‘Jazz Samba,’ landmark album recorded in a D.C. church, turns 50

Courtesy of Alan Waite Advertising/TWP Archives - Charlie Byrd Trio, 1960: Charlie Byrd, Spanish guitar; Keter Betts, bass, Eddie Phyfe, drums.

From The Washington Post:

Snare. Cymbals. Kick. Piece by piece, Buddy Deppenschmidt extracted his drum kit from his Volkswagen Beetle and schlepped it into All Souls Church on the corner of 16th and Harvard streets NW. He remembers the morning of Feb. 13, 1962, as cold and clear.

“But I was so up, it could have been a cloudy day and I would have thought it was sunny,” says Deppenschmidt, 76, over the phone from his home in Ottsville, Pa. “I was just so happy we were finally doing this thing.”

(HARRY NALTCHAYAN/TWP) - From left, Buddy Deppenschmidt, Keter Betts and Charlie Byrd listening to playbacks of ‘The Guitar Artistry of Charlie Byrd.’

This thing. “Jazz Samba.” The landmark album he was about to record with his boss, guitarist Charlie Byrd, and his hero, saxophonist Stan Getz. To everyone’s surprise, the album would be a spectacular hit, introducing American ears to the sweet nothings of Brazilian bossa nova and launching a pop craze that would survive to become one of the most enduring dialects in jazz.

Released on April 20, 1962, “Jazz Samba” lingered on the charts for 70 weeks, selling half a million copies in 18 months. It remains the only jazz album to ever top the Billboard pop chart. Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley both latched onto bossa nova in its wake, while the works of Brazilian composers Antonio Carlos Jobim and Luiz Bonfa eventually joined those of George Gershwin and Irving Berlin in the American jazz repertoire. Bossa nova’s pliant melodies and hushed rhythms expanded America’s notions of global pop music moments before Motown and the Beatles roared.

(Courtesy of Verve Records) - Cover art for Charlie Byrd and Stan Getz's album ‘Jazz Samba.’

How unlikely that such a worldly, warm, intimate music was catapulted to prominence from a modest, boomy church auditorium in dead-of-winter Washington. The album’s seven tracks — which included Jobim’s iconic “Desafinado” and “One Note Samba”— were recorded in the church’s Pierce Hall, an auditorium with no built-in seating and a barely elevated stage. The acoustics weren’t as good as they were at the Morris Cafritz Center, 16 blocks down the hill inside what’s now known as the D.C. Jewish Community Center, where Byrd usually liked to record. Legend has it that heavy automobile traffic on 16th Street was too loud for that day’s session.

Emerging jazz producer Creed Taylor was brought in to oversee “Jazz Samba.” Getz flew down from New York. Bill Reichenbach helped with percussion. Byrd’s younger brother Joe (then known as Gene) played bass and rhythm guitar, and his regular rhythm section — bassist Keter Betts and Deppenschmidt — provided the music’s pulse. (Deppenschmidt is the only musician on the album who is still living. Charlie Byrd and Getz passed away in the ’90s. Joe Byrd died in a car accident in Edgewater in March.)

“I got there at 11,” Deppenschmidt says. “I was ready to hit my drums at 12.”

It was a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it session, with all but one track recorded in a single take. Deppenschmidt remembers packing up at 2 p.m. as his bandmates listened to playback. Getz hopped a plane back to New York that night, not knowing he had just recorded what would become one of the most influential jazz albums of all time.

“We had no idea this album would turn out to be so historically significant,” Deppenschmidt says.

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