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  • “Jazz is a magical language”. The JLCO in Santiago de Chile

    Posted on March 22nd, 2015 | 0

    We arrived in Santiago de Chile last Thursday and were greeted at the airport by an elegant and beautiful lady named Veronica. She is with the Teatro Municipal de Santiago and before she could even say ‘hello’ she informed me, “Your friend Pepe is waiting for you right outside.” Now, Jose ‘Pepe’ Josiason is 83 years old and a true aficionado of Jazz, and I’m so happy to see him. After tussling to get the luggage in the car, our driver Manuel began what would be a long, congested journey into the city, and Pepe and I had the chance to catch up on family, music and the state of all things important and trivial. It was great to have the opportunity to talk but whew, that Santiago rush hour traffic!!

    Pepe and I will be attending a reception at the U.S. Embassy in roughly one hour. He’s certain that he will be the best-dressed man there, because he can still (comfortably) wear a suit made for him in 1972 by the Modern Jazz Quartet’s (MJQ) London tailor. He is a connoisseur of art in all forms. I ask about his library, which he showed to me some 25 years ago saying, “These are all books about our music.” He tells me that “The fifteen-hundred volumes have been donated to the Central Cultural Gabriela Mistral Gam” and asks if he can change into his MJQ vine in my room.

    After checking in, we realize this is a going to be a very quick turnaround. Even more tragically, there’s no chance I will have the time to counter his sharp three-piece ensemble. Our hosts, Mike and Margret Hammer are 1960’s babies and we share the commonality and communality of generation and aspiration. As we greet them and walk past a Steinway that was played by Duke Ellington (that’s what Mike said) it becomes obvious that the Embassy staff including Marianne Scott, Mary Sue Fields, Monserat Cadiz and Sandra Perroni have the joint humming. The room is populated by artists and distinguished citizens and enlivened by the whispered and shouted patter and chatter of old and new friends talking of subjects general and personal.

    The reception is further inspirited by the Chilean Youth Ambassadors; a group of about 25 poised and engaged teens. They are leaving for America tomorrow and are full of fire and fresh-faced enthusiasm to begin changing the world. There is a bandstand set up in the backyard (always a positive sign) and two groups play, first a student group and then professionals with a great trumpeter named Sebastian Jordan. The group is fiery, well arranged and seasoned.

    I meet many people who remember our portion of a 1990 “An Embrace Of Hope” Amnesty International concert to celebrate Chile’s freedom from the Pinochet regime. The crowd of about 80,000 mainly rock fans had a very unexpected positive response to our music. When we opened with a national song of meaning and significance, ‘Gracias a la Vida’, they were very responsive. But, when Wycliffe Gordon played a phrase reminiscent of a soccer song during his trombone solo, they sang this long chant in the exact right harmonies of the 12 bar blues. It has to be the first and only time in the world that a group that large has superimposed a melody that complex onto a harmonic form accurately and spontaneously.

    It remains, for me, the single thing I will never forget in my entire performing career. It speaks to the universality of the blues AS A FORM and the ability of people to hear across cultures. After that, we all swing together for the rest of our hour. Someone actually has pictures from the gig 24 years ago. Whew! Father Time and Mother Nature are of one mind about that.

    Mike makes some comments in Spanish and his delivery and demeanor creates a glow of comfort and ease. I follow suit with thanks and general comments, salutations and recognition of hospitality. It has a much deeper meaning when you are away from home and can never be taken for granted.

    The next day we have a press conference in the Hall. I’m joined on the dais by Francisca Cienfuegos, Brand Manager of Brooks Brothers Chile (corporate sponsor for the concert), Teatro Municipal’s Director, Andres Pinto and the Mayor of Santiago, Carolina Toha. Brooks Brothers (also a sponsor of Jazz at Lincoln Center) is one of our longtime partners and we love and respect them deeply. In the early years we used to joke that in the era of musicians playing Jazz well, they also dressed well. As the musicians became sloppier in dress, the music also got worse. We try to do our best to uphold the sartorial tradition. Andres provides some background and context to the concerts and everyone gives general comments on the cultural significance of our visit. I am excited about being back here after such a long time.

    There are general questions and then one about the situation in Ferguson, Missouri. It implies a deeper inquest into American racism in general. When speaking abroad, I have a policy of not critiquing my country. I may feel a certain way, but I try to remember the need for diplomacy as an ambassador both for the music and for our country. So in answering this question, I recognize racism’s connection (not Ferguson specifically but our human legacy of exploitation) to tribalism and further observe that sadly there is something in an aggressive percentage of people that loves to degrade others. It’s so fundamental and something we all noticed even as children when many of us would watch the ‘cool’ kids pick on the helpless ones. We know it’s ignorant, but for some reason seems to be enjoyable for the particular group doing the bullying, and many of us just watch or participate passively with fake enthusiasm or turn away without doing anything because we don’t want it to be us.

    Ironically, on the plane from Lima, Dan Nimmer and I were discussing the everyday slights that take place due to this ‘otherism’. While in the airport he got a firsthand glimpse. It started with a guy asking me with irrational hostility if I was in the line to get on the plane (it was a line that Dan and I were very obviously standing in). I answered ‘yes’. Clearly this reply was insufficient, because he proceeded to loudly clear his throat when we didn’t move forward fast enough (the line was not yet moving). He then prepared to get cussed out (at best).

    The lesson in ‘how to aggravate a person’ continued once we were on the plane. Our flight attendant pushed my bag (that was already under the seat) under the seat and under the seat again, until finally she accepted that it was under the seat. Clearly this didn’t suffice because in retaliation she moved my seat up (when it was already moved up) and moved it up again and finally accepted that it was already moved up.

    Observing all of these little gestures of affection, The Nim said,” Damn! Is it like that?” I said, “Nimsky, It can be.” He laughed and said, “They don’t even know. It’s embedded in their system.” But compared to the actual racism we experienced growing up in Louisiana, these are just slights that could be interpreted either way. And either way, they are irritations and not real problems, like an unjust prison sentence or it being acceptable for you to be shot by law enforcement OR YOUR FELLOW CITIZENS OR NEIGHBORS because you look the wrong way and are in the wrong place at the wrong time.

    The Teatro Municipal is a magnificent Italian-style proscenium theatre. The staff members are the very definition of hospitality. It is one of the most well managed halls that we’ve ever played. Everyone here is absolutely professional and exudes community. The audience sits back with the pride of ownership. They inhabit the space with an easy formality, and because there is no air conditioning, we can see people fanning themselves and their children. It’s a beautiful sight that reminds me of church for some reason. Anyway, heat is conducive to swinging and I love to work up a sweat playing. When a hall is too cold, it saps the feeling……to me.

    That night, we play a combination of traditional and original pieces. This is something we like to do when introducing our music and ourselves. The range, sophistication and soul of our music are all that we have, and we were offering it to our audience as honestly as we could. I felt the orchestra was playing with a lot of poise and balance, and I think our earlier experience of playing too loudly in our first concert in Mexico City’s magnificent Pallacio de Bellas Artes informed our thinking. We relaxed and let the music speak for itself. The highlight of this concert was the audience. They were the most enthusiastic we have probably ever encountered. Almost as if a continuation from that Amnesty concert 24 years ago, we were embraced with uncommon attentiveness and fell into a euphoric solidarity. We played four encores and left drenched in sweat, satisfaction and with a panorama of emotions and memories.

    Pepe, Ali and I hang out after the gig at the Jazz Corner. Here’s Ali’s impression,

    “The Jazz Corner is hip. It’s curated by the humorous and hospitable trompetista Christian Cuturrufo. His partner Alvaro is a big fan of Jazz and vino sabroso de Chile.

    As we walked through the door, we were immediately received with jubilation and warmth. Musicians were on the bandstand swinging and before long we joined in that same pursuit. Our playing was uplifted by the people’s belief in that belief, high quality intention was on the menu. It’s always an honor to share the real life bandstand connection with musicians all around the world.”

    I met Christian those 24 years ago when we were both kids. In advance of this visit he wrote an extremely complimentary article in the major newspaper about the significance of our trip. His words helped to add to the anticipation and excitement surrounding our arrival and we are very grateful. Having grown up in clubs they always feel like home. This is the same for Ali. When we hang in clubs we often reflect on our fathers (both musicians) and their internal and external struggles. I tell him the impact he and his teenage friends had on our septet in the early 90’s when we would see them in the audience at gigs in Detroit, all well dressed and eager.

    After listening and fellowshipping with the room, we have a jam with 3 trumpets playing from various positions in the room. I am standing so close to the bell of Christian’s flugelhorn I can hear every nuance of his articulation. It’s beautiful and I just watch him intently. We lock eyes following the logic of his solo. It’s as if he is talking directly to me but much deeper and impactful than any words. It’s thoughts, emotions and decisions forced-to-be-actual by the pressure of time. We laugh when he finishes in recognition of all that he has played through the chord changes and in time.

    Jazz is a magical language. We all play across the room to and with each other in the type of human public intimacy that is the province only of jazz, co-creation.
    The house is festive and responsive to musicians all around them playing and listening together. I looked up and Manuel tells me he was driving Pepe back to the hotel to get his car. I was surprised to see that Pepe had hung to 2am. I was worried about him because he walks so quickly. I’d say “look out for this or look out for that.” He got tired of hearing that and said, “Look, I’m careful when I’m walking. I’m only not careful when I’m driving.” I have to laugh. The spirit of people here is just beautiful. Manuel was supposed to go home after dropping us off at the club yet he came back to pick Ali and me up at 2:30 in the morning. It’s the little things like this that stay in your mind and heart. We left full.

    The next day Fernando and I went to get haircuts. As we got deeper into the bohemian neighborhood of the shop, I was struck by the quality of the graffiti I saw on the buildings. After a few more blocks I think this may be the best crafted, most diverse, inventive and voluminous graffiti in the world. In the barbershop, the radio was playing Resphigi’s ‘Pines of Rome’. Every symphonic brass player in the world loves that piece because we get to do our thing lyrically and loudly. Afterwards we try to find a music notation notebook. It’s a trip; Fernando says everyone gives directions by the Andes Mountains. “Turn toward the mountains, turn away from the mountains etc”.

    Today the cats have a lineup of education events. Here’s Marcus’s take:

    “Today in Santiago I taught a masterclass to 50 brass players (trumpet, trombone and french horn) and critiqued two big bands. The brass masterclass was for the Pro Jazz Association. Many of the participants were from the classical world. This masterclass was intended to show the parallels between practicing classical and jazz music. I decided to show them my routine for long tones. We discussed how long tones help create a beautiful sound, increase breath capacity, strengthen endurance and build range. We then did my daily long tone routine for the next 20 minutes.

    Next we talked about tonguing. I taught them an exercise from the Goldman trumpet method book. I showed them how they can expand this exercise by:
    A. Playing it in all 12 keys using the cycle of 4ths.
    B. Place the metronome on beats 2 and 4 to incorporate a swing feel.
    They especially liked the 2 and 4 swing concept as they are used to playing on beats 1 and 3.

    Next we talked about the importance of incorporating blues into our jazz playing. I described the blues as a style and as a form. After establishing the 12 bar form of the blues, I demonstrated how to bend notes to emulate the vocal quality that informs the style of the blues. We did a call and response exercise where I sang/played and they answered.

    A student asked how to invent ideas during improvisation. I explained the importance of what I call “innovation by imitation” OR transcribing solos from the masters. I’m presently working on an Art Farmer solo to “Falling in love with love”. I have an app called “The Amazing Slow Downer” on my phone that isolates the recording and repeats sections over and over.
    I played along with the recording and explained the importance of mimicking every nuance of Art Farmer’s brilliant solo. This establishes musical vocabulary that, through repetition, will develop interpretation from our own context just as we do when learning the meaning behind words and creating sentences with even more meaning.

    I explained how one must go outside of their comfort zone in finding their original sound. Another student said that he was having an issue finding his own voice. I explained that I was raised in the South and came from the rich tradition of gospel and soul music. I demonstrated singing “Amazing Grace” with no feeling, then sang it again with emotion. Whenever I sing or play Amazing Grace, I become emotional. I had to fight back tears during my demonstration. I shared this with my students. I explained where the tears came from. Gospel music grounds me and gives me sense of security and faith. It is the deepest part of me and sparks the most sincere emotions. I remember my mama, daddy and granddaddy singing this since I was little and the melody alone always hits a soft spot. That being said, I asked the same student to play something from his culture that personified a deep part of his soul. He played a traditional Chilean song, Gracias a la Vida.

    He played it flat like it was an exercise. I asked him what the song meant. The message of the song is “life is beautiful.”

    I then asked him to close his eyes and reflect on the beauty of the words and to sing. He was very shy and refused but somehow we convinced him to sing it. He was transformed and surprised himself with the emotional depth he discovered. I then asked him to play it with the same emotion and passion as he did when he sang. As he played, EVERYONE in the room started to hum the melody. It was special.

    The first Big Band I critiqued was also from Pro Jazz and the other band was a middle school band from the Conchali organization.

    The Pro Jazz band played Duke Ellington’s “It Don’t Mean a Thing” and had 3 talented female vocalists singing a vocalese-style melody. I challenged them to sing their harmonized parts a capella and much slower, so they could feel the swinging rhythms without the aid of the rhythm section. They did great! They stayed in tune AND were swinging. Their parts were all written so I wanted to hear them improvise. We traded improvised phrases over the form of the tune. They had never done this before but were not in the least bit shy. We spoke about how vocalists should scat like horn players and horn players should play like vocalists. I told them to listen to Louis Armstrong to learn phrasing. I asked the lead vocalist who she listened to. She said “Ella, Sarah and Cecile McLorin Salvant !!” I loved them getting Cecile in there.

    The middle school band needed a bit more shaping. They played their parts individually, without any connection to each other. This is a common problem in many young bands. I had them slow the tune down AND play softer so they could hear each other. The horns were oblivious to the rhythm section and the rhythm section didn’t play the arrangement with the horns.

    Our lead trumpet player, Ryan Kisor, always talks about the importance of listening to the ride cymbal as a reference of time. Our original drummer, Herlin Riley, would request a copy of the lead trumpet part to reference the melody. Our current drummer, Ali Jackson, requests chord changes in his part for harmonic reference. After rehearsing isolated sections repeatedly, they started to get it. We then talked about how to avoid rushing syncopated rhythms. I taught them to internally feel the rests by singing the written notes and grunting the rests so the phrase is continuous.

    The second band was much younger. The average age was 14. These kids were hungry! They played an arrangement of Duke Ellington’s “Caravan.” The young bassist was plugged into the amp. He turned it off and played acoustically for the first time. We discussed how relying on an amp hinders the process of developing a natural bass sound. The rhythm section was positioned far away from each other, so I changed their position so they could see and hear each other. They were swinging.

    At this age, students are just learning how to play their instruments so sometimes teaching them about playing with feeling is premature. But that was not the case with these kids. I had them sing their parts. We focused on the nuances our voices make, like crescendos, accents and vibrato. After 5 minutes of this, they began to sound like a different band.

    The brass had a few sections with plunger mutes. The late great Clark Terry gave me a lesson in 1989. He cut a hole in my plunger mute so I could establish a wider sound. He then explained the 5 positions of the plunger mute. Lastly, Clark taught me that the plunger mute is an extension of your voice. I proudly felt CT’s energy and passion and shared this information with these students. CT LIVES!!

    These kids were like sponges! I look forward to hearing them again. There was an audience of over 600 people watching this clinic and they were amazingly quiet and attentive. The Chilean people have been a joy to be around. They truly love our culture of Jazz music. It was a fantastic day.”

    nd for every event there is a lot of behind the scenes coordinating. We are fortunate to work with dedicated partners and staff. Marianne Scott, Public Affairs Officer for the US Embassy did us proud with her extraordinary work. Here’s her take on a significant cross cultural exchange.

    “The bus route to Santiago from the city of Chillan is straight north for five hours through valleys of vineyards with the Pacific ocean about 90 miles on your left and the Andes mountains about 90 miles on your right. On March 21, the first day of autumn, it should be cooling down but on this Saturday it was still mid-summer hot the entire trip. Public high school students of English and their teachers made the long trek from Chillan and more northern cities of Curicó, and Vina del Mar, to Santiago to participate with students from the Santiago region in the Jazz Conversation in English with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra.

    About 160 English students and teachers filled the stifling, ornate Sala Arrau of the neoclassical Teatro Municipal in Santiago for an afternoon organized by the U.S. Embassy’s Regional English Language Office to give Chilean public school students – almost always from disadvantaged backgrounds – an opportunity to practice their English and learn about jazz from Victor Goines and Greg Gisbert, backed up by Chile’s own big band “Los Big Guns de Santiago” directed by Carl Hammond. English is a mandatory high school subject in this middle-income, flute-shaped country hugging the lower Pacific-side of South America. Nevertheless, English proficiency is very low even though English is a foundation for better educational opportunities and jobs in this country that relies heavily on international trade. Only about 3% of Chileans are proficient in English.”

    The Big Guns started off this ‘Jazz Conversation in English’ with the right note – Launching Pad by Duke Ellington and from there the questions flew. Where does your inspiration come from? When and where did jazz start? How long do you practice? Why did you decide to become a musician? What does jazz say to modern society?

    When Victor asked the students how many played an instrument, very few raised their hands. One said this was the first time he had ever heard jazz live. Victor challenged them all to pick up an instrument and play. ’Music is also a language and if you learn the language you can be part of the conversation whether that is English or music’ he told them. Victor added that ‘when we are speaking English we are composing in real time.’ Greg confessed that English was usually his worst subject in school but that he loves teaching and ‘teaching is about learning together.’ He also stressed that ‘Music with purity of intention brings people together.’ Talking about John Coltrane’s Giant Steps and how it inspired him to become a jazz musician, Victor advised the students that no matter what they decide to pursue to always ‘play beyond your comfort zone.’”

    From the JALC staff side we are fortunate to have Matt Butterman from our education department out here with us. He is assisting with making the classes happen. He remembers, “There were several instances upon arriving in Santiago, Chile that someone told me of their personal experience with Wynton when he visited nearly 25 years ago. They show me pictures and recount their stories as if it happened just the day before. ‘Wynton was playing drums, then I played drums, and we traded jamming like this for 5 hours. And then we jammed again for two evenings in a row after that. It was incredible!’ It was amazing to hear how these experiences had a profound impact on their lives and how it ultimately benefited their students in the years since.”

    “The range of students we encountered this week was tremendous; middle school jazz musicians, adult musicians, college students, and even non-music students. Every student encountered a different experience and took away something unique. I most dig the lasting impact of these experiences. Which is also why I love our Youth Programs at JALC.”

    “I have no idea what these Chilean kids will be doing in 25 years, and how their experiences with us will shape in anyway a part of their lives. But I’d like to think we are helping to put them on a positive path, or at the very least making jazz a lasting part of their lives. I want, and hope, students from our Youth Programs will tell their friends and family with pride they were a member of the Middle School Jazz Academy, or the Youth Orchestra, or the Youth Workshop and the great Kenny Rampton when they were in school. And it was because of this experience…Duke Ellington is…jazz is…Jazz at Lincoln Center is…”

    “I do believe that the kids in the Conchali big band will remember their workshop with Marcus Printup for the rest of their lives. The English students in the conversation with Victor and Greg will gain an interest in jazz, and maybe seek to learn more because of that afternoon – they will remember they took a bus for 5 hours to hear Victor Goines and Greg Gisbert play jazz and tell them what jazz is, why they love it, and what it means to them. Learning English will open doors for those students and jazz helped, at least a little, in that process.”

    “It was wonderful to hear how Wynton’s visit 25 years ago deeply affected the lives of the few musicians I encountered, and I’m more inspired to think of what the 1,251 students we directly engaged with this week will share about their experience with jazz and Jazz at Lincoln Center for the next 25 years.”

    After all that incredible teaching and learning, I love what the students asked Sherman at the end of his masterclass. It is a question I was asked many times after classes for general students in schools all across America.

    “There was a saxophone sectional with about 30 students from different music programs. Although there was a translator, we all decided to talk with our saxophones. I played a low concert Bb, and gestured for them to play theirs. It was evident we needed to spend some time working on how to play the saxophone. They didn’t need help playing fast patterns and exotic scales. They needed to learn how to play the full range of the instrument with a full, personal sound, using dynamics and vibrato; all of the devices a musician needs to play MUSIC.”

    “After 45 minutes of that, they began to see how much they needed to practice on those basic skills. We spent the remaining time listening to sax sections from two of the schools. We discussed the basic problems every band has; balance, the willingness to follow the lead, and the importance of personalizing everyone’s part. One topic we spent time on is the understanding of the groove of jazz, especially how syncopation fits inside the swing groove. The entire session lasted about 105 minutes, and they left with an understanding of what they need to work on. The most interesting part of the clinic was, of course, at the very end of the session. A few of the students approached me and asked, “Señor, what is your name?”

    For our second concert we featured great compositions and arrangements from King Oliver and Jelly Roll to Eddie Durham and Duke Ellington to Gil Evans, Monk and Victor Goines. If we thought the previous night’s audience was something, tonight’s was not to be outdone. They responded with such sensitivity to so many songs, I cannot choose a favorite. When it ended, the audience treated us to 6 encores. This is the most ever in my years of playing in the big band. As the experience years ago in the stadium was indelible, so too the reception for these performances. We will never forget.

    Manuel, Pepe and I set out after the gig for the club Thelonious. As we head out Pepe says he was impressed by the size and enthusiasm of the audience. He recalls a Louis Armstrong concert in the 50’s that he emceed and a Duke concert in the late 60’s. He says he was proud of the audience’s enthusiasm for quality and that he also respected that we played MUSIC and did not go in for antics or flash. This was high praise coming from him.

    Thelonious is owned by poet Irwin Diaz. Their menus have the famous Monk Underground album cover on the front. For that alone the club deserves immortality. It is very comfortable with what looks like bleachers in a little alcove to the left of the bandstand. I’ve never seen anything like that. People are in here to listen to the music. Pepe is proud because a drink on the menu is named after him. Double espresso with Baileys I think. He says Melissa Aldana learned to play here (he knows I love her playing). The musicians are in here swinging tonight! My man, Sebastian Jordán is blowing the bell off of the trumpet and everyone is creating the heat and energy that is particular to a swinging club late at night.

    On the set breaks Thelonious shows films of the great musicians in history. Wes Montgomery was lighting the screen up which is across from the hundreds of books of poetry that line a back wall. The food, drink and happiness is flowing. Our whole trumpet section comes in and we are digging Sebastian’s playing. Gizzy takes some great chorus’ on I Got Rhythm, Kenny on “You Don’t Know What Love Is” and Marcus on “Footprints”. Ali sits in on “I Mean You” and commandeers a solo in spite of happy horn players. We must always remember to respect the rhythm section.

    We swing until late into the night and then out into the street taking photos with various musicians and cats who were looking into the club and just hanging. We reach the hotel at about 3am. I embrace Pepe and we give each other the “this may be the last time look.” He notices it and says, “Maybe I will see you in New York.” But he doesn’t believe it. I said. “I really hope to be back here soon. Y’all took care of us.”

    At the airport, we get the bags out and Manuel says, “yeah man.” I said, “let’s get this picture.” And we do.’


  • This is our first time performing in Lima, so everyone is dedicated to representing

    Posted on March 19th, 2015 | 2

    When we landed in Lima last Monday, the weather was warm and balmy. Our hosts for the next few days, Lali Madueño Medina and Nata Furgang, greeted us at the airport, displaying a level of professionalism and attention-to-detail that was so on point, we knew we were in expert hands. On our way to the hotel, we noticed that Lima is a very expansive and layered city. There is a motley assortment of apartment buildings in all shapes and colors and in various states of undress. We could see everything from the underlying brick frames of unfinished apartments to the sheen of the ultra modern. And despite the traffic and hustle-bustle of a population of over 10 million people, everyone was going about their daily business with an unusual calm. They exemplify relaxed urgency at its most refined.

    While in Lima we are being presented by Alberto Menacho. He is an architect by trade and demeanor, and his mother was a first class concert pianist. He considers growing up in the arts to be his most treasured gift. After a revolution in 1968 sent his family to England, he returned to Peru in 1994 to practice his trade and discovered a dormant scene for presenting classical virtuosos. His love of country and classical music compelled him to present music of the highest quality in Peru. Following the overwhelming success of his first few concerts, Alberto founded ‘TQ Producciones’ as a tribute to his mom, Teresa Quesada.

    What began as a hobby for national interest has become a fantastic business. I can say without hesitation that TQ Producciones is an absolute pleasure to work with. My guide for our stay, Lali, is very intelligent and deeply engaged with the culture. She is a source of all kinds of information about the history, the music and the contemporary aspirations of the nation. She also produces interactive documentaries for DOCUPERU, a local organization that gives voice to the concerns of ordinary folks. They are dedicated to improving different regions of Peru with educational, intercultural and collective development. To me, that sounds a lot like the mission of New Orleans Jazz in the early years.

    The very first night we are treated to an excellent Peruvian meal at La Huaca Pucllana Restaurant curated by our hosts. We ate ceviche, tiradito, anticucho, causa, yuquitas and other dishes that we pronounced poorly, but had absolutely no problems eating.
    The restaurant sits next to a Pre-Incan ruin and the view is spectacular, but the food will make you float home. We thoroughly enjoy the hospitality of our hosts. These types of gatherings between artists and promoters are becoming less and less frequent in our own country. And it is so vital. Not only does this fellowship build authentic relationships, it gives you the breathing room and time to learn about the culture and one another.

    Alberto tells us about the revolution in Peru. He says that very few families held all of the wealth and that the redistribution of some of it left the country much better. He spoke eloquently about the necessity of economic balance saying, “To choose to share resources is the most relevant way to protect and expand what we all have.” From there we went on to discuss everything from family to politics to college sports.

    The next day Ted, Kenny, Paul and Vincent taught classes on improvisation and critiqued a couple of bands. According to Ted:

    “I taught two master classes in Lima. At the first one, with Vince, we paired a tenor saxophonist and valve trombonist to improvise with each other on a Bb scale. The tenor player had some experience, but I think the trombonist (a very short armed, young kid) had been handed this instrument for the first time just before the workshop. It was interesting…

    One student from the workshops, an alto player, wanted to learn so badly he followed us around, rode the busses with us all day, came with us to the kids concert and asked a million questions while we warmed up. He had a nice sound. I think he will be a good player.

    The kids told me they watch every live stream (from Jazz at Lincoln Center). They recalled specific moments from concerts and what instruments we were playing on what tunes.”
    We rarely get to connect directly with people who watch our concerts online, especially outside the U.S., so we were impressed by the students knowledge of the orchestra, what we had played and who did what. Paul Nedzela, who is just beginning his journey of teaching master classes told us:

    “I haven’t done nearly as much jazz education as the other cats in the band. So sometimes I can get more nervous about that than about playing. But it’s always good to do education events with some of the other guys because it’s really interesting to hear different perspectives on the same subjects.

    I know that when Ted, Vincent, Kenny, and I heard the first school band play, we all heard a lot of the same things that needed work. What was really interesting to me was what aspects of the performance certain cats choose to talk about, and how they chose to go about improving the sound of the band with very limited time. And in that way, I sometimes end up learning as much from these education classes as the students.

    At one point, I wanted to focus on the rhythm section and try to get the bass and drums to really lock in with the swing. But that’s not so easy to communicate, especially when jazz is virtually nonexistent in the history of the culture. But Vince got to the universal aspects of the music by talking about how to make to certain notes feel, how to make them moan and ache like when you’re in pain. That was something they understood quickly, even if they couldn’t recreate it right away. I could see that it would happen.”

    While in Lima I had the RARE opportunity to sightsee. This isn’t something I traditionally have time to do – as I’m usually running to and from events, doing interviews, working to get our set list together for the upcoming night’s gig and spending hours in the car driving. So this was extra special. The town square and the market place are always interesting places to begin. Lali and I are joined by Jaime, who brings the feeling of the neighborhood and deep soul wherever he goes. Our first stop is the Plaza Mayor, which is the exact location that Pizarro founded Lima. It is also where Peru proclaimed its independence in 1821. The square is lined with the usual official and religious buildings but it also very colorful with lots of bright mustards and yellow and blues.

    Next was the Plaza San Martin, which was established in 1921 on the centennial celebration of Peruvian independence. I am told that the monument of Argentinian General José de San Martín is not to be confused with Venezuelan Simón Bolivar. Although they were both influential figures during the Latin American Wars of Independence, they had different ways of achieving that end.

    We see many things of interest from the dying Rimac River, to the 19th century Courret photo studios building, and eventually we end up in Barranco, a district made famous by the many artists, poets, and intellectuals who found inspiration there to create definitive and enduring art. We visit the Puente de los Susperos, the “Bridge of Sighs”, and view the monument to singer, poet, and cultural icon Chabuca Granda. Her music is still very present and relevant. Finally, all that we have seen and done is solidified with a meal at the local family establishment Juanito. Jaime is in the house calling our waiter/bartender ‘primo’. “Primo, can we have this. Primo what about that?” and Primo was just eating it up. I learned that ‘Primo’ is the equivalent of saying brother.

    The concert that evening was in the new and very elegant Gran Teatro Nacional. The acoustics are clean and clear and the moody lighting of the boxes from the stage leaves an indelible imprint. We acquitted ourselves on a repertoire of originals and classics that give our audience a sense of the breadth and scope of Jazz. The music has so many excellent composers and definitive styles that are fun to hear and play, that I wish we had time to present more.

    This is our first time performing in Lima, so everyone is dedicated to representing. There are many highlights and our audience is very receptive. They are generous with applause and very attentive listeners. After the show we meet a number of impressive guests and amongst them is US Ambassador Brian Nichols and his wife Jeri Kam.

    Todd Stoll, Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Vice President of Education, is also here with us. He has been coming to Peru for years, and has established a strong relationship with the school that we will perform at the next day. We love playing at a school’s general assembly. They are special and rare occasions; as they allow us to relive our own childhoods and to function in the context of community. Undoubtedly, the students have little exposure to our music (this is also true in the US) but we enjoy playing for them and always try to play as if it is our most important concert, regardless of their attentiveness. Todd Stoll is closer to the ins and outs of this concert than any of us and he says:

    “Over the past 15 years, I have travelled to Lima several times and have developed strong relationships with a number of local musicians and great educators. I was introduced to Angel Irujo, Gabriel Alegira (two great Peruvian trumpet players) and saxophonist Carolina Araoz, at a jazz conference in New York City back in 1997. They were all part of a national jazz organization and now run their own independent jazz schools. Gabriel is a professor at NYU and performs at Dizzy’s later this month with his Afro-Peruvian Jazz Sextet.

    The highlight of my trips was always a concert at Colegio Los Próceres, a K-12 public school in a section of the city called Surco. Due to socio-economic challenges, the students there don’t have many opportunities to hear live music and were always so appreciative. It shocked us. The feeling of the entire school, from the Director Maria Lourdes Marín, to the ladies working in the kitchen, was always one of overwhelming gratitude and love. When the opportunity arose for the JLCO to present an outreach concert in Lima, this had to be the place!

    As you can imagine, at at a public school with few resources and limited funding, the logistics of bringing our orchestra are prohibitive. Fortunately, The US Embassy, and our Ambassador, Brian Nichols, came on board as a sponsor for all costs associated with this performance and their team, lead by Cultural Affairs Attaché Vanessa Wagner, was amazingly efficient, professional, and went beyond what we would call supportive. In addition to risers, sound system, chairs, stands, a huge awning to mitigate the midday sun, and all the technical requirements, they had huge welcome banners made for both inside and outside the school. This inspired a number of the Próceres teachers to make their own welcome banner that was placed inside our dressing room, a converted science classroom, complete with a real skeleton! It was carefully and colorfully hand painted and included pictures of the JLCO, Wynton and various instruments and of course the school’s badge and US Embassy symbol. The school kitchen staff prepared sandwiches, drinks, fresh fruit and snacks that the band consumed with great appreciation.

    Before the JLCO played, my friend and Proceres Band Director, Walter Liza, led the school band in an arrangement of a traditional criollo waltz by Peruvian legend, Chabuca Granda, “La Flor de la Canela” (the cinnamon flower). The band sat in the JLCO set-up and played with the type of nervous energy and soulful feeling we have heard from school bands all over the world; but with an audience of more than a thousand, and the JLCO looking over their shoulders, this was akin to them playing at Rose Hall. When it came time for the trumpet solo in this piece, the smallest member of the band, 12 year old Antonio Cueto, (with our trumpet section behind him) stood and played a perfect phrase with a bravura that was well beyond his years. It was a perfect moment and the audience responded with a thunderous ovation.

    The band played a serious concert and the students loved Chris Crenshaw’s plunger playing on ‘Black and Tan Fantasy’ and Vincent Gardner’s singing on ‘Yes Sir, That’s My Baby’. Students were listening with varying levels of intensity but all enjoyed the presence of these musicians roaring through big band pieces with precision and passion – and in their schoolyard no less.

    As the JLCO left the stage, students clamoring for pictures and autographs surrounded them on both sides of the stage. For more than an hour, the band obliged as students, school officials and dignitaries said their goodbyes. Musicians shared sweaty embraces, students smiled for pictures, language barriers were removed by feelings of mutual love and respect, and the enthusiasm shown between our Peruvian friends and members of the JLCO is something we will continue to build on for the future. So much so that three of the Peruvian band directors we engaged with on this trip, have already signed up for our Band Director Academy in NYC this June.”

    I stayed and took pictures with all the students and especially my young trumpet section. Next thing I knew, we were in the airport headed to Santiago.
    This trip was one for the memory books. We are going to miss Nata and Lali and Alberto. They were great hosts. Before leaving the terminal I look back at Jaime, “Primo” I tell him. We both open our arms, smile, shrug our shoulders and then I’m off.


  • In my 35 years of touring, Jazz has never been in the crosshairs of any nation

    Posted on March 16th, 2015 | 0

    A little more than a week ago we left Mexico in high spirits. The concerts were well received and we were all pleasantly surprised by the large number of students who came out for our workshops and performances, their attentiveness and enthusiasm. We were sorry to leave, but headed off to the airport bound for our next stop on the tour – Venezuela. We flew from Mexico City to Panama City, where we planned to take our connecting flight to Caracas. Our staff back home, members of the band and their families, had all been diligently monitoring the ‘goings on’ in Venezuela for the last few weeks. Although politics and posturing are standard practices across the global landscape, art usually tends to fly high above that radar. Still, there was some concern. In my 35 years of touring, Jazz has never been in the crosshairs of any nation, not even our own, making it even more of a disappointment when we made the tough decision to cancel our trip to Venezuela and stay in Panama City.

    This was such a hard choice. The weeklong residency with El Sistema had been planned for more than a year and was something we were all looking forward to with excitement. We had scheduled more than 10 education programs and workshops, plus 2 concerts. One of the concerts featured The Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra playing “Swing Symphony”, a piece I wrote for jazz and full symphony orchestras to perform together. For me, it hurt because I have such profound respect for Maestro Abreau’s system and think it is a miracle of clarity, practicality and insight. I believe that because these young musicians possess a deep historical perspective on western music, passion, technical virtuosity AND they grew up playing dance music, making them uniquely qualified to play the orchestral music I struggle to write. I’ve waited years to hear them play it, so making the decision to postpone this visit was extremely painful.

    By now it was 2 am and we were stuck in the Panama City airport. Boss Murphy, Fernando and the whole team worked like magicians to get our bags off the plane and all of us into a hotel. By 4:30 in the morning we had rooms, but we were gig-less for the next six days. But by the end of the next day, wouldn’t you know that our extended musical family had come through for us in a big way. Danilo Perez, the musical seer from Panama, and his wife Patricia, jumped into action and set up a spate of education events and a weekend stint for our quintet at his educational foundation/school. And Ruben Blades, a man who walks around with a rainbow in his pocket, was also on the case, providing comfort for us in his native land.

    We had a band meeting on Tuesday night to determine if we would all stay or if those who had less to do should go home. The financial implications were a wash, so it was up to the band. Ted Nash spoke eloquently saying:

    “Our touring staff has done an incredible job dealing with last minute logistics. This whole experience has pulled the band together in the way that difficult situations often do. While there exists the option of sending people home for four or five days, it was the overwhelming sentiment among the band we stay together and go through this as a group, a family, and search for alternative gigs and educational opportunities – not necessarily to raise money (it will be impossible to make up the huge losses incurred) but to complete what our mission has always been: to bring soul, spirit and connection in the form of performances and teaching to places in the world that may not have had the chance to experience them delivered our way.”

    Ted’s sentiments reflected and galvanized the feeling in the room, so we moved on together.

    Victor embraced the moment saying that our response to it should come from our music itself. He said:

    “Syncopation in music is the shifting of a note or rhythm from the strong part of the beat to the weak part of the beat. In general, it is something that you least expect, like someone throwing a ball at you when you are unprepared. It can startle you and get your attention immediately. How you respond determines the outcome. You must have reflexes and instincts to respond quickly and appropriately. For us, this is a syncopated moment. The expected was for the Jazz At Lincoln Orchestra to travel to Caracas, Venezuela.
    The unexpected is that we would end up in Panama City, Panama. While we were very disappointed to not have the opportunity to work with and fellowship with our brothers and sisters in Venezuela, we were presented with the opportunity to meet more of our extended family in music and Jazz in Panama.”

    And with that, everyone got down to business.

    Now Carlos Henriquez works overtime whenever we are in the Spanish-speaking world. I know we drive him crazy with, “Carlos, Carlos what does X or Y mean?”
    Once he realized the challenge we were facing he was quick to try to seek help.
    In his words:

    “The minute we knew we were staying in Panama City for a week, I called Ruben. He said, ‘Get ahold of Mr. Jorge Sanches ASAP!’ Jorge is the VP of Promed a global Medical device supplier. He is also a longstanding Board member of the Bio Museum in Panama (Frank Gehry’s first Latin American design). Jorge immediately started booking dinner reservations for twenty at spots he and Ruben knew we would love. Wednesday night was dinner at Las Clementinas.
    The Bio Museum agreed to conduct a special tour for the entire orchestra and staff and as the week progressed, Mr. Sanchez extended more and more hospitality to the entire orchestra and refused to let us even SEE a bill. On Friday, he added a special lunch for us after an unbelievable tour of the Panama Canal. There are no words to sufficiently describe the generosity that has poured out of this man. Even this morning as we headed to the plane to Lima, Jorge wanted to make sure we were all okay.”

    By our 12 o’clock band meeting on Wednesday, Patricia, Danilo and the Foundation had organized a full 4-day schedule with activities planned day and night. It was all hands on deck. Raymond, Dan and Juan were coordinating everything and Fernando was handling our equipment in Venezuela and all the new logistics for the re-routed tour. Our education department in New York had already coordinated with Danilo’s Foundation to develop a preliminary work schedule. The orchestra used this as a template and decided how to divide up our teaching, lecturing and playing responsibilities (with an eye on not killing the rhythm section). At this meeting we also determined the program and arranging suggestions for Wayne Shorter’s approval for his upcoming visit to Rose Hall and discussed the layout of the show celebrating our brother Joe Temperley next month.

    hat afternoon we were in the front room of the Foundation surrounded by musicians, students, parents and Foundation supporters. When we walked through the door, we knew this would be special and memorable. It was deep neighborhood and had the feeling of adults involved with kids lives in a very personal way. I am reminded of my father and the faculty in the New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts faculty in 1974/75. The teachers go far above and beyond to lift the students as people to a higher place. Every faculty comment is based in “help our kids play better.”

    After watching an inspiring film on the Foundation’s work and meeting its leadership, we got down to conducting our first class on the meaning of Jazz. We played the blues and Chris and Vincent sang it. There were many questions asked about the meaning and fundamentals of Jazz. Victor answered one saying:

    “The great pianist John Lewis once told me that in his opinion in order for music to be Jazz it must contain three things: 1) the suggestion of swing (which is the coordination of rhythm), 2) the blues, and 3) syncopation (the element of surprise).”

    Paul Nedzela recalled about the day:

    “Right away you could just tell how excited the kids were, and all ages, from maybe 6 to 20. It’s always interesting to play and teach in different countries and experience how different cultures react to music in general and to Jazz, and to learning about it. These kids had a light in their eyes. They were hungry for knowledge. Even the teachers and administrators of the Foundation had such a positive feeling. They had no cynicism and were genuine and pure in their efforts to help and guide. The director of the program, Luis, has terrible arthritis that makes it difficult for him to walk and extremely painful to play, but he was still so thoroughly positive. He knows he’s making a difference in the lives of the kids, and so do they. Everything about the music brings him joy.
    When it came time to play some blues, Vince was forced to demonstrate the fine art of mumbling. Then I watched as Sherman grabbed a student’s horn and made it sing in a way that kid never knew it could. When you’re a student, there’s something different about having a master use the exact same instrument as you. It takes away any excuses you might have had about why you play and sound the way you do, and you are forced to confront the truth; and it is beautiful, terrifying, and awe inspiring. That’s what I saw in the faces of those kids

    After the general assembly, we had a joint trombone and trumpet brass class. Elliot Mason speaks for us all when he observed:

    “We didn’t have our instruments but students were eager to pass their horns to us to play. Our brass master class was revealing. It was refreshing to hear how the members of the orchestra express their knowledge of fundamentals through to expanding the jazz vocabulary. You couldn’t help but learn something from hearing everyone’s unique approach. The language barrier was squashed when we demonstrated exercises, improvised and listened to each other play.”

    Afterwards I talked about long tones and using them as a form of meditation. Here are some of the concepts covered in the class:

    1) Kenny said the great Panamanian trumpet master Victor Paz asked him, “Do you practice with the click or the light when you practice?” Kenny said “the click” and Victor replied, “Play with the light, because light is faster than the speed of sound.”

    2) Elliot said “consider the flow of air to be a wall that supports everything you play including fast things. Let those rapid notes ride on the steady unrelenting stream.”

    3) Greg talked about bending the notes down a half step without changing fingerings in order to feel the corner muscles. Then he demonstrated a slur exercise that featured slurring up and down two partials with the same fingering then three then four and so on, up to as many as you could.

    4) Marcus then said “you want to sound like a vocalist, so the bent note exercise Greg showed helps you lean on notes.” He also said ” if you struggle playing the higher notes, go down a fifth to G and work your way back up.”

    5) Vincent advised us to break down techniques to the smallest component and listen to your own sound. He said, “Let your sound be the indicator of everything that is right or wrong in your technique.”

    6) Chris asked students “where did they feel pain when getting tired, the corners or the center?” Most said the center. He then showed us a way to pivot the mouthpiece based on register to alleviate tension in the center. The exercise helps you to find your comfort zone in all partials. I had never even heard of it.

    Then we all discussed improvising on tunes with harmonic and rhythmic accuracy.

    While we were teaching, the reeds were also holding court. We could hear them swinging in the next room. Where our class was technical, theirs was about improvising and developing vocabulary. They talked about the importance of knowing the melody and the lyrics of the song and demonstrated how to build a solo based on the melody. They stressed the importance of knowing the chord changes and being able to articulate them on your instrument. It led to a frank discussion about building solos based upon the sounds of the chord changes by using notes within a particular scale to create melodies.

    Here’s Victor to give his take on it:

    “Both students and mentors demonstrated a feeling and interest in the music that was as strong as one would expect from an institution bearing the name of Danilo Perez. They opened their doors and presented us with their finest gifts and instruments figuratively and literally, because our instruments did not make it to Panama City. They listened to our presentations with the most profound levels of interest. In our reed workshop with Walter, Sherman, Ted and Paul, the students came to learn about Jazz and wanted to know how to indulge in the Feeling of Jazz. Not all of our participants were jazz performers, but the interest they demonstrated indicated that they realized that WE were celebrating the opportunity to speak to them about something great.

    We listened to two young saxophonists (maybe 10 and 12 years of age). One on alto and the other on soprano saxophone. They both performed with great confidence and style. And although their vocabulary was in its infancy, their statements had a weightiness that indicated the hand of great teaching. Our classes were inspiring and gratifying, and the experience reassured us that were are on the correct path as students and ambassadors of and for Jazz.”

    And of course we can’t forget our core, our rhythm section, who in their workshop were explaining and demonstrating how to play the functions of the drums, bass and piano. Drums- swinging. Bass- walking. Piano-outlining harmony. Ali said:

    “We then demonstrated how we can all play the melody on our instruments.
    Followed up by showing them how we can all individually stretch the time.
    As an example Dan, Carlos and I, played 2 choruses of the blues. Dan played first, 1 chorus on top the beat and 1 chorus behind the beat. Carlos and I followed suit. This was very interesting!
    It demonstrated how we all can be different rhythmically inside the consensus quarter note.”

    On Thursday morning, Sherman and Vincent taught a group of elementary school students from the Escuela Estados Unidos at the Foundation while the trumpet
    Section, along with Carlos and Juan, went to Victor Paz’ home.

    ‘Vitin’, as he is called, is 83 years old. We know he has had some health issues and were eager to see him. For me, just sitting next to Mr. Paz on gigs as a teenager was a lesson itself, but Kenny actually took lessons with him. He said:

    “Victor Paz is one of the greatest trumpet players to ever play the horn. Many consider him to be the Father of Latin Jazz lead trumpet playing. I played with him for several years in Chico O’Farrill’s band, before I got up the courage to ask him for lessons. He taught me in NY until he retired and moved back to Panama. When our flight landed in Panama from Mexico City, Wynton and I called Victor Paz, just to say hi and show him some love and respect. We knew there wouldn’t be time to see him, since we only had a short layover before our flight to Caracas. After all was said and done, we ended up getting to spend time with Victor in his home. Marcus, Greg, Carlos, Wynton and I were full of questions and Vitin patiently answered them all as recordings of his stellar playing with various groups played in the background. Periodically we would comment on the playing as he was explaining a point and he would nod as if to say, “Yes. We were playing.

    He explained his perfect embouchure saying that he thinks of the stronger upper lip as the ‘pitcher’ and the bottom lip is the ‘catcher’. They both have to work together in order to achieve balance. He spoke of his father who was his trumpet teacher and was also a furniture maker who always insisted on correct measurement in making chairs from the foundation up, and who used this skill to teach Vitin how to play with perfect rhythm by subdividing the whole note to understand all of the smaller rhythms. I could go on and on because every word out of Victor’s mouth is a profound lesson. What a blessing!”

    That afternoon, more master classes and exchange of information. What can we say about Luis Perez, Director of Education of the Foundation? This is a guy who went to school as a boy in the same building where the Foundation now stands. (It was the former Conservatorio). He was dipped in soul and honey as a baby. He worked overtime making sure we were where we should be, when we needed to be there. His attitude of openness and inquisitiveness and absolutely no ego, teaches the students how to be. His involvement in music is honest and direct. Some things I saw him do you would think only happens in movies. He stopped a young teenaged girl we drove past in the street and grilled her about why she hadn’t been in school. It was parental, familial and was obviously impactful. Conversations with faculty were full of energy and desire for improvement and for information unburdened by the politics of position or politeness. To say I loved him is an understatement.

    When I first played with Danilo in Poland over twenty years ago, we stayed up hanging and talking all night for a solid week. I said he was my brother from another mother. When I met his parents we joked about it and his mother said ‘it’s true’. Well, Luis embodies the spirit of educator, community worker, activist and counselor – all that is required to be effective in the neighborhood. He is a revelation.

    That night cats attended a dinner at the great boxer, Roberto Duran’s Restaurant called La Tasca de Duran. They said that Duran gravitated to Marcus Printup.

    Here’s what Marcus had to say:

    “I’ve always had a love for sports. There are so many values to be learned from competitive teamwork that goes far beyond a final score or championship. It’s that grind, that hunger, that camaraderie that can influence you for other areas of your life after your competitive days are over. After the postponement of our trip to Caracas, there have been many parallels to sports and teamwork in Panama. Going to the original “Hands of Stone” fighter, Roberto Duran’s restaurant activated my thinking about sports and music. The food was excellent. We all sat around and watched his greatest fights on the wide screen. “Ooos” and “ahhs” resonated as if though we were at the actual fights! All of a sudden we heard applause up front. Roberto Duran himself walked into the restaurant! He came over to our section and graciously took pics with EVERYBODY! He looks like he can still knock somebody out!

    He kept talking to me in Spanish with Carlos graciously translating. It was inspirational. After leaving organized sports in high school, I never thought I’d feel that feeling of TEAM again. Throughout all the tribulations this past week, I realize that I’ve been on an incredible team since 1993. This band. This organization. We support each other fully and this week has truly brought us closer.”

    As a nightcap there was a salsa concert in our hotel and Carlos and Greg sat in with the band. Carlos sent an email at 1:34 am saying “Gisbert!! Is playing a pile of trumpet!!!!”

    Friday morning we held more classes and developed on what had been established the last two days. As always, the students and teachers were as open, attentive and gracious as could be. Ali did an incredible master class that afternoon. He recounts:
    In the drum master class I demonstrated the relationship between the West African 6/8 and 4/4 Western European (march) rhythm. I was asked many times by the students how I’m able to change the feeling of the rhythm in so many ways. I told them that this all comes from study and the “real life” experience of playing and interacting with great wise musicians.
    Great percussionists like the late Yacub Addy (Ghana), Anga Diaz (Cuba), Giovanni Hildago (Cuba), Jamie Haddad (US), Ballu Khan, Rafiq Ahmed, Najaf Ali ( Pakistan) Bobby Allende and Marc Quiñones (PR/ Bronx) have all contributed to my experience in the ubiquity of the world rhythm. This is a knowledge that is living and often not found in a book.

    We journeyed through many rhythms. I played a quarter note at 120BPM and we traveled through a variety of feels, interpretations and grooves: Shuffle, Charleston, 2nd line, bolero, change, Guaguancó, son, canzone, bolero, march 6/8-2/4, bulerias. We ended with a native groove from Panama “Tamborito” which is in 3 and 2.”

    Later that evening, the quintet (Walter, Carlos, Ali, Dan and I) played a benefit concert for the Foundation and some of the cats dropped by to sit in. We covered a wide range of standards and originals and the rhythm section let us know who they were. It was like turning a racecar loose on the open road. They were starving to swing!

    Throughout this week cats had been teaching and establishing personal connections outside of our official activities. Greg Gisbert said:

    “I have had the opportunity to work individually with students and working professional musicians. I had fun sitting in with a fantastic salsa band. While taking a nighttime walk in the ‘old city’, I discovered a wide variety of live music, including a few cafes where some of the Foundation students were playing GIGS!! This is the best thing for their development and I was encouraged to see it and supportive of them.”

    Saturday morning we conducted an outdoor education event for the community sponsored by the U.S. Embassy and the Foundation. It was held across the street from the Foundation in an open square-type area and under a big tent. There were families, kids, students of the foundation and just “regular” people from the neighborhood who attended. We drew electricity for an electric piano and a couple of microphones from someone’s apartment and played in big band formation with borrowed instruments and no music. The lesson was improvisation, swing and the blues form. We ended by playing “Oh! When the Saints”. It was truly an open neighborhood event and with its easy informality and lack of fanfare, it reminded a lot of us of the public jazz educational events that we had participated in growing up. We loved it. The orchestra was trying to swing like we were in Rose Hall.

    Afterwards, we ate an eloquent lunch at the Foundation featuring some shrimp stew that we tried to clone.

    By Saturday evening, we were all tired, but the rhythm section was in the club handling their business with intensity and unflagging interest. This night was attended by almost the entire band – when they definitely didn’t have to come. That level of participation was heartwarming. And cats played AND didn’t abuse the rhythm section and were rewarded with some deep, deep swing! The room was peppered with students, teachers and board members – a constellation of participants from all over. It was, in the word of Carlos, “Jaayuzz.”

    At 1am, as I sat in an upstairs library repurposed as a dressing room for this occasion, a young lady named Nicole was cleaning up the room and fretting over my general comfort while transforming the impromptu Green Room back to a library. I pulled down two volumes of Herodotus to read about heroism and karmic punishment across generations for dumb deeds done. I have to laugh at the timeless consistency of human behavior, especially when we’re being stupid. And on the other side of the field I think about how great we are when we are working with and for each other. Drenched in sweat, the experiences of the week had a chance to wash over me and settle. I reflect on Danilo and Patricia and Ruben and Jorge and the morning’s outdoor community education event, the meetings with the faculty and the students, the hard relentless swinging of our rhythm section through Friday and Saturday’s gig and the warm gracious way we were all embraced and embraced again, it was filling. Everyone had gone out of their way to welcome us with the best they had to offer.

    Danilo’s parents, who had come to the gig on Saturday, also came backstage. I didn’t know whether to hug and kiss them, or genuflect. It was like greeting royalty. I can see where he gets all of his positivity, optimism and sheer magic.

    On Sunday afternoon we were treated to a brunch reception arranged by Ambassador Jonathan Farrar and his vivacious wife Terry. They attended the gig on Friday night and had done as much as they could to help us on this impromptu journey, from accommodations to performance – they were in our corner. This included helping to organize the Saturday outdoor class for the Foundation’s neighborhood, for which we must also thank Kevin O’Reilly for his efforts on our behalf and also Kristin Stewart and Andrea Corey from the Embassy.

    As luck and fate would have it, Jonathan Farrar was the U.S. Ambassador to Cuba when we visited in 2010. Back then we enjoyed a fantastic reception in their home and this time was no different. It was amazing fellowship, filled with musicians, artists and culturally active, engaging citizens.

    There was an explosion of interesting conversations all over the rooms and a delicious lunch featuring perfect paella and all kinds of delicacies. Like gumbo, paella is easy to abuse in the name of cooking, so I always sample with caution. This one had people standing around with plate in-hand, pretending like they didn’t want to take the large shrimp bulging out all over it. (But did anyway, after glancing around, as if forced. We all saw you! All of you). The pièce de résistance was butter cookies baked by Terry in the shape of New Orleans fleur-de-lis with gold, purple and green icings. He-he. I have to admit we ate some before lunch was served and those cursed cookies made me sneak a couple more.

    Walter shared his thoughts on the reception:

    “Terry was a wonderful host. She seemed to be everywhere at once taking care of us all. She told me that her experiences in diplomacy have taught her that one can never assume anything about a person simply based on their social position or the nature of their job. We somehow stumbled into this conversation after she confessed to baking the delicious cookies people couldn’t keep out of their mouths. Just because her life revolved around diplomacy, didn’t mean that she was not also a very warm, loving woman who could also bake cookies like a pastry chef.

    She’s right about perception versus reality. At first glance, the students of the Danilo Perez Foundation seemed to be comprised of children from the surrounding neighborhood who were just beginning to learn about music in general. After the first afternoon spent with them, they revealed themselves to be an interesting mix of peoples from all over the city with a wide variety of backgrounds: lawyers, physicians, professionals, and amateurs of all ages and levels of musical ability.
    The Ambassadors, the Foundation and the folks at Roberto Duran’s restaurant all seemed to understand the value of how music appreciation and expression through the arts is an integral part of our being able to understand each another’s cultural differences and bridge those obstacles with the things we all have in common.”

    Later that day, Victor and I embarked on the two-mile trek to the fish market. We crossed a maze of highway to arrive at an avenue on the Pacific lined with young lovers on the walls, runners in various states of shape and desperation, young men playing basketball (or what was passing for basketball), soccer, men and women playing volleyball, kids dancing and whizzing around with glow in the dark gizmos of all shapes and functions, people selling home cooked goods, popcorn, young people in small dojo-type groups break dancing to rap and competing with other types of callisthenic dances to other types of backbeat electronic music.
    Yes, it was Sunday and the living Carnival of people being themselves was peaceful, round and universal in its ceremonial routineness. As dusk surrendered to darkness, we came to the market and the many restaurants that form an outdoor food court. It was a symphony of conversation and camaraderie. It was the point counterpoint of our internal and social lives as expressed in an end-of-weekend ritual that stretched back to town and village squares immemorial. Tomorrow would be Monday and everyone was squeezing the last juice out of this weekend. The weather was perfect, the wind was ocean swept and no one was rushing, they were savoring without being philosophical. It was…necessary.

    On the cab to the airport, some light rock music is playing in the cab: “You don’t know what it’s like, to love somebody, to love somebody, the way I love you.” Each time more earnest, fervent and with feeling. We will reflect on this week for some time. Juan Montoya from our Education department who is on the road with us for the first time summarized it best:

    “It was great to see how the orchestra and staff adjusted to this week in Panama. Although everything was arranged at the very last minute, we still generated an amazing output on every activity done. The support we received from everyone involved in classes, concerts and other activities couldn’t possibly be better!

    The sense of community was amazing and we all saw how everybody attending the concert helped to set up and tear down the stage and chairs before and after the show. It was teamwork at its most selfless best.

    “I have only positive and good things to say from this experience. That this visit was not planned beforehand made the experience even more valuable and insightful.”

    We’ll give Kenny Rampton the last word on this stretch of our adventure:

    “A lot of seeds were planted in Panama City last week. We met with hundreds of student, teachers, diplomats and local musicians. It’s going to be very interesting to see what those seeds will blossom into over the next few years. I think that this week’s response to unexpected circumstance is going to fertilize an amazing season of growth for both our organization and the community in Panama.
    I love my job!”


  • Kenny Rampton and I called the legendary trumpeter Victor Vitin Paz

    Posted on March 14th, 2015 | 0

    As soon as our plane landed in Panama City last Monday night, Kenny Rampton and I called the legendary trumpeter Victor Vitin Paz. He is 83 and currently living in Panama.

    “We have a two hour layover before our flight to Caracas. How far do you live from the airport?” we asked him.
    “Una hora” was the response.
    Damn! Not enough time for a visit.

    Kenny had taken lessons with him years ago and I had played shows and done some recording sessions with him when I was like 18 or 19. Just being in his presence is a lesson. His tone is golden, attack pristine, accuracy and consistency definitive, and his ethics and integrity unsurpassed.
    When the decision was made to stay in Panama City, we set up an opportunity for the trumpet section, along with Carlos and Juan, to visit Vitin at his home. When we arrive he is sitting in his music room listening to some of his fantastic recordings with Eddie Palmieri and other luminaries of Afro-Latin music. Kenny, Greg, Marcus and I immediately begin peppering him with questions. He takes us deeper and deeper into his unending stream of technical details, informative stories and humorous anecdotes, and regales us with memories of people, places and gigs that stretch across genres, nations and decades of time.

    We concentrate deeply and attentively on his every word until we are interrupted by an encroaching, yet fantastic trumpet solo coming from one of the recordings. We stop to hear his solo on a Tito Rodriguez recording from 1964 entitled “Carnival of the Americas”. It featured a lot of heavy hitters: Cachao on bass, Bobby Porcelli on alto, Ray Santos on tenor and the great Mario Rivera on baritone. On one song, Tito introduces each person in the orchestra with a little story before their solo in demonstration of the salutation. Believe me, when it came time for Victor to take his turn he was not playing around.

    He goes on to tell us another story about his father who was a musician and a furniture maker. We are fortunate to have Carlos as our translator and historian. He gives Mr. Paz his credentials in the form of who he grew up playing with, listening to and hanging with. Upon hearing this, Vitin is even happier to see us. We talk about everything from the embouchure (his is perfect) to how to write hot arrangements. He tells us that “you have to be clear and spare with the rhythm for something to get hot. Too many rhythms clutter the groove.” He tells us, “It’s like a guy comes into a Chinese restaurant and orders 8 dishes because he doesn’t know what anything is. The waiter looks at his order and says, ‘He’s craaazy!’ And he is.”

    The time passes very quickly filled with laughter and much “Oh….we see, Ahhh!! So that’s what that was” and on and on.
    Two hours later, his daughter Elia tells us it’s time to eat. His radiant wife of 62 years, Elia Barahona de Paz, has laid out a beautiful spread for us and his son Lito joins us for the meal. They welcome us with the hospitality of kin. Carlos kneels next to Vitin and fills him in on all the different musicians on the New York Afro-Latin Jazz scene. This one has passed away and this one has moved and this one is sick and so on—-the real time grapevine. As we leave (with a good meal and a deeper education) to go teach classes at Danilo Perez’ Foundation, we recall one of our favorite stories. Vitin said his father told him, “If you are observant you will observe. Even if a musician is very bad you will still hear something you like if you know how to hear. Listen carefully to everybody because even the liars also sometimes tell the truth.”

    Vitin’s son Lito was saying that he had recently retired and moved down to Panama to take care of his mom and dad. He was running down the weekly schedule and commenting on how much planning and attention it took to make sure his pop was well taken care of. One thing he said really stuck with me: that his father goes out every week to take harmony lessons.
    Vitin Paz, one of the great maestros, at 83, is still studying. He is still out here.


  • I always like to play very contemporary concepts of swing right next to New Orleans music

    Posted on March 8th, 2015 | 0

    This afternoon was much better than last night. 5pm on a Sunday is a good time for a concert.

    The sound was much better and softer than the night before. We started with King Oliver’s ‘Snake Rag’ and went on to ‘Smokehouse Blues’ as played by Jelly Roll Morton, then right into a very obtuse ‘Cherokee’ with all kinds of polyrhythms and extended harmony. I always like to play very contemporary concepts of swing right next to New Orleans music because it highlights continuum. We bring the ancestors with us. “Cherokee’ was also the song I played with Lew Soloff when he brought me up on stage for my first time in New York City at the Conference for Brass Scholarships in 1979 or 80.

    Tonight we were more prepared to deal with the challenges of playing rented horns and the unmarked music. And the much improved and more civil volume allowed us to relax into swinging. Christi was once again a lifesaver, working right up to the first minute of the concert so that the music would be properly laid out. She is universally loved. As usual there were many highlights on the bandstand: the saxes swooping and sweeping on Benny Carter’s arrangement of ‘All of Me’, my messing up Sherman’s great brass plunger mute tutti on ‘Yes sir, That’s my Baby’ (but Carlos redeeming me with a great bass solo), Greg Gisbert’s lyrical solo on Vic’s ‘A Dance at the Mardi Gras Ball’ and Ali Jackson’s overall dedication to the swing.

    At the end of the set Carlos spoke some words about Lew and what he meant to the world of music. He introduced the New Orleans function and we played a funeral march and second line like in the Crescent City. ‘Just a Closer Walk with Thee’ with the trumpet section walking slowly and making it moan and creak. The same as we played for CT last week. Damn! Marcus, Kenny and Greg had tears streaming down their face, but I am still in too much shock to cry. When Chris started singing, he brought the Spirit down into the Palacio and I could see people in the audience getting full.

    Just a closer walk with Thee,
    Grant it, Jesus, is my plea,
    Daily walking close to Thee,
    Let it be, dear Lord, let it be.

    When he reached down and up for that second chorus, we couldn’t help but urge him on higher and lower into it with some “Amens”. Then:

    Didn’t he ramble…. he rambled
    Rambled all around…. in and out of town
    Didn’t he ramble….didn’t he ramble
    He rambled till the butcher cut him down

    The second line beat got everyone clapping and happy. The Mexican people with their Dia de Los Muertos understand exactly what we are talking about and could teach us more than a thing or two about it.
    Suddenly we are finished. The audience has been extremely receptive and generous. We played two encores. The trumpet section played a blues for Lew on which Gizzy switched mouthpieces (because that was Lew’s thing) and Marcus and Kenny let their mutes fall out of their horns (because he could never seem to keep his mutes in). Then I played ‘Embraceable You’ because Lew always asked me to play that song.

    After the gig Rob said, “Y’all sent Lew off right.” He said something happened with the console last night and he’d come to the Palacio early this morning to figure it out. He also got to check out Ballet Folklórico de México, which he said was unbelievable. They had performances before and after ours.

    The hall is busy so we quickly say goodbyes and I hit the street with Maribel. Walking back to the hotel the streets are full of people of all ages and states of love; from wizened grandparents to enthralled teens. Today is International Woman’s day and ladies are everywhere in their finest, adding the grandeur of ceremony to an already bustling Sunday, the most important family day in Mexico.

    Maribel and Eugenio treat us to a reception dinner in the hotel. They salute us with sincere feeling. Maribel even got a little full when thanking everyone for the heart they brought to this residency. Eugenio thanked cats for their quality of playing and for maintaining a standard of excellence in teaching and playing regardless of circumstance. We all recognize that we are honored to have partners on this level of sophistication, engagement and just straight up quality. They took care of us and the music and we are happy and satisfied.

    About ten of us, including Christi and Seton Hawkins from our education department, then piled into a van to get some world class tacos at El Vilsito. It has been highly recommended by our band foodie, the esteemed Dan Nimmer and seconded by Seton and Sherman. After waiting for Vic (maintaining the New Orleans tradition of punctuality) we hit the road.

    Talk about neighborhood! I thought we were off of Esplanade Avenue in New Orleans the way people were standing around devouring those tacos. It’s a garage by day and a taquería by night. Thankfully, different folks work both shifts. The garage and taco shop are owned by the same family and they know what they are doing! The food is correct and the all important ambience is as down home and relaxed as your favorite couch. Tacos of pork, beef, chicken and all types of vegetables and spices are ordered and delivered immediately. Cerveza and Horchata-an addictive, sweet, cinnamon rice milk- flow with the ease of a glance, and you are trusted to keep your own tally and square-up after you’re done. People feel like they should pay more (not less) just because it’s so unusual to be trusted with paying for something. Tomorrow, two flights to Caracas. I can’t wait.


  • Lew Soloff… Tragic loss for music, irrecoupable loss for trumpet

    Posted on March 8th, 2015 | 2

    2:48 am, I get a call from Marcus Printup.
    “Man, Lew died.”
    “What? Who?”
    “Soloff. I think it’s true.”

    Tragic loss for music, irrecoupable loss for trumpet. First Wilmer, then CT and now Lew. Damn! All I can think about is how is Jon Faddis handling this? They had the deepest personal and collegial relationship full of mutual respect, admiration and love. And each set a higher standard for our instrument, but together!……it was otherworldly. Both Lew and Jon have always treated me with so I much love and support for which I AM ALWAYS GRATEFUL!

    Lew helped so many of us on so many levels there are no words. Always inquisitive, absolutely supportive, thorough musicianship in all styles of music: rock, jazz, classical, Afro-Latin. Musicians of all styles loved him and benefitted from his playing and spirit. He was an unapologetic foodie and lover and supporter of young trumpeters. Lew was always,“Man…have you heard?” Then a string of superlatives about their playing. He had a way of looking at you when he listened to you playing that made it seem like he was playing too. He elevated the lead chair in our Orchestra for 6 years and every rehearsal and concert was an absolute joy.

    The last conversation I had with Lew was at CT’s memorial last Saturday. He was standing next to Jimmy Owens and said, “Man, I want to get with you about playing Blues Symphony. I’m playing the trumpet part with the American Composer’s Orchestra.” I looked at him as if to say, “C’mon Lew I can’t tell you shit about playing nothing.” He looked at Jimmy and said, “No man, we play music and the composers are usually dead. I want to hear from a live one.” We just looked at each other and said we’d get together, and the elevator doors closed.

    One final thought for now on Lew is his oft heard quote. “Which one of these mouthpieces sounds better?” “They all sounded great Lew.” This is a true loss.

    Our trumpet section is sitting at breakfast now trading so many funny stories about Lew. We all played at CT’s memorial, in the church and outside in the freezing cold. This is another type of frost. We have all just spoken to Jon and shared our collective grief. We are posting something we remember about Lew here. I encourage all musicians to do the same so we can give the record to his family.

    Lew Soloff probably loved the trumpet more than any person on earth.


  • As the concert goes on, I feel we relax and play more inside the space.

    Posted on March 7th, 2015 | 0

    This morning Vincent led us in an 11am soundcheck/workshop at the majestic Palacio de Bellas Artes oficial. Elliot Mason was delayed getting in due to some visa complications so we recruited a 16-year old substitute, Mr. Hernan Cruz Calderon from Oaxaca, a southern Mexican state with more than 600 family wind bands! Someone should do a study to see if these families are any more or any less dysfunctional than non-band families. These bands have played for generations at family parties, state and city events and parades.
    Well, Hernan came up and truly represented them by reading through a pile of hard music. He played Ted Nash’s 7/8 composition (which is written in 3 bars of 4/4 and 1 bar of 2/4) so well that Vincent announced, “he did better than I did reading this the first time.” Hernan even played a lot of Duke’s impossible trombone part on ‘Bragging in Brass’. It was impressive.

    We played through several pieces of different styles as Vincent described how we went about correcting each piece, and the composer or arranger explained what inspired it. This audience of 600 or so young musicians was EXTREMELY attentive and asked great questions to various members of the band. The most moving moment for me was when a young man stood up and gave a glowing assessment of Ted Nash’s composition ‘Portrait in Seven Shades’. He then asked what inspired each movement. Ted’s started his answer by saying something like, “What you have just said makes all the work I did on the piece worth it. Thank you.” That fundamental exchange of sincere recognition and grateful acceptance touched everyone.

    Another student asked what record had changed our lives. Each member went through a litany of Miles, Coltrane, Duke, Tito Puente and JJ Johnson but Chris Crenshaw named Marcus Printup’s ‘Sing for the Beautiful Woman’.
    The Palacio is so beautiful; it’s hard to concentrate on playing for wanting to look. But today we are struggling because many of us are playing rental instruments due to cartage issues. We also have a different set of parts with the set pared down from 65 pieces to 45. I picked these songs before we left New York, but you never really know what you need till you get out here.
    One of the orchestra’s great blessings is our library and music preparation team of Kay Niewood and Christi English. They literally work day and night to get arrangements, scores, new parts, etc. on the stands on time. And time is always a struggle for me. I was giving them our set list literally as we stepped onto the plane to Puerto Rico and here we are a few days later with a complete set of 45 alternate parts. (The originals have gone on to Venezuela). New instruments and parts pose more of a challenge than you might think, and we are all, especially woodwinds and Carlos, trying to negotiate our way around the unfamiliar. It puts an added pressure on the concert because we always want to be at our absolute best.

    I was up for two hours this morning working out the concert set list so everyone would have a chance to solo and the songs would show a balance of what the orchestra is capable of. Knowing we also play again tomorrow, this concert would be more of our original compositions and the Master’s take on Latin America and the Caribbean. Tomorrow will be standards and more historical pieces. Once I’m up sitting on the stage I realize this is the truncated set list. I just looked at Ali and started laughing. All of that meticulous planning…GONE. Thank the Lord, Christi is out here and she works miracles to make whatever we need to happen, happen. This hall looks and sounds magnificent.
    We are all excited for the concert knowing this is one of the world’s great cities. The audience is crackling with energy and is very encouraging. We try our very best and so do they. When we’re on stage we can’t really assess the sound in the hall but it seems different than during the sound check. The full hall appears to be louder and more ambient than it was when half empty in the sound check. Not knowing whether it’s Rob and the microphones, or us, we struggle to find a good balance. Great halls like this one are ambient amplifiers. If we overplay the natural amplification of the hall, it’s a battle. And the hall always wins.

    As the concert goes on, I feel we relax and play more inside the space. I try not to judge when I’m playing because we all have a different perspective based on where we sit and what we are playing. The audience was with us the entire time and was so gracious and generous with applause for solos and verbal consigning of phrases, they carried us past our insecurities about new instruments, parts and volume.
    Some highlights: Walter’s solo on Duke’s ‘Oclupaca’ from the Latin American Suite, the audience appreciation of the transition to the Guajira in Carlos’ ‘2/3’s Adventure’, a lady shouting ‘Tom Cat Blues’ when I got up to play that very piece (no way she could have known except maybe because I had the plunger in hand) and Victor’s impromptu and sultry reading of ‘Self Portrait of the Bean’.

    When we finished the gig I went in search of and found celebrity sound man David Robinson. “Man, did you have the mics turned up that loud in the Hall?” He said, “No man, I turned them off. Ask Fernando.” When I asked Fernando about it he said, “Yeah man, but people loved it. What are you so tight about?” I saw Eugenio in the audience and knew he would know because he had been translating on stage during the sound check. “Was it to loud?” I asked him. “Yes” he said. “Not during the sound check, but during the concert. Yes. Some parts were too much.”
    Well, ok. Tomorrow will be much better. I know Rob will be in the hall early working on stuff. That’s how he is about his job.
    After the concert there was a festive party hosted by US ambassador Earl Anthony Wayne and staff, in conjunction with De Quinta. This is the inaugural event in a week of functions to thank private sector and foundation sponsors for their support of the Embassy’s educational, youth outreach, cultural and sports exchange programs.

    Chris Crenshaw, Paul Nedzela and Greg Gisbert are participating in a jam session with excellent Mexican musicians Alex Mercado on piano, the irrepressible and hard swinging Luri Molina on bass, 22-year-old wunderkind Diego Franco on the tenor sax and Demian Cantilo playing some tasty drums. Ali, Walter, Carlos and I also sit in on a couple of tunes.
    After a few songs, the Ambassador spoke in Spanish about the importance of working across sectors to create a new world of possibilities. He highlighted the success of their collaborative programs and the numbers of lives that have been lifted. He likened their efforts to collective creativity in jazz. Carlos gave me a colorful translation as he spoke. I then said a few words about the birth of jazz in struggle, about the need for clear objectives and the fact that we join others all over the world in a unique movement as an unrecognized army of people who come together from different sectors and beliefs to create a more fertile environment for our collective aspirations. Then back to more international swinging. They stoked up Monk’s ‘I Mean You’. Man, Luri can play!

    Rob and I walk back to the Hotel discussing Ballet Hispanico’s performance in the Hall tomorrow morning. We observed that Eugenio and Maribel are absolutely so for real and a pleasure to work with. And that was it, the end of another great day, until I received a call from Marcus Printup at 2:48 am saying trumpet master Lew Soloff had passed away.


  • It is always exciting to fly into Mexico City at night

    Posted on March 6th, 2015 | 0

    It is always exciting to fly into Mexico City at night. We arrived shortly after midnight. Just the endless tapestry of lighted homes and streets stretching to the horizon further than the eye can see gives you a jolt of super energy. We are being presented by DeQuinta Producciones, which means Eugenio Artistic Director and Maribel General Director.

    I met Eugenio in Buenos Aires in ‘91 through the great trumpeter Fats Fernandez. We then had the privilege of working with DeQuinta on a 2004 residency that included performing in the Main City Square of Mexico Zocalo with vocalist Lila Downs for 50,000 people, in the Bellas Artes Opera House and in the Auditorio Nacional for 7,000 with the Mexico City Phil. They produced the Antonio Sanchez performances in Dizzy’s in 2004 just after the inauguration of Rose Hall. In 2010, they brought us to Guanajuato, Guadalajara and Mexico City to participate in a production called ‘Celebremos the Americas’ with Paquito D’Rivera, Chano Dominguez, Jared Grimes, Antonio Sanchez, Edmar Castaneda and Blas Cordoba. DeQuinta now presents an annual concert series in partnership with JALC called ‘New York Jazz All Stars’. It’s in its 3rd year, and is the only international concert series in Mexico and takes place March thru November. So far they’ve brought Helen Sung, Eric Reed, Wycliffe Gordon, John Ellis, Melissa Alana, Warren Wolf, Matt Wilson and many other great musicians. So, they are family.

    The next morning, we held a press conference in the Salon de Los Murales in front of a beautiful Diego Rivera mural at the Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes. I went over with Maribel and just being in her presence is like entering the classroom of life. She is warm, thoroughly cultured and loves sharing information in a very inviting and conversational way. In describing the hall she tells me, “Clemente Orozco, Rodriguez Lozano and Rufino Tamayo and Rivera all have murals in this hall. It was built for the 100th Anniversary of Mexico, but the construction was halted to make way for a Revolution. Afterwards, it was finished.”

    I am always moved by the depth and breadth of culture in Mexico City. The conference was to announce our arrival and it was well attended by some 42 media outlets including TV, print and radio. There were many good questions, but people seemed particularly interested in knowing what was the central reason for us coming to Latin America and the Caribbean. I say, “It is to participate in the Afro-Latin traditions that join all of us in this part of the Americas. It’s like a family reunion. You could Skype but why? You have to be there.”

    We go on a 2-hour drive to teach a class in Cuernavaca. It’s where Mingus came to heal for the last 6 months of his life. Maribel wanted to come here because it’s near Guerrero, where 40 school kids were killed 5 months ago. Guerrero is one of the most violent states in Mexico and she felt that a permanent infusion of Jazz and the Arts could bring optimism and hope to young people here and help with the healing process. She and Eugenio believe in regular classes and concerts not the customary festival one-offs.

    Maribel has 3 children and 6, soon to be 7, grandkids. She was joking about receiving photos from Frank from a young people’s concert the last time we were here. “My grandkids were babies when I asked you for these photos, now they’re teenagers.” We were talking about family and kids and she talked about dealing with the early death of her husband 9 years ago and said, “My 45th anniversary is tomorrow. You know, some time passes fast, but that same time can also take an eternity to pass. Time itself doesn’t cure anything, only your attitude can make things change.”

    She said her father was 97 years old and had been orphaned at 14 months. He fought in the Spanish Civil War at 19, and after two years on the front lines, having lost all of his friends, he escaped to Portugal dressed as a gypsy woman and a relative paid for his passage to Mexico. She said they grew up loving his fantastic stories, but he was also a great listener. He would say, “You have two ears and one mouth. Listen twice.”

    We are hosted in high style in Cuernavaca by Cristina Faesler, Secretaria de Cultura del Estado de Morelos, with a delicious repast, before heading to the Teatro Ocampo to teach a class for about 500 attentive students. A beautiful quintet of youngsters- Roberto Martinez Miñon on tenor sax, Cesar Guadarrama on piano, Hector “Paris” Delgado on bass, Victor Perez “Toral” on drums and Aaron Gonzalez Montiel on guitar played ‘Doxy’ for Carlos, Ali, Dan and me. We went through all the basics: the quest for balance between bass and drums, to play with intensity instead of over loud volume, we demonstrated the derivation of the shuffle pattern from the African 6/8, Carlos stressed the need for empathy and proper technical skills, Ali talked about swing as a concept of balance, the need for commitment and belief to improve, Dan demonstrated how to play on harmonic progressions, I talked about developing a personal sound, securing gigs no matter how bad, acknowledging the audience you’re playing for and expressing gratitude.

    The students were wonderful, very attentive and receptive. It was uplifting and remains so. Two hours back home.


  • The community welcomes and embraces the movement for better music education and quality performance

    Posted on March 4th, 2015 | 1

    We arrived in St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands shortly before 9 in the morning. Having left the hotel at 6 am for what had to be the shortest flight In the world, 17 minutes, I’m going on about 2 hours sleep. We are here to play for the United Jazz Foundation, a non-profit organization founded by the great drummer, humanist and jazz ambassador from St. Thomas, Dion Parson and master architectural and civil engineer, Vietnam veteran and charter member of the spiritual aristocracy of the world, Roan Creque, with their own funds. JALC and the United Jazz Foundation has a very healthy educational partnership that is yielding wonderful fruit, young people who can play and understand the greater value of this music. They met us at the airport and we got down to it.

    The island is lush and hilly. The roads sweep up and down making driving an intimate experience. I riding with Darryl Lewis Sr., father of 7 and grandfather of 13, and it seems like he knows everyone on this island from the pizza man to the senator.

    According to Roan, the U.S. bought these islands from the Danes in 1917 to protect the Panama Canal. It is American but the culture remains English, Spanish, Free Gut and Sierra Leonean. Every island in the Caribbean has a dialect that was designed to disguise intentions. The architecture and feeling is so close to New Orleans (which is often called the northern capital of the Caribbean), I feel completely at home – we all do. Hospitality is on the general menu.

    Marcus Printup leaves the airport and goes straight to a workshop at E. Benjamin Oliver Middle School to teach. Today however, he is joining his wife Riza. Here is his description: “I’ve seen my wife teach Webop at JALC and with the Harlem Children Zone in New York City. She has an incomparable drive, determination and love for the kids. Fate has made it that we are both in St. Thomas at the same time. She is here conducting a series of “Jazz for Young People” concerts with Dion. The physical appearances of these schools are quite meager but the attentiveness and openness for instruction is second to none.

    Thank God for organizations like the United Jazz Foundation and the many supporters of education that bring jazz to communities that usually are left out of the equation. Thank God also for the dedicated teachers who have a true passion for planting the seeds of interest in continuing the art of jazz in our young people.”

    Here are some words from Riza: “Working with the children here in the US Virgin Islands (St. Thomas, St. John & St. Croix) has been one of the most inspiring experiences I’ve had. I am moved by their openness, warmth and excitement to swing. Dion and Nicole Parson and the United Jazz Foundation are absolutely dedicated to bringing jazz to the islands and their efforts to elevate the youth are effective and inspirational. They are great to work with. Dion told me, ‘It’s great to see community come together. Everybody is connected. The community welcomes and embraces the movement for better music education and quality performance.’”

    The evening performance was in the Reichhold Center for the Arts, an indoor/outdoor venue that was both intimate and spacious. The reception was extremely warm and participatory. The Virgin Islands Youth Orchestra played at the entrance of the venue and brought the type of energy and optimism that youth who are engaged in meaningful things always bring. They were well dressed, enthusiastic and excellent, and that youthful exuberance in the house connected generations and inspired us to play even better.

    There were many musical highlights but some audience favorites were Sherman’s patient molasses drenched reading of ‘Big Fat Alice’s Blues’, Greg Gisbert’s solo on ‘Straight Up and Down’ and Vincent, Ted and Chris’ playing and singing on ‘Moody’s Mood forWe arrived in St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands shortly before 9 in the morning. Having left the hotel at 6 am for what had to be the shortest flight In the world, 17 minutes, I’m going on about 2 hours sleep. We are here to play for the United Jazz Foundation, a non-profit organization founded by the great drummer, humanist and jazz ambassador from St. Thomas, Dion Parson and master architectural and civil engineer, Vietnam veteran and charter member of the spiritual aristocracy of the world, Roan Creque, with their own funds. JALC and the United Jazz Foundation has a very healthy educational partnership that is yielding wonderful fruit, young people who can play and understand the greater value of this music. They met us at the airport and we got down to it.

    The island is lush and hilly. The roads sweep up and down making driving an intimate experience. I riding with Darryl Lewis Sr., father of 7 and grandfather of 13, and it seems like he knows everyone on this island from the pizza man to the senator.

    According to Roan, the U.S. bought these islands from the Danes in 1917 to protect the Panama Canal. It is American but the culture remains English, Spanish, Free Gut and Sierra Leonean. Every island in the Caribbean has a dialect that was designed to disguise intentions. The architecture and feeling is so close to New Orleans (which is often called the northern capital of the Caribbean), I feel completely at home – we all do. Hospitality is on the general menu.

    Marcus Printup leaves the airport and goes straight to a workshop at E. Benjamin Oliver Middle School to teach. Today however, he is joining his wife Riza. Here is his description: “I’ve seen my wife teach Webop at JALC and with the Harlem Children Zone in New York City. She has an incomparable drive, determination and love for the kids. Fate has made it that we are both in St. Thomas at the same time. She is here conducting a series of “Jazz for Young People” concerts with Dion. The physical appearances of these schools are quite meager but the attentiveness and openness for instruction is second to none.

    Thank God for organizations like the United Jazz Foundation and the many supporters of education that bring jazz to communities that usually are left out of the equation. Thank God also for the dedicated teachers who have a true passion for planting the seeds of interest in continuing the art of jazz in our young people.”

    Here are some words from Riza: “Working with the children here in the US Virgin Islands (St. Thomas, St. John & St. Croix) has been one of the most inspiring experiences I’ve had. I am moved by their openness, warmth and excitement to swing. Dion and Nicole Parson and the United Jazz Foundation are absolutely dedicated to bringing jazz to the islands and their efforts to elevate the youth are effective and inspirational. They are great to work with. Dion told me, ‘It’s great to see community come together. Everybody is connected. The community welcomes and embraces the movement for better music education and quality performance.’”

    The evening performance was in the Reichhold Center for the Arts, an indoor/outdoor venue that was both intimate and spacious. The reception was extremely warm and participatory. The Virgin Islands Youth Orchestra played at the entrance of the venue and brought the type of energy and optimism that youth who are engaged in meaningful things always bring. They were well dressed, enthusiastic and excellent, and that youthful exuberance in the house connected generations and inspired us to play even better.

    There were many musical highlights but some audience favorites were Sherman’s patient molasses drenched reading of ‘Big Fat Alice’s Blues’, Greg Gisbert’s solo on ‘Straight Up and Down’ and Vincent, Ted and Chris’ playing and singing on ‘Moody’s Mood for Love’. We ended with Dion coming up to play. He introduced steel pan wizard Victor Provost and we grooved on home to a second line beat with Victor’s ‘Down on the Bayou’. The festive street beat with Mr. Provost’s individualistic and soulful singing pans provided the proper spirit of place, we were swinging in the Caribbean. It was a fitting end to a great day.

    The next day I got a haircut at Ron’s Barbershop, definitely downhome. There I met the great Oscar ‘Chips’ Rawlins who told me, “Our home is your home and I get to hear you every Sunday on CBS Sunday Morning.” Well, Chips didn’t know when I met him that Darryl was driving around playing a CD of them singing lead vocals on songs like ‘I Did it My Way’ and ‘Always and Forever’ and ‘Write a Letter’ to various types of orchestral karaoke accompaniment. Darryl was in tune, but Chips? Look out.

    Love’. We ended with Dion coming up to play. He introduced steel pan wizard Victor Provost and we grooved on home to a second line beat with Victor’s ‘Down on the Bayou’. The festive street beat with Mr. Provost’s individualistic and soulful singing pans provided the proper spirit of place, we were swinging in the Caribbean. It was a fitting end to a great day.

    The next day I got a haircut at Ron’s Barbershop, definitely downhome. There I met the great Oscar ‘Chips’ Rawlins who told me, “Our home is your home and I get to hear you every Sunday on CBS Sunday Morning.” Well, Chips didn’t know when I met him that Darryl was driving around playing a CD of them singing lead vocals on songs like ‘I Did it My Way’ and ‘Always and Forever’ and ‘Write a Letter’ to various types of orchestral karaoke accompaniment. Darryl was in tune, but Chips? Look out.


  • We left snowy, blustery New York City for a 4-hour flight to San Juan, Puerto Rico

    Posted on March 3rd, 2015 | 0

    We left snowy, blustery New York City for a 4-hour flight to San Juan, Puerto Rico. We landed not just in another time zone, but on another planet: palm trees, radiant sunshine, thermal breeze and the communal festivity of island life.

    Trumpeter and educator par excellence, Charlie Sepulveda, met us at the airport. He has been a friend of mine for over twenty-five years. (I still remember the san cocho he made for me when he lived in El Barrio in NYC). Now, he is in Puerto Rico with his wife, Julia Piñero and their 19 year old daughter Carmen, holding things down and making the world softer for Jazz and Afro-Latin Music.

    The first night Charlie took us about 40 minutes from San Juan to Luquillo, Puerto Rico. Nicknamed El Capital del Sol, this city is located on the edge of the Rainforest Yunque. We were fêted at Terruño, a place that features nightly music. The food was so good, you wanted to get a job in the restaurant.

    We began discussing after-dinner drinks and Charlie intimated several times that he and Julia had some grappa at home only 5 minutes away. Soon, we were there inspecting the outdoor grill and studying the contents of his well manicured bar. Because he was responsible for driving us back to the hotel in San Juan and because Julia was promoting this concert, she threatened execution if he even thought about participating. We, however, were forced to be gracious guests and, though reluctant, relieved him of a generous portion of that potent grappa (as he observed in quiet frustration).

    The next day, we were in it. Vincent’s flight had been cancelled which necessitated moving our rehearsal back three hours from 10:30 to 1:30. Julia informed us that 300 students would be coming from all over Puerto Rico to observe our open 10:30 rehearsal. Carlos, Dan, Ali, Walter volunteered to join me in conducting a morning masterclass, and then, handle the 6-hours of rehearsal afterwards.

    The students were engaging and engaged. They asked a lot of questions. A memorable one was addressed to Walter from a young saxophonist who asked, “What does it mean to play with soul?” Walter in essence said, “It means that you recognize your connection to other people and feel free to share the deepest parts of your humanity with them.”

    Another student asked me, “What can I do to stay inspired?” Because I had been talking I said are you sure you want to ask the question to me. His response was: “Actually I’m a bass player. I’d rather ask Carlos.” Carlos used his own life as an example and gave the youngster a real practical path to pursue excellence. Then Charlie and the great Luis Perico Ortiz pulled out their trumpets and we had a jam session with about 12 bold and creative students. We played “Caravan” written by Duke Ellington and Puerto Rican valve trombonist Juan Tizol. The session was festive and familial.

    After the class, Vincent arrived and the Orchestra rehearsed some 14 pieces.

    Later that evening, Charlie and Julia took us to El Jibarito for dinner in Old San Juan. It was packed and for good reason. They served good down-home fare that made me miss the Crescent City.

    Today, Sherman Irby conducted a masterclass at El Conservatorio de Musica of Puerto Rico, working with the Jazz Band conducted by a dynamic young teacher named Elias Santos Selpa. They were playing some of Mingus’ music. Sherman talked about playing in balance, maintaining intensity when alternating between the swing and that between the swing and the Afro-Latin 6/8, playing ensemble parts together, listening to soloists, and understanding the underlying structural logic of tunes. In speaking to the young drummer, he had one magnificent quote that remains in mind: “Play the cymbal, don’t hit it.” That’s good life philosophy.

    Tonight, we performed at Sala Sinfónica Pablo Casals, named for the visionary humanist and genius of the cello. The concert was a benefit to raise scholarship money for underprivileged students to attend Colegio de San Ignacio Loyola. We started the first half with Duke’s Big Fat Alice’s Blues which Chris Crenshaw had just transcribed because we were talking about it and listening to it before a gig the other night, and we ended with Vincent’s arrangement of Oscar Peterson’s “March Fast.”

    On the second half, we really got loose. Carlos introduced his own “2/3’s Adventure” in Spanish. None of us, except for Walter had any idea what he was saying. But the audience loved him and everything he said. Whenever he talks about his experiences in the music I feel proud and we love playing his music. Charlie Sepulvida sat in on the guajira section and it was a sterling moment of communication and collaboration. He has played with so many greats from Dizzy to Eddie Palmieri, we were honored to share the bandstand with him.
    Then the saxophone section showed us all how it was supposed to be done on my arrangement of “Ugly Beauty.” It was all nuance and wispy fire, and the rhythm section was not to be be left behind. The audience knew that they had heard something special and responded accordingly. We ended the concert with Victor Goines’ Second Line, “Down by the Bayou.” It always leaves everyone in a better mood.

    For an encore, Carlos had sketched out a song that touches everyone in San Juan. “En Mi Viejo San Juan,” written by Noel Estrada. It moved the people to sing not the melody, but the counter-melody. It was revelatory.

    Now we’re back where we started.
    Dan Israel and Charlie and I seated at a table surveying tastes of grappa and an impending flight in 6 hours……. You all know I love that.