Our host had told us there was “a good record store” around the corner from the apartment in Copacabana where we were staying. He wasn’t kidding. Called Bossa Nova & Companhia, it was a bossa nova lover’s paradise, with CDs, books, old photographs and memorabilia of every sort.
Even the store’s location, at the corner of an alley called Beco das Garrafas — Bottle Alley — was a touchstone for bossa nova fans. In the 1950s, Beco das Garrafas had been home to three clubs where Jobim and the other bossa nova innovators first unveiled their sleek, sophisticated music.
Today, the alley is a sad sight: two of the former clubs are locked shut and the third is a strip club. Better to look at the black-and-white photographs of Bottle Alley hanging in Bossa Nova & Companhia.
That evening, I was the sad sight. My first stop was Triboz, a small club dedicated to my favorite music, jazz. Daniela Spielmann, a terrific Brazilian soprano and tenor saxophonist, was leading a quintet that included Cliff Korman, an American jazz pianist who lives in Rio and has dedicated his life to Brazilian music.
Before the set began, the club’s Australian owner, Mike Ryan, 65, stood up and gave a little speech.
“Triboz was started for people who want to internalize the music, and get up the next day feeling a little better in their souls,” he said. “Therefore, I ask that you not speak during the music.” Clearly, my kind of place.
I loved Spielmann’s infectious playing and I should have just stayed put. But there was so much more music to hear! Mart’nália, a well-known Brazilian singer, was at Circo Voador, and at Fundio Progresso — a huge concert space just behind Circo Voador — a popular samba band, Casuarina, was celebrating the release of its new CD.
Around 10:30, I headed to Circo Voador. I waited until midnight for Mart’nália to begin before finally giving up and going to Fundio Progresso, only to discover that Casuarina hadn’t started either. The band began its set around 12:45, and while it was fine, and fun, my heart belonged to Spielmann. I made my way back to Triboz — where she was on her last song. “It takes a while to get used to the fact that nothing starts on time here,” Korman said when he saw me. Sigh.
A steady drizzle made the beach a no-go, so instead we went to Rio’s beautiful Botanical Gardens. And what do you know? There I found a museum dedicated to “Tom” Jobim — as Brazilians call him — complete with video clips of some of his TV appearances. My wife and I sat mesmerized as we watched him sing a long-ago duet with Frank Sinatra.
That night someone told me about a concert being given by Maria Bethânia, a big Brazilian pop star. Though my wife had had her fill, I went to the concert hall, bought a ticket from someone hawking an extra, and had a classic rock concert experience.
I still wasn’t ready to let go, though. By 10 p.m. I found myself back where I began: at Semente, listening to a fabulous young samba singer, Julio Estrela, fronting a five-piece band. The quiet of Thursday was gone; Semente was packed with young musicians who were playing, listening, singing, dancing — having fun. Many had brought their instruments, anticipating a late-night jam session. I toyed with staying, but decided that would probably not be wise.
On Monday, I emailed Semente’s owner, Brufato, with a few small questions I needed answered for this article.
“Tonight, we have another special night with Brazilian instrumental music played by Zé Paulo Becker,” she replied, ignoring my mundane queries. “It will be great if you could come.”
It pained me to tell her that I couldn’t be there. I had a flight to catch.