Song of the Week 51: Águas de Março (Waters of March) – Tom Jobim


Olá a todos!

I’ve always loved Brazilian music, because of the mix of jazz improvisation, African and Latin rhythms and its harmonic sophistication, but I never really knew too much about it. I just knew I liked it. After today’s song of the week, you and I will know a little more about that corner of the world. We’re going to talk about one of Brazil’s most famous and fondly remembered sons, one of her greatest musicians, responsible for several of the twentieth century’s most well known melodies; one of which is this week’s Song of the Week…

Águas de Março was inspired by Rio de Janeiro’s rainiest month, March, which is usually marked by storms, heavy rains and strong winds that often cause flash flooding around the city. The music and lyrics both progress downward symbolising streams of water flowing down streets into gutters, carrying sticks, stones, bits of anything and everything.

The song doesn’t tell a story, it’s more like a collage. Almost every line starts with “É…” or “It (is)”

Composer Oscar Castro-Neves remembers that Jobim told him that writing this kind of stream of consciousness style was his version of therapy and saved him thousands in psychoanalysis down the years. Not just him I reckon. Many a soul has been soothed by his brand of harmony.

In the original Portuguese lyrics, the waters of March mark the beginning of Autumn, the end of the Brazilian Summer, so around this time in Europe, which is why I’ve picked a song with March in the title at the end of August. Here in Spain thunderstorms start to appear at this time. Back in Ireland the “waters” last all the way through Summer. 🙂

The lyrics bring to mind the passing of daily life, and the inevitable and natural progression towards death. That’s not the impression the music gives on the first listen; it sounds joyful and playful, but one of the things that makes life so precious is that it is so short, so ephemeral, so we should enjoy the ride, all the way down. I won’t make the pun of water being deep, and of us all ending up in deep water sooner or later… well, maybe I just did. Anyway…

In both versions “it” refers to a stick a stone, a sliver of glass, a scratch, a cliff, a knot in the wood, a fish, a pin, the end of the road and many other things, but the original lyric makes some specific references to Brazilian culture (festa de cumeeira, garrafa de cana) flora (peroba do campo) and folklore (Matitia Pereira), which were intentionally left out of the English version, probably to give a more universal outlook. Jobim wrote both versions of the lyric and was careful to avoid words with Latin roots. As a result, the English version ended up being longer.

The English lyric differs from the Portuguese by treating March from a European perpective, the melting of ice and the “promise of Spring” with another additional phrase, “the joy in your heart”, as the singer looks towards Summer.

The first recording of the song appeared on an EP in May 1972, which was called O Tom de Antonio Carlos Jobim e o Tal de João Bosco. The Ep was released as bonus in the periodical O Pasquim and never reissued again. This tye of vinyl record was known as “disco do bolso” (record for your pocket). At the time it was thought of as a novelty promotional item for the magazine rather than a seminal work, so there are very few existing copies of the original recording.

Here is the original handwritten score by Jobim, which was published in the magazine.

aguas_marco_original handwritten score by Tom Jobim

The second recording came on Jobim’s seventh album Jobim (1973). It was titled Matita Perê in Brazil. Have a listen…

Next up came João Gilberto who strayed away considerably from the rhythm and meter of the original. You can have a listen here…

The duet by Jobim and Elis Regina from their album Elis & Tom in 1974 is considered by many to be the definitive version. I particularly love when the piano solo comes in.

Art Garfunkel recorded it on his solo album Breakaway in 1975, keeping the same inflection, rhythm and feel of Jobim’s 1973 version. For those of us who don’t speak Portuguese…

Antônio Carlos Jobim was born in Tijuca, a middle class district of Rio de Janeiro. His father was a writer, diplomat, professor and journalist. His great granduncle was José Martins da Cruz Jobim, senator, privy councillor and physician to Emperor Dom Pedro. While studying in Europe José Martins added Jobim to his last name in homage to the village where his family came from, Santa Cruz de Jovim in Porto.

Jobim’s parents divorced when he was still an infant, and his mother moved with her children (Antônio and his sister) to Ipanema, the beachside neighbourhood the composer would later write about in his songs, including The Girl from Ipanema (Garota de Ipanema, written in 1962), that I’m sure you’ve heard before.

When his father died in 1935, his mother Nilza remarried Celso da Frota Pessoa who encouraged his stepson’s musical leanings, buying him his first piano.

With limited means at his disposal, the young Jobim earned a living by playing in nightclubs and bars and later as an arranger for a record label, before earning success as a composer.

He was greatly influenced by Pixinguinha, the legendary musician, composer and father of modern Brazilian music in the 1930s. This is probably his most famous song, Carinhoso:

He was also taught by Lúcia Branco and Hans-Joachim Koellreutter and others, and was also influenced by French impressionists Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel, Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos (“the single most significant creative figure in 20th-century Brazilian art music”) and jazz music in general.

vinicius moraes

Jobim’s first success in Brazil was the collaboration with poet and diplomat Vinícius de Moraes on the play Orfeu de Conceição in 1956. When the play was turned into a film, Black Orpheus in 1959, its producer Sacha Gordine didn’t want to use the existing music, but asked Moraes and Jobim for a new score. Moraes was in Uruguay at the time working for the Brazilian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, so he and Jobim were only able to write three songs, working over the telephone. Nonetheless they worked well together and Vinicius would go on to pen the lyrics to some of Jobim’s most popular songs.

Getz Gilberto (1963)

Another important step on Jobim’s musical journey was his collaboration with American jazz saxophonist Stan Getz, João Gilberto and his wife Astrud, which resulted in the two albums Getz/Gilberto and Getz/Gilberto volume 2. The release of the first album in 1963 created a bossa nova craze in the U.S. Getz had previously recorded Jazz Samba with Charlie Byrd in 1962, but Getz/Gilberto, which featured many of Jobim’s songs became one of the best selling jazz albums of all-time and made an international sensation out of Astrud Gilberto who sang on The Girl from Ipanea and Corcovado. At the 1965 Grammy Awards Getz/Gilberto won Album of the Year, Best Jazz Instrumental Album, Indiviual or Group and the grammy for Best Engineered Album, Non-Classical, while the song The Girl from Ipanema won the Grammy Award for Record of the Year. Have a listen to their version of The Girl from Ipanema in case you need a reminder.

So, there’s a saying that “all rivers return to the sea”. Tom Jobim is no longer with us. He died in New York in December 1994 several months after the completion of his last album Antonio Brasileiro, which was released three days after his death. His body was flown back to Brazil where he was given a private funeral in Rio de Janeiro.

In 2001, Águas de Março was named as the all-time best Brazilian song in a poll of over 200 Brazilian journalists, musicians and other artists conducted by Brazil’s leading daily paper Folha de São Paulo.

He’s considered one of the most important songwriters of the 20th Century, and many of his songs are jazz standards. Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra both made albums entirely made up of his songs and jazz greats Oscar Peterson, Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea have also tackled his repetoire. He was an innovator in harmonic structure, and some of his playful melodic twists, like the melody insisting on the major 7th of a chord became part of the jazz phrasebook because of him.

Aldous Huxley said “The secret of genius is to carry the spirit of the child into old age, which means never losing your enthusiasm.” He might as well have been talking about Mr Jobim. I’ve always thought that creativity was just about being playful and enthusiasm for me is the most important ingredient. Maybe that applies to everything. Legendary Liverpool manager Bill Shankly agreed. It was his footballing philosophy. Today would be his 100th birthday were he still alive.

“Natural enthusiasm, that’s the whole thing. It’s the greatest thing in the world. Natural enthusiasm.. You’re nothing without it.”

Bit of an aside there. 🙂

There’s a childlike joy to Jobim’s music that few others have captured. It sounds easy, but there’s sophisticated harmony going on there, but it’s still so playful. It’s so full of life it makes you want to get up and dance. How do you do the Bossa Nova again? The Germans have got this one.

Another enthusiastic soul Ella prefers to dance the Samba. Check out her version of Jobim’s So Danco Samba.That playfulness that Ella also effused is why his music lends itself so easily to jazz and improvisation.

Well, this is where we part the waters, a parting of the waves. As I finish writing the Summer is officially over. Cue thunderstorms, back to school, leaves are readying themselves on the branches, a stick, a stone, the first day of  Fall, and the riverbank talks of the waters of… I won’t shed a tear, but I could do with a glass. Life keeps on flowing. The stream of consciousness keeps on going…

So I’ll leave you with this. Here’s Tom being a big kid in 1974, trying to make a vivacious Elis laugh while they’re singing the gorgeous Águas de Março.

And the lyrics, in English e Português:

A stick, a stone, it’s the end of the road
It’s the rest of a stump, it’s a little alone
It’s a sliver of glass, it is life, it’s the sun
It is night, it is death, it’s a trap, it’s a gun

The oak when it blooms, a fox in the brush
A knot in the wood, the song of a thrush
The wood of the wind, a cliff, a fall
A scratch, a lump, it is nothing at all

It’s the wind blowing free, it’s the end of the slope
It’s a beam it’s a void, it’s a hunch, it’s a hope

And the river bank talks of the waters of March
It’s the end of the strain
The joy in your heart

The foot, the ground, the flesh and the bone
The beat of the road, a slingshot’s stone
A fish, a flash, a silvery glow
A fight, a bet the fange of a bow

The bed of the well, the end of the line
The dismay in the face, it’s a loss, it’s a find
A spear, a spike, a point, a nail
A drip, a drop, the end of the tale

A truckload of bricks in the soft morning light
The sound of a shot in the dead of the night
A mile, a must, a thrust, a bump,
It’s a girl, it’s a rhyme, it’s a cold, it’s the mumps

The plan of the house, the body in bed
And the car that got stuck, it’s the mud, it’s the mud

A float, a drift, a flight, a wing
A hawk, a quail, the promise of spring

And the river bank talks of the waters of March
It’s the promise of life, it’s the joy in your heart

A stick, a stone, it’s the end of the road
It’s the rest of a stump, it’s a little alone
A snake, a stick, it is John, it is Joe
It’s a thorn in your hand and a cut in your toe

A point, a grain, a bee, a bite
A blink, a buzzard, a sudden stroke of night
A pin, a needle, a sting a pain
A snail, a riddle, a wasp, a stain

A pass in the mountains, a horse and a mule
In the distance the shelves rode three shadows of blue

And the river talks of the waters of March
It’s the promise of life in your heart

A stick, a stone, the end of the road
The rest of a stump, a lonesome road
A sliver of glass, a life, the sun
A knife, a death, the end of the run

And the river bank talks of the waters of March
It’s the end of all strain, it’s the joy in your heart


É pau, é pedra, é o fim do caminho
É um resto de toco, é um pouco sozinho
É um caco de vidro, é a vida, é o sol
É a noite, é a morte, é o laço, é o anzol

É peroba do campo, é o nó da madeira
Caingá, candeia, é o Matita Pereira
É madeira de vento, tombo da ribanceira
É o mistério profundo, é o queira ou não queira

É o vento ventando, é o fim da ladeira

É a viga, é o vão, festa da cumueira
É a chuva chovendo, é conversa ribeira
Das águas de março, é o fim da canseira

É o pé, é o chão, é a marcha estradeira
Passarinho na mão, pedra de atiradeira
É uma ave no céu, é uma ave no chão
É um regato, é uma fonte, é um pedaço de pão

É o fundo do poço, é o fim do caminho
No rosto o desgosto, é um pouco sozinho
É um estrepe, é um prego, é uma ponta, é um ponto
É um pingo pingando, é uma conta, é um conto

É um peixe, é um gesto, é uma prata brilhando
É a luz da manhã, é o tijolo chegando
É a lenha, é o dia, é o fim da picada
É a garrafa de cana, o estilhaço na estrada

É o projeto da casa, é o corpo na cama
É o carro enguiçado, é a lama, é a lama
É um passo, é uma ponte, é um sapo, é uma rã
É um resto de mato, na luz da manhã

São as águas de março fechando o verão
É a promessa de vida no teu coração

É uma cobra, é um pau, é João, é José
É um espinho na mão, é um corte no pé

São as águas de março fechando o verão,
É a promessa de vida no teu coração

É pau, é pedra, é o fim do caminho
É um resto de toco, é um pouco sozinho
É um passo, é uma ponte, é um sapo, é uma rã
É um belo horizonte, é uma febre terçã

São as águas de março fechando o verão
É a promessa de vida no teu coração
Pau, pedra, fim, caminho
Resto, toco, pouco, sozinho
Caco, vidro, vida, sol, noite, morte, laço, anzol

São as águas de março fechando o verão
É a promessa de vida no teu coração.

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10 thoughts on “Song of the Week 51: Águas de Março (Waters of March) – Tom Jobim

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