Songwriting: Bossa Nova

The New Wave Continues

In last week’s blogpost Songwriting: Beginnings and Uptempo Songs, I talked about my beginnings as a composer leading up to the release of 510JAZZ’s debut album Bossa510.  I also related how after our album release, my son David and I took 30 new songs that we had composed, selecting 16 of them for our new album January 16.  That blogpost went on to show you the thought process that we went through in composing our four uptempo songs.

This blogpost will show you the creative journey to capture the essence of Brazil’s Bossa Nova (meaning “New Wave” in English) in our own 510JAZZ compositions.  It’s not easy following in the footsteps of Antonio Carlos Jobim and hundreds of other Bossa Nova composers.  We did our best to be true to their style, while still adding in our own unique East Bay sound into the mix.

Every one of our songs tells a different story – and each song has a different story of how they came to be.  The four songs listed below have unique styles yet all have a Bossa Nova feel:

2. He Made It All For You

As believers, we’ve experienced so much inspired beauty in nature. These environments are seen right here at home, in faraway lands and everywhere in between. We believe that all of the beauty that we see in the world around us is because of God. I wanted to capture this essence in a mid-tempo bossa, which pays homage to the pioneer of Bossa Nova music, Antonio Carlos Jobim.

So many of the Jobim performances that I have heard, were centered on that gorgeous nylon-stringed classical guitar. Tony Song captures that essence for us. While I love singing my own songs, I learned an important lesson with our Bossa510 album, in that introducing a variety of vocalists brings new beauty to our songs. Ricki Wegner was a co-worker of David’s, and she agreed to come to 4Play Studios to lay down the vocals. The results were truly inspired – exquisite lead and harmony vocal parts. Stan Muncy added the icing on the cake with his superb vibes stylings and latin percussion.

Music and lyrics: John Vargas
Featuring: Ricki Wegner (vocals), Stan Muncy (vibes)
Rhythm: Mark Rickey (keyboards), Tony Song (guitar), Charlie Channel (bass), Collette d’Almeida (drums), Stan Muncy (percussion).

Listen to the song

6. Fly Away

I’m writing this blogpost today while on family vacation in beautiful Kauai, looking out at the ocean and realizing that some of my favorite compositions were conceived while on vacation in the Hawaiian Islands. We took a family trip to Maui in 2015 and I composed “Fly Away”, with most of the text unfolding on the 5-hour flight back to the Bay Area. This song is autobiographical in that it explores the feelings that I have along the way, whenever we fly back to the Islands.

Nikki Rey sang my first Hawaii-inspired song Maui Moon on our “Bossa510” album. It seemed natural to bring Nikki Rey back into the studio for “Fly Away”. The real treat was adding the incredible ukelele stylings of Mr Mego as a counterpoint to Tony Song’s beautiful rhythm guitar.

While on a visit to London’s Heathrow airport, I captured the sound of an airliner flying overhead on landing approach.  I immediately thought of how this recording could flavor the ending of our song. I think it really makes the listener feel like they have now landed in Paradise (Maui).

Music and lyrics: John Vargas
Featuring: Nikki Rey (vocals), Mr Mego (ukelele)
Rhythm: Mark Rickey (keyboards), Tony Song (guitar), Charlie Channel (bass), Collette d’Almeida (drums), Stan Muncy (percussion)

Listen to the song

10. San Juan Island Sunset

Two years ago I took a solo holiday drive from the Bay Area where I live – all the way to Seattle, Washington. My favorite stop was the idyllic Deception Pass region of Whidbey Island. During this trip, I took the Anacortes Island Ferry across to lovely San Juan Island. Exploring this place was pure delight.

Coming back to my campsite at Deception Pass, I spent hours gazing out at The San Juan Islands across the water. I was especially entranced by the beauty of the sun setting on these islands.

I immediately set to work on a story of “what if?…”. What would it be like if that special girl came here with me and we found a little place along the coast, and we settled here? The song goes on to explore how we could spend every day enjoying the beautiful San Juan Island Sunset.

Music and lyrics: John Vargas
Featuring: Oshra Sedan (vocals), Tom Povse (flute), Gil Cohen (flugelhorn)
Strings: Matthew Szemela (violin), Mads Tolling (violin), Emily Onderdonk (viola) and Lewis Patzner (cello); Strings arranged by Stan Muncy
Rhythm: Mark Rickey (keyboards), Tony Song (guitar), Charlie Channel (bass), Collette d’Almeida (drums), Stan Muncy (percussion); Horns arranged by Tom Povse

Listen to the song

14. Lift It Up To God

God has been so good to me. So many chapters of my life were ones where certain things seemed out of control. Then I finally got it. ALL of our lives are best lived when we give God full control.

This song explores how we should open our hearts, our minds and our very lives to Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. God gives us all the gift of free will, yet not all want to hear his call.

We brought David’s childhood friend Nik-Nak to sing lead vocals on this special song. Nik-Nak has a superb voice and he told this story with soothing confidence. We thought it would be good to add some female backing vocals, and decided to ask our friend Ricki Wegner to come back into the studio to sing responses, harmonies, and chorus parts. Ricki Wegner and Nik-Nak are the perfect duet for this song.

Music and lyrics: John Vargas and David Vargas
Featuring: Nik-Nak (vocals), Rick Wegner (vocals), Tom Povse (flute)
Rhythm: Mark Rickey (keyboards), Tony Song (guitar), Charlie Channel (bass), Collette d’Almeida (drums), Stan Muncy (percussion)

Listen to the song


Next Week

We’ll bring you a behind-the-scenes look at composing songs with a contemporary jazz feelVisit our 510JAZZ Blog page next week to read our new blogpost.

Blessings to you all.

John Vargas