlong (hear Radio Santa from Finland), and just as shopping has moved back to Halloween, Jingle Bells seems to have moved with it. Right now, it still sounds like a holiday.

It feels like a holiday too. In the Northern hemisphere, winter has begun, and depending on where you are, it may be cool, cold, or frigid.

In the Southern hemisphere, Christmas comes at the start of summer. To capture that, step away from Christmas music, and walk in the snow and listen to Astrud Gilberto singing Corcovado.

Corcovado is a mountain in Rio, the city’s most famous attraction. A 125-foot statue of Jesus sits atop it, which makes it more than appropriate for this holiday.

Brazil is also famous for Bossa Nova, one of the world’s most seductive and transfixing beats and styles. As glorious as ever, Bossa Nova is not quite as celebrated as it was in the 1960s, when it was a certifiable musical craze. Craziest of all was Astrud Gilberto singing and Stan Getz playing The Girl from Ipanema, a song about a famous beach.

The father of Bossa Nova, and the composer of both Ipanema and Corcovado, was Antonio Carlos (Tom) Jobim (1927-1994). One of the great songwriters of his era, Jobim’s songs were covered by all the great singers. Corcovado was one of those songs, known by its English title, Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars.

Astrud Gilberto was one of his greatest interpreters, though she may not have had the voice of Frank Sinatra. Her voice, more than a whisper, less than force, captures a simple warm ease that is irresistible, the very same power that Jobim put in the music, the same promise of a Brazilian vision of Christmas. The Portuguese makes it that much lovelier and warmer. What cold? What snow?

Quiet nights of quiet stars,
Quiet chords from my guitar,
Floating on the silence that surrounds us.
Quiet thoughts and quiet dreams,
Quiet walks by quiet streams,
And window looking so to Corcovado,
Oh how lovely.