My friend Scott recently posed an intriguing question:
The initial assumption is to say yes, due to the timeline. Although the film debuted at the Cannes Film Festival in May 1959 — where it took the Palme d’Or — it didn’t reach the States until a screening at the San Francisco International Film Festival, on November 24 that same year. General release came a month later, on December 21; it went on to win the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film on April 4, 1960.
Guaraldi likely had seen the film several times by then. “I dug the soundtrack, and I dug ‘Samba de Orpheus,’ the tune and that scene in the movie,” he said to Ralph Gleason, several years later. “I was playing ‘Samba de Orpheus’ for a long time before I ever put [the notion of an album] together.”
That means he must’ve been performing that tune (and others from the film?) since early 1960, because he “put the notion together” in the summer of ’61, when he cut a demo tape of the four primary Jobim/Bonfa selections — “Samba de Orpheus,” “Manha de Carnaval,” “O Nosso Amor” and “A Felicidade” — with bassist Monty Budwig and drummer Colin Bailey. He shopped the tape to Capitol Records and then Columbia Records, both of which turned him down; he then snagged a one-album contract from Fantasy in early autumn. The resulting album, Jazz Impressions of Black Orpheus, was recorded in November 1961 and February ’62, and released on April 18, 1962.
So … could somebody else have moved faster?
Flautist Herbie Mann certainly came close. His album Right Now, which includes a cover of "Manha de Carnaval," was recorded in March and April 1962. Alas, it wasn't released until November.
Mann aside, the most likely suspect, at that point in time, was Stan Getz. He grew infatuated with bossa nova in the early 1960s, and devoted several albums to that rapidly emerging genre. (That said, his iconic collaboration with Astrud Gilberto on “The Girl from Ipanema” wasn’t released until May 1964, although it had been recorded a year earlier.) And yes, his album Big Band Bossa Nova includes a cover of “Manha de Carnaval.” But the tracks were recorded August 27-28, 1962, and the album didn’t debut until October. Guaraldi beat him by half a year.
Next up for consideration: Quincy Jones. His album, also confusingly titled Big Band Bossa Nova — most famous these days for having introduced “Soul Bossa Nova,” now better known as Austin Powers’ theme — also includes a cover of “Manha de Carnaval.” Ah, but — once again — the tracks were recorded between June and September of 1962, and the album was released in November.
Trombonist Bob Brookmeyer's Trombone Jazz Samba includes covers of "Samba de Orfeu," "Manha de Carnaval" and "A Felicidade." Alas, the tracks were recorded in August and September 1962, and the album didn't appear until November.
(On a sidebar note, during the research for this post, I noted — with delight — that this Ramsey Lewis Trio album also includes a cover of Guaraldi’s “Whirlpool,” with which I was previously unaware. And which immediately prompted an update of this post.)
Guaraldi's colleague Bola Sete seems a logical candidate, and yes: His album Bossa Nova includes a cover of "Manha de Carnaval." But it was recorded in October 1962, and not released until February 1963.
As 1962 drew to a close, George Shearing hit the studio in December, to record the tracks for his album Shearing Bossa Nova; it also includes a cover of "Manha de Carnaval." But, again, the album wasn't released until May 1963.
December 1962 also found Luiz Bonfá in the studio, no doubt wanting to take advantage of the music craze he helped ignite. Luiz Bonfá Plays and Sings Bossa Nova — arranged by no less than Lalo Schifrin, early in his career — includes a cover of "Manha de Carnaval." The album debuted in April 1963.
“Samba de Orfeu” popped up on Bud Shank’s Brasamba!, also released in April 1963. That tune also appeared on Bill Perkins’ Bossa Nova with Strings Attached, released the following month.
By this point, you must be remembering that Guaraldi’s friend and former “boss,” Cal Tjader, had gravitated toward Latin music in the late 1950s; surely he would have gotten a jump on his one-time pianist. But no: Although Tjader’s album Soña Libré includes a cover of “Manha de Carnaval,” the tracks weren’t laid down until January 28-30, 1963; the album didn’t drop until May that year.
Paul Desmond was next; his album Take Ten includes covers of both “Samba de Orfeu” and “Theme from Black Orpheus.” The tracks was recorded in June 1963, and the album debuted in October.
Interest subsequent expanded exponentially:
• “Manha de Carnaval” is on Gerry Mulligan’s Night Lights (December 1963).
• “Manha de Carnaval” is on the Modern Jazz Quartet’s The Sheriff (April 1964).
• “Samba de Orfeu” is on Ray Anthony’s Hit Songs to Remember (May 1966).
• “Samba de Orpheus” and “Manha de Carnaval” are on Charlie Byrd’s Byrdland (January 1967).
• “Manha de Carnaval” and “Samba de Orfeu” are on Oscar Peterson’s Soul Español (March 1967).
• A lengthy Black Orpheus medley — with “Manha de Carnaval,” “A Felicidade” and “Samba De Orfeu” — is on Bola Sete at the Monterey Jazz Festival (July 1967).
And so forth. Both “Manha de Carnaval” and “Samba De Orfeu” have become jazz standards.
So, does that mean Guaraldi scored first?
Harry James and his Orchestra released an MGM single in February 1961 (!). The A-side selling point is "Jersey Bounce," and the B-side is -- drumroll, please -- "Theme from Orfeu Negro (Manha de Carnaval)." James therefore wins the lottery.
And, indeed, Guaraldi wasn't even second. Hard bop saxophonist Rocky Boyd and his quintet hit the studio in March 1961, to record their album Ease It; the six tracks include a cover of "Samba de Orfeu." The album hit stores later that same year (month not specified, but definitely 1961).
Finally, I'm still uncertain about saxophonist Wayne Shorter’s third album, Wayning Moments, which includes a cover of the Black Orpheus theme. (The digital re-release features a second take.) The original LP was recorded on November 2 and 6, 1961; it hit stores in “1962.” Despite my best efforts, I’ve not been able to discover which month. If we assume the usual three- to four-month lead time, that means the album could have dropped in February or March, which indeed would have beaten Guaraldi by just a bit.
I can’t say for certain. Shorter’s album doesn’t appear to have been mentioned in any 1961 or ’62 issue of Billboard — which is unusual — nor could I find any reviews published during its debut.
But that no longer matters. We now know that Harry James and Rocky Boyd did indeed beat Guaraldi to the punch.