3:32pm

Wed June 27, 2012
Mom And Dad's Record Collection

Chris Thile's First Musical Memory

Originally published on Wed June 27, 2012 8:54 pm

It's clear Chris Thile has an ear for music: The 31-year-old mandolinist, best known for his bands Nickel Creek and Punch Brothers, has been playing music his entire life. But Thile also has a sharp musical memory: He says he was only a year old when he first heard "The Girl from Ipanema," with Stan Getz on saxophone, vocals from Astrud Gilberto and guitar from Joao Gilberto.

"It's my earliest musical memory," Thile tells All Things Considered host Melissa Block. "I remember the house on Nevada Street in Oceanside, Calif., is where that was happening, and I can remember sitting on the floor in a diaper listening to this song and feeling like it was being played fairly consistently."

Thile says that there's another reason he can put such an early date on the memory.

"I know it was early, because I could understand the Portuguese that Joao sings just as well as the English that Astrud sings," he says. "It wasn't that it was all gibberish — it was that I felt like I was catching the meaning from both."

Thile says he imagined his parents as the song's vocalists.

"In my mind, it was my dad singing and then my mom," he says. "I just remember it being incredibly comforting to me."

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Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

And finally this hour, the latest in our series Mom and Dad's Record Collection. All summer long, we're talking with people about the music they heard growing up, one song introduced by a parent. And today, we hear from mandolin virtuoso Chris Thile.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

BLOCK: Thile is best known for his bands Punch Brothers and Nickel Creek. He's 31 now, and he's been playing music just about his entire life. He told us about a memory from when he was just 1 year old. He remembers listening to "The Girl from Ipanema," the bossa nova classic with Stan Getz on saxophone and Joao Gilberto on guitar. He also does the vocals with his ex-wife, Astrud Gilberto.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE GIRL FROM IPANEMA")

CHRIS THILE: It's my earliest musical memory. I remember the house on Nevada Street in Oceanside, California, is where that was happening, and I can remember sitting on the floor in a diaper listening to this song and feeling like it was being played fairly consistently.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE GIRL FROM IPANEMA")

BLOCK: No, wait. Hang on. You're remembering a musical memory from when you were 1 year old. Is that possible?

THILE: Yeah. Oh, absolutely. And I know that it was early because I could understand the Portuguese that Joao sings just as well as the English that Astrud sings. It wasn't that it was all gibberish. It was that I kind of felt like I was catching the meaning from both. And in my mind, it was my dad singing and then my mom.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE GIRL FROM IPANEMA")

ASTRUD GILBERTO: (Singing) Tall and tan and young and lovely, the girl from Ipanema goes walking. And when she passes, each one she passes goes, ah.

BLOCK: What do you think 30 years later if you can think back to being 1, what do you think you're getting from this song at such an early age?

THILE: I just remember it being incredibly comforting to me than any time anyone would put music on, I was, from all reports, I just would turn into a different person, a much - a person, you know, far more easily dealt with.

(LAUGHTER)

THILE: I was just a bundle of energy. I guess, I still am. It was like I still feel like that song. It's just a warm bath of a recording. And even the way it's recorded, it's so full and round. You know, Getz, of course, was known for what a big one sound he pulled out his saxophone.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE GIRL FROM IPANEMA")

THILE: But I do think it was formative for me just in that - and that music can express things abstractly, like it doesn't need language. And I've leaned towards that as a creator of music, a maker of music. I can remember feeling somewhat betrayed by the song's actual meaning when I, you know, when I was old enough to actually understand where I'd heard enough English to where Astrud's part had a lot more meaning than Joao's.

(LAUGHTER)

BLOCK: Of this beautiful girl walking by.

THILE: Right. And that, you know, whoever is observing her - what is it - she looks straight ahead not at he. And so the poor fellow who's singing this song is, you know, it's an unrequited love or just admiring her from afar. And to me, they were far more united. Maybe it was just that I was telling the story of my childhood to that point, you know, just my mom and dad, they were in love, and they loved me, and this song was on in the house all the time, and so maybe that's what it meant to me before I was old enough to actually understand the meaning of the song.

BLOCK: And that things are just a bit more complicated than that.

(LAUGHTER)

THILE: That's right. And that you can love people, and they won't love you back necessarily (unintelligible).

BLOCK: I'm not sure it's really love going on here but some version of love for sure.

THILE: You can lust after someone, and she won't lust after you back necessarily, right, right.

(LAUGHTER)

THILE: It was the ways after that that I started understanding that component of the song.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE GIRL FROM IPANEMA")

GILBERTO: (Singing) Ooh. But I watch her so sadly.

BLOCK: That's Chris Thile recalling "The Girl from Ipanema" for our series Mom and Dad's Record Collection, and we're still collecting your stories about one song you learned about through your parents. Write to us at npr.org and please put parents' music in the subject line. And before we said goodbye to Chris Thile, he pulled out his mandolin. Naturally, he brought it with him to the studio, and he couldn't resist trying to capture "The Girl from Ipanema" in his own style.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE GIRL FROM IPANEMA")

THILE: If there's any jazz musicians listening, they should just turn away.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE GIRL FROM IPANEMA")

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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