Born in the Tijuca neighborhood of Rio, Jobim originally was headed for a career as an architect. Yet by the time he turned 20, the lure of music was too powerful, and so he started playing piano in nightclubs and working in recording studios. He made his first record in 1954 backing singer Bill Farr as the leader of “Tom and His Band” (Tom was Jobim's lifelong nickname), and he first found fame in 1956 when he teamed up with poet Vinicius de Morales to provide part of the score for a play called Orfeo do Carnaval (later made into the famous film Black Orpheus). In 1958, the then-unknown Brazilian singer Joao Gilberto recorded some of Jobim's songs, which had the effect of launching the phenomenon known as bossa nova. Jobim's breakthrough outside Brazil occurred in 1962 when Stan Getz and Charlie Byrd scored a surprise hit with his tune “Desafinado”--and later that year, he and several other Brazilian musicians were invited to participate in a Carnegie Hall showcase. Fueled by Jobim's songs, the bossa nova became an international fad, and jazz musicians jumped on the bandwagon recording album after album of bossa novas until the trend ran out of commercial steam in the late '60s.
In 1961, the U.S. State Department sponsored a group of American jazz musicians to tour Brazil. The group included flutist Herbie Mann and guitarist Charlie Byrd. Mann, Jobim and Gilberto then collaborated on the 1962 album Herbie Mann and Joao Gilberto with Antonio Carlos Jobim, which included Jobim's "One Note Samba." Byrd also recorded an album of Brazilian music, and introduced the music he had heard on the trip to his friend saxophonist Stan Getz.
As Brazilian music began to attract worldwide attention in the wake of the film, Getz released his 1962 album Jazz Samba. It featured several of Jobim's songs, including "One Note Samba" and "Desafinado," both of which became hits in the United States.
Following the success of this release, Getz teamed with Joao Gilberto in 1963 for the album Getz/Gilberto. The album again featured Jobim on piano and a number of his compositions, including "The Girl from Ipanema," "Corcovado," and "So Dan'o Samba."
Bossa Nova, or New Beat, was the new wave in Brazilian music. Derived from samba, it had a cooler, more sophisticated sound, while still relying on the carni-valesque rhythms of its predecessor. It’s practitioners were mainly middle-class, educated Euro-Brazilian males with an appreciation of Afro-Brazilian culture. Bossa Nova songs where characterized by their softness. The lyrics were simple, poetic, heartfelt, expressing a love for beautiful women, sun and sea. While Jobim was not the originator of this new sound—he credited Joâo Gilberto with that distinction—he soon distinguished himself as its most sophisticated practitioner. He benefited immensely from his collaborations with singers and fellow songwriters such as de Moraes, Mendonca, and de Oliveira. By the time Bossa Nova hit U.S. shores, Jobim and Bossa Nova were considered one and the same.