Mar 28, 2011

Jobim's "Out of Nowhere" Tunes

Antonio Carlos Jobim was the most recent major composer in the tradition that ran through Jerome Kern, Cole Porter, George Gershwin, and Jimmy Van Heusen. Jobim was a great songwriter, standing on the shoulders of other greats. He assimilated the harmonic devices of those who had come before, and building on those, created a unique and beautiful personal style. There were other key elements: a rhythmic/melodic vocabulary that incorporated Brazilian traditional styles, a classical education, and a great gift for melody. 
In this post, I’d like to talk about the harmony that underlies a certain group of his tunes, which share a template that seems to have been borrowed from the American standard “Out of Nowhere,” by Johnny Green. Here's Charlie Parker playing it.
Jobim certainly knew the Great American Songbook. Early in his career, he logged perhaps thousands of hours accompanying night club singers in Rio, at a time when American standards were popular. 
Johnny Green’s “Out of Nowhere” begins with the chords:
 || Gmaj7 | Gmaj7 | Bbm7 | Eb7 |
| Gmaj7 | Gmaj7 | Bm7 | E7 |

| Am7 | etc.
That is, two bars of the tonic chord (Gmaj7), then a II V in Ab (Bbm7 Eb7), then back to the tonic for two bars, then a III chord (Bm7) that is a pivot, serving also as the first chord in a II V (Bm7 E7) pointed at the II, then the II (Am7). Jobim seems to have borrowed this 9-bar section for at least six of his tunes. They are listed below, with links to some youtube versions:

“Look to the Sky” aka “Olha Pro Çeu”  - from Jobim's album "The Composer of Desafinado Plays" 
“Vivo Sonhando” aka “Dreamer”- Stan Getz and Joao Gilberto
“Eu Preciso de Voce” - Sylvia Telles
“Fotografia” - Barbara Casini and Phil Woods
"Triste"Elis Regina
You have to think of bars 3 and 4 of these tunes as using a “harmonic departure” of one kind or another - not necessarily the exact device Green used. If you look at the tunes this way, they all begin with very much the same 9-bar template, before continuing on in various different ways.
Most of these tunes are in 32-bar ABAB1 form (no bridge), as is “Out of Nowhere.” “Meditation” adds a bridge: ABABCAB1.
Below is the start of each of the Jobim pieces: 
Look to the Sky”:
|| Ebmaj7 | Ebmaj7 | Ebm7 | Ab7 |
| Ebmaj7 | Ebmaj7 | Gm7 | C7b9 |
| Fm7 |  etc.
Here, the “departure” in bar 3 is a I to IV in Eb dorian (see “Triste”). Note the similarity to Miles Davis/Eddie Vinson’s tune “Four”.
Vivo Sonhando”:
|| Gmaj7 | Gmaj7 | Ebmaj7/G | Ebmaj7/G |
|| Gmaj7 | Gmaj7 | B-7 | E7b9 |
| Am7 |  etc.
The key is G major, as in the Green tune. Bars 3-4 use Ebmaj7, a VI chord borrowed from the key of G minor (parallel minor to G major), with G in the bass.
| C6 | C6 | B7sus4 | B7 |
| C6 | C6 | A7 | A7 |
| Dm7 |  etc.
Here the “departure” is to a dominant chord a half step down from the tonic (see “Whispering” and “Groovin’ High”). Bars 7-8 simplify the II V approach to bar 9, using just a V of II rather than a II V approach. See the note at the bottom of this post regarding the tune "Bye Bye Blues."
Eu Preciso de Voce”:
| Cmaj7 | Cmaj7 | Ab7 Ebm7 | Ab7 |
| Cmaj7 | Cmaj7 | A7b9 Em7b5 | A7b9 |
| Dm7 |  etc.
Another simplified “Out of Nowhere” form (again, see note regarding “Bye Bye Blues”). Here bars 3 and 7 have the II chord inserted in the second half of the bar, changing the harmonic motion just a little.
| Cmaj9 | C6/9 | F7sus4 | F7 |
| Cmaj9 | Cmaj9 | Em7b5 | A7b13 |
| Dm9 |  etc.
Here the “departure’ in bars 3-4 is a blues-style IV dominant chord, with a suspended fourth moving to a third, to give some harmonic motion.

|| Bbmaj7 | Bbmaj7 | Gbmaj7 | B7 |
| Bbmaj7 | Bbmaj7 | Dm7 | G7b9 |
| Cm7 |  etc.
In this tune, the “departure” in bar 3 is a VI chord borrowed from the parallel minor (Gbmaj7 is a normal VI in Bb minor), moving in bar 4 to the next stop on the circle of 5ths (B7), which conveniently is a subV approach to the Bbmaj7 in bar 5.
In the second A section, the “departure” in bars 19-20 changes to Bbm7 Eb7, which we can analyze as a I to IV in Bb dorian - a sort of parallel minor. This is the same device used in “Look to the Sky.”

"Triste" is the most harmonically complex of these songs, as it continues. It was written later than the others, in 1967.

You can see that these 6 tunes share a template. In case you think I’m imagining the “Out of Nowhere” origin of these tunes, check out Jobim’s piano solo on “Vivo Sonhando” from the “Composer of Desafinado Plays” album, where he begins by quoting “Out of Nowhere.” 
I think it’s quite possible that Johnny Green wrote his tune (1931) around an elaboration of the chords to “Bye Bye Blues” (1925). Here’s the beginning of that one:
|| C6 | C6 | Ab7 | Ab7 |
| C6 | B7 Bb7 | A7 | A7 |
| D7 |  etc.
BTW, if you didn’t already know it, the entire “Out of Nowhere” harmonic template was also used for the theme to the original “Star Trek” TV series, by Alexander Courage (c. 1966). The Jobim tunes were all written between 1959 and 1967.
Note: These songs are sometimes played in other keys, or with chord variations. For the purposes of this post, I have used these sources - Real Book (bootleg or Hal Leonard) for “Triste,” “Look to the Sky,” and “Meditation,” and Songbook Tom Jobim (pub. Lumiar Editora, ed. Almir Chediak) for “Vivo Sonhando,” “Eu Preciso de voce” and “Fotografia.”
For a listing of all (or most) of Jobim’s compositions, see this page.

Some other Jobim tunes with borrowed chord sequences are discussed in a later post on this blog - click here.


  1. I have noticed many other of the tunes follow A part of "Take the A Train"
    eg Girl From Ipanema, So Danco Samba

  2. Thanks for the comment, ryc! There's a discussion of these and a few other Jobim tunes with borrowed chord sequences on this later post, from May 22. 2011:

    I've added a link from the first article to the other - thanks again.