This year we celebrate 50 years of bossa nova, and there is, indeed, much to rejoice, because whether one likes or dislikes this type of music, no one can deny its historically decisive role in the development of Brazilian music (especially the genre known as MPB) and its major influence upon jazz and world music at large. When we think of bossa nova, we must necessarily remember Antonio Carlos (Tom) Jobim, who died almost 14 years ago in a New York City hospital. It is high time we learned more about a priceless poetic legacy to the music and music-lovers of the world. Poet and novelist Helena Jobim's book entitled Antônio Carlos Jobim: um homem iluminado makes his personal, intellectual, and professional history come alive in a compelling story for all readers. It is, likewise, an illuminating document for researchers in the fields of music, literature, art, philosophy, and popular culture.
As if it were not for the vast, intimate, and revealing set of photographs, the engaging elegance and unique structure of the prose, the resourceful catalog of recording data, or even the enlightening description of creative processes and partnerships of a true twentieth-century's genius, one single piece of writing added to Helena Jobim's endearing biography of her brother makes it all worth it. In 1970 Tom is interviewed by one of Brazil's perhaps most intelligent and controversial journalists of all times, Carlos Lacerda (151-163).
Some of Tom's greatest anguish (but not resentment) resulted from his own image in the Brazilian press: too often distorted and misunderstood. The harshest attacks on him arguably came from prejudiced critics who, rather unfairly and unwisely, regarded his music as imitation of foreign sounds. He once declared to his family: "Lacerda's article is the only serious piece that describes who I am" (151). Of course Helena Jobim's moving and enchanting book serves to fill in some of that void. Quoting Pablo Picasso (and Tom Jobim loved quoting artists and poets, such as Carlos Drummond, Fernando Pessoa and Guimarães Rosa), the carioca maestro once explained that out of that anguish, his own "cube of darkness," he was "born again" on a daily basis (163).
Jobim's exceptional talent as a songwriter follows a tradition in Brazilian music since Chiquinha Gonzaga 150 years ago: sometimes to bridge over and sometimes to do away with the illusive divide between erudite and popular culture, including music and poetry. Toward that goal (just naturally and smoothly being driven to it, rather than pursuing it) he was certainly lucky and clever enough to chose and to be chosen to work with giants of either end, such as Radamés Gnatalli and Dolores Duran, or other outstanding bards, like Chico Buarque de Hollanda and Vinicius de Moraes, whose art has also spanned all over that open field of borderless creation.
The author of "Waters of March" actually read, questioned, and recreated the world he lived in not only through mesmerizing melody, but also through down-to-earth poetry. Helena Jobim does justice to her brother's poetic voice in many dazzling instances. It all starts on a high note of low spirits by a singular composer whose ecological concerns made him a bit gloomier every day. It is indeed too sad that he had to leave us prematurely, at the peak of his career but before writing another 500 tunes of inexplicable grace. Tom could have added one more stanza to his own verses, the one that stands as an epigraph in Um homem iluminado: "Every time a tree is cut down here on Earth, I believe it will grow again somewhere else, in another world. So, when I die, it is to this place that I want to go, where forests live in peace."