Antonio Carlos Jobim’s 1960 composition “Corcovado” — known in English as “Quiet Nights, Quiet Stars” — is a bossa nova classic that has been recorded by some of the most iconic figures in jazz, including João Gilberto, Cannonball Adderley, Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald and Diana Krall.
There are obvious reasons for the song’s appeal. With its hypnotic melody and gentle, sand-lapped rhythm, “Quiet Nights” captures in vivid sonic detail the longing and nostalgia at the heart of all great Brazilian music. That saudade — or profound melancholy — is a quality that made it one of the most recognizable melodies of the bossa nova craze of the 1960s. It’s no wonder, then, that “Quiet Nights” would eventually catch the ear of Miles Davis, who first recorded the song for a 1964 album of the same name with Gil Evans.
But as with almost everything Miles Davis does, there’s myth behind the music. It begins in 1962, when Davis and Evans first set out to record “Corcovado” as part of a follow-up to their classic Sketches of Spain album from 1960. Good as this intention was, the session was ill-fated from the very beginning.
The problem was one of strategy. Originally, the duo had planned to arrange “Corcovado” in a style similar to Sketches of Spain, which was full of sweeping, Spanish-influenced harmonies and rhythms. But the gentle Jobim masterpiece wasn’t built for such grand orchestration, and when the duo concluded that the recording wasn’t to their liking, they abandoned the Brazil project before its completion.
Fast forward two years. At the peak of the Brazilian invasion — initiated by the first bossa nova concert in the U.S. at Carnegie Hall in 1962 — Columbia Records was looking for a record release to ride the wave of Brazilian music coursing through the country. Digging into their vaults, they uncovered the Davis and Evans version of “Corcovado” and, after adding supplemental tracks, released the album as Quiet Nights in 1964. With Miles’ official imprimatur, the song once again received a surge of popularity.
Today, “Quiet Nights, Quiet Stars” is poised to experience yet another turn in the spotlight, courtesy of Atlanta-based vocalist Alexandra Jackson, who this year released a fascinating collection of bossa nova covers called Legacy & Alchemy. Jackson is a veteran pop and jazz vocalist who demonstrates remarkable command over her tone and timbre, and her supple yet sophisticated voice positively shines on this track. What sets this recording apart, however, is the inclusion of Miles Davis playing the melody and a solo from his original 1964 recording session with Evans. As it intertwines with Jackson’s vocals, Miles’ solo creates an incredible past-meets-present moment that simply has to be heard to be believed. Stream it below:
Miles isn’t the only musical spirit to animate this song. The track also features a vocal sample of the melody sung by its original composer, Antonio Carlos Jobim, which came courtesy of conversation between the album’s producer, Robert Hebert, and Jobim’s grandson Daniel. With the vocal track in hand, Hebert and producer-arranger Larry Williams sought out GRAMMY-winning Engineer Moogie Canazio, who was able to place Jobim singing part of a verse between two Miles Davis sections. If that wasn’t enough star power for one track, “Quiet Nights” also sports an appearance by Brazilian music legend Ivan Lins, whose warm, tender-hearted voice is the perfect complement to Jackson’s.
“Implicitly, this became a game-changer,” wrote Hebert. “We could not imagine a better ‘Alchemy’ created by the collaborations of all of these musicians.”
The song, after all the pieces came together, was billed as “Quiet Nights by Alexandra Jackson featuring Miles Davis, with Antonio Carlos Jobim and Ivan Lins.” A performance of the tune by Jackson’s ensemble at the Blue Note in Rio can be streamed below:
Jackson’s mission with Legacy & Alchemy was to help revitalize the overall Brazil classic popular music genre (Samba, Bossa Nova and MPB) while paying homage to its storied past. With “Quiet Nights,” she certainly delivers. History is made here, but this is bossa nova for the future.