I have recently been asked about my 1986 encounter with Miles Davis in Vancouver. Though I have not thought about it in years, the interest in this incident and the inaccurate recounting of it in Miles’ book (which I addressed publicly before his passing) has for some reason resurfaced. Just for the sake of truth, I called the three men who could verify what happened: Jeff Watts, Robert Hurst and Marcus Roberts. I asked them to comment on a statement of the facts leading up to the impromptu meeting, and they all agreed. Now, almost thirty years has passed. We don’t get the chance to speak that often but shared a good laugh recalling the events of that day. The story and their unedited statements appear below. As you will see, although all three have different feelings about it, not one of them disputes the facts.
Vancouver, June 1986
We were in the car approaching the city when the subject of Miles’ repeated disrespecting of me and my family came up. Marcus, Tain and Bob began yeasting me, “Man, how long you gonna just let him say you ain’t shit and do absolutely nothing.” “Yeah man, Davis is always slapping you.” “We think you must be scared of him.” Then someone (I think it was Tain) said, “He’s playing tonight and we’re off. I think you ought to go up there and jump on him.” I said, “Man, I have too much respect for him to do that.” Then they started betting I wouldn’t. We were joking and laughing. The pot hit $100 apiece and I said, “Ok. I’ll do it.” And I did.
He was actually playing the organ when I walked on the bandstand. So far as him saying anything to me, it was too loud to hear whatever he said. When the band stopped, he said something, but ‘fuck’ was not one of the words. And so far as him hitting me, I made sure to stay to the left (I’m left handed) and avoid that at all costs, because that would have put me in an unwinnable situation. I came to respond to his constant public shit talking about me, not to whip a much older (and infirm) man’s ass, which certainly would have happened at that time and would have caused my father to whip mine. And…..I never collected that $300.
The story hit the street and became a much bigger deal than it was or than any of us thought it would be.
The statements of Jeff Watts, Robert Hurst and Marcus Roberts.
“I recall the events of the day similarly, with Wynton having initial trepidation about sitting in, out of respect. I believe I pushed it over the edge by saying that perhaps Miles should not be above having someone jam with him during his performance, as he had done the same with Bird and others.
The other band members and I positioned ourselves in the audience, and when Wynton walked out, we exclaimed loudly “Look, it’s Wynton…..wow !!!”. We were howling with laughter that he actually did it.
I never anticipated that how much would be made of the feat, as it quickly became international news, still talked about to this day. I was young and silly at the time. Oh well……”
“As embarrassing as it is to recount these matters, they are in fact true, and I deeply apologize for the ignorance and lack of judgment shown during my youth which yielded any disrespect to my musical hero, Miles Davis or his Great Legacy.”
“This account is accurate. We were all young guys on a mission to preserve our music, and though we all grew up admiring Miles’ contribution to the music, we also felt as young men that he no longer represented the art form with the same level of steadfast integrity as before when he was great and admired by musicians and laymen alike. So, after Wynton sat in and played on this slow blues to a stunned but very supportive and appreciative audience, we all left.
_We felt bad, because in the end, how many heroes are left that you can truly look up to and admire? The key to the future of preserving the high ideals of jazz has always been to reassert your dedication to the highest principles of the music while playing it, especially in public.
So, hopefully this clears up any misunderstanding concerning Vancouver. Me, Bob, and Tain were all there and witnessed it.”_
There you have it. Hopefully I will not be called upon to address this again until 40 years from now when, if fortune smiles upon me, I will be 93.
As soon as we landed at Recife/Guararapes–Gilberto Freyre International Airport, named in honor of their homeboy Gilberto Freyre, I knew that Recife was going to be exceptional and the perfect place for the final leg of our month-long tour. An airport named for an intellectual who encouraged Brazilians to embrace the Afro side of their cultural heritage and nature? Criticisms of Freyre aside, it’s an unusually enlightened posture in the New World. But from the moment we stepped off the plane, this wonderful and welcoming city graced us with warmth and the finest hospitality.
Marcelo Ferreira, Luiz Barbosa, Lilian Pimentel and Mariana Cosseiro, all from Jaraguá Produções, meet us at the airport. They exude a refreshing mixture of absolute professionalism and a genuine curiosity and excitement about the days and events ahead. It is infectious. Although I don’t see Carol Ferreira (our Producer, who has moved mountains to bring us here), once I get to the car I’m introduced to our driver Junior, and Carol’s brother Marcelo, an opera singer whose distinctive speaking voice immediately identifies him as such. Thankfully Junior knows the city by hand, so on the drive into town I get a chance to really converse with and get to know Marcelo. We talk about Verdi and Wagner (who I learn were both born in 1813), opera houses, orchestras and Mozart’s Don Giovanni. I try to get Marcelo to sing – but out of respect for Junior (and the volume) he declines. While discussing his education at the University of Indiana and Campbellsville University in Kentucky, I find out that Marcelo was also once a blues guitar player. I ask if he still plays and he says, “No, and now that I know more, I realize that I wasn’t one then.”
Everyone arrives at the hotel feeling happy about the quality of our hosts and ready to attend the dinner and second line parade planned for tonight in Olinda, the city with the first school for training Frevo musicians. As we walk up the cobbled streets to the restaurant, Oficina do Sabor, I can’t help but think about the French Quarters in New Orleans. Similar to traditions in my hometown, Frevo started with bands from the army regiments parading during Carnival time. Before long it became extremely competitive, with different regiments thinking they had the best marching band and musicians playing louder and louder and faster and faster. This competitive environment also featured elements of violence just as the New Orleans Mardi Gras Indian tradition featured musical and physical confrontations and resolutions.
Frevo has its own characteristic rhythm and melodic formula that includes influences from maxixe, capoeira and polka, and it is accompanied by a very fast and acrobatic dance that spices up elastic Afro-syncopated moves with the kicking squats and flips of the Cossacks from the Russian circus. The dancers dress in colorful clothing inspired by regional folk costumes and use yellow, blue, green and red umbrellas (just like New Orleans), while performing their neck-breaking dance steps at a heart stopping pace. Some say the word “frevo” comes from the Portuguese word “ferver” (to boil) and the tropical heat, loud prestissimo music and frenetic dance will definitely bring any public revelry to a frothy boil. And when you add the tight Olinda streets, mind-numbing beverages, all types of exquisite visual stimulation and a couple of million people, you get a feeling for the type of Bacchanalia I’m talking about.
When we arrive at the restaurant, Spok and some members of the Orquestra are already eating. We salute each other and begin to talk with the help of translation. I first met the incredible SpokFrevo Orquestra and Maestro Spok, their arranger, saxophonist and musical director, some 5 years ago at the Marciac Jazz Festival and I felt an immediate kinship. Earlier this year, they played a concert in the Appel Room in our House of Swing and blew audiences away. We are all eager to work with them, learn about Frevo and check out this cuisine. Afro-Latin musicians say, “Play with ‘sabor‘” when they want that umptyumph. Oficina do Sabor is aptly named because everything they put on the table was gone by the time you asked, “What is that?” There is a unique and flavorful shrimp and shellfish stewed in a passion fruit-based sauce and served inside of a pumpkin that occupies everyone at our table’s attention. Damn! Spok and I had to split a third pumpkin. There were also all kinds of coconut sauces and African based Brazilian fusions. This meal was truly tasty and enlightening.
When blessing my food, I had to recognize all the people struggling to feed themselves each day and express gratitude for our good fortune in being treated with such generosity. I thought about my great aunt who could really, really cook (just about anything) but was very poor by American standards. She spoke in a small voice and was not given to a lot of taking, but when putting a great meal on the little table in the back room of her shotgun house she would say, “Just cause we poor don’t mean we cain’t eat good.” And my great uncle, born in 1883 and always prone to arguing with her, would say, “We rich next to where we come from!”
Over dinner Spok tells me all about his history and the history and tradition of Frevo, about how the carnival and the small streets affect playing parades, about when musicians stated improvising in Frevo, and about the relative strengths of different alcohols. All the cats are exchanging information about what dish to eat and where to get it, and there is a muted excitement about the culture, the atmosphere, and the tour being nearly over and about tonight’s second line. A month is a long time to be away from your family and loved ones, especially when you have small children who grow daily and can be transformed over four weeks.
The Oficina is on a hill from which you can see the city of Recife shimmering and shining below. It looks like a postcard picture of nighttime possibilities. After eating, we sit up there and joke about things too silly or ignorant to write about. Then it’s time to visit the Grêmio Musical Henrique Dias. Founded in 1954, it is led today by Maestro Ivan do Espirito Santo.
We enter the room while the orchestra is rehearsing and it is thoroughly neighborhood and strictly downhome. Every musician in here plays with a diehard sensibility. Our entire orchestra integrates the room, intently listening. We can hear many similarities between Frevo and Jazz and also with the 19th century style of band music we grew up playing. When they break, we start to play a New Orleans song “Lil Liza Jane” and they join in singing the refrain. Just musicians in a band room late at night, it always feels great.
Then we spill out into the open air playing the Frevo classic, “Vassourinhas”. As we slowly move down the crowded streets, both groups alternate – one Frevo song then one New Orleans tune – sometimes separate and at other times all together. The commotion causes the people, whose homes line the street, to lean out and participate in the excitement. But the paraders all around us make it very hard to play and walk without blowing in someone’s ears. Spok stops at Quatro Cantos (four corners). It’s the place that all the groups meet when they’re parading during Carnival, like the Municipal Auditorium was for us in New Orleans. There, we make our final stand with a couple of songs.
Though definitely unruly, there was so much enthusiasm that it felt good to be out there playing in the heat, in the street and surrounded by people at 11pm.The next day we have an early 11am soundcheck. As a finale for tonight’s show we rehearse Spok’s “Moraes é Frevo” with both orchestras. Whew! The sax parts are flying all over the place, but the trumpet parts are really hard with all kinds of double tonguing starting on the off syllable. We struggle, but the SpokFrevo Orquestra trumpet players have no problem with it. It’s instructional to hear them play it, but I think it would take a year of practicing (no exaggeration) to actually play my part well. After a good hour, we leave it up to the Lord.
For lunch, Carol Ferreira treats us to another epicurean repast at Bistrô & Boteco in old Recife. She is very much behind-the-scenes and quiet, but she and partner Luiz of Jaraguá were showing us another level of welcome. After the meal I was given a tour of the Paço do Frevo, which literally means the Frevo Palace. It is a museum, school, performance space, media center and studio, created specifically to preserve the memory of frevo traditions.
Eduardo Sarmento is the Director and he is a visionary. It’s inspiring to see how the people have inhabited all six or so floors of the space, using it to enrich their lives with their own culture. And to see the history of Frevo clearly laid out in a year by year photo exhibit, to see a group of school kids sprawled across the floor learning about it, and to see the library, the studio, the colorful umbrellas and the proudly embroidered club banners was truly uplifting. No pursuit could be more meaningful or worthy. I can’t help but envision this type of facility for New Orleans school kids and communities.
Then Spok and I met on the top floor for a public conversation about the relationship between the traditions of Frevo and New Orleans music. The room was filled with musicians, concerned citizens and a few masters who were seated in the front rows. Spok referred to their expertise and achievements at various times throughout the talk. Before the discussion began, I was introduced to Maestro Duda, one of the most important living Frevo composers, who gifted me with an original composition for trumpet. Marcelo functioned as translator with that sturdy baritone and opera singer’s linguistic sophistication.
It was deep, when I looked around the room I saw so many common cultural touch points: I saw my father, and clarinet master and teacher Alvin Batiste, artist John Scott and band director John Fernandez at sparsely attended musical lectures and symposiums at Xavier University and other institutions during the ’60s and 70’s. I was reminded of their lifelong struggle to insist on the seriousness and importance of the local Art in a New Orleans community that at the time was much more interested in the New Orleans Saints (and we were LOSING all the time then). Through the conversation I came to understand the uphill struggle for Spok and so many of the advocates for Frevo culture and music. Yes, we discussed parades and banners, blocos, social aid and pleasure clubs, marches, parading, the tradition of violence that ties the Mardi Gras Indians to the capoeira dancers, swing rhythms, tradition and innovation, improvisations and chord progressions, and the past and future. The conversation was well received, but the subtext was not discussed because it just was.
Spok is an embodiment of the art and a charismatic ambassador of the style. Every now and then an artist arrives with the magnetism AND the desire to enrich some aspects of the artistic quality and the substance of the art. He or she is a blessing for the style, but with every blessing there also a curse. The substantive challenge of rising to the artistic level of the masters is a concern that vanishes if you give way to the popular musical trend of the moment. Popularity is of course, is its own standard, and presents challenges unrelated to any musical masters or in some cases any music period. Then, should you choose the less popular route, there is always the old guard that defends the quality of those masters’ work. Many times the charismatic figure is one of the few people who even knows who the masters are, let alone the old guard, and often the ENTIRE tradition is presented to the public through the popularity of this artist, regardless of his or her desire or intention. It’s impossible for someone with a spotlight on them to redirect that light onto someone the light is not on. And, the elders are naturally and sometimes even justifiably resentful of this dynamic, creating an unresolvable tension that requires the younger artist to have a very subtle understanding and a feathery touch at all times.
Then there is the pressure on that artist to develop and innovate aspects of the style (that are considered sacred by some) while also being true to its essence, while also dealing with the commercialism that fans the flames of fame. Of course the fame consistently pulls you away from the essence that you are supposed to embody, while learning how to play, and cultivating a group and a group concept, while also dealing with the fact that the art you embody has very little support from the very people that created it (because ultimately they want whatever is most commercial). This is the New Orleans conundrum. The name Jazz is great, claiming its origins and traditions is even better, just as long as we don’t have to actually check out the music or teach it to our kids. That’s why my answer for what’s new in Jazz is now and forever: people are going to start listening to it.
I love Spok and everyone at the Paço do Frevo because they are engaged in that long uphill battle to raise the consciousness of the culture with its own art despite a tradition of neglect that says, “it’s only something from the street and not serious, let it be whatever.” They are for real, and that entire building stands as a testament to their belief. And all those kids inside learning the substance of their culture offer the possibility for an educated continuum.
After the talk was over, a group of trumpeters (three from SpokFrevo Orquestra) performed Maestro Duda’s “Fantasia Brasileira para Trompete”. There were four movements and each was rich with counterpoint and drama, and each employed a different style and rhythm. The trumpeters played it to a fare thee well, with sophistication and sauce. I loved it.
The concert that night was at Parque Dona Lindu, in Boa Viagem beach. It was an indoor/outdoor venue; similar to the one we played in São Paulo. Spok and the Orquestra opened up and played with their characteristic passion, virtuosity and fire. At one point our own Elliot Mason sat in with them on Maestro Duda’s “Nino, o Pernambuquinho” along with trumpeter Fabio Costa. If you can’t play and tongue with some serious velocity, stay home. Elliot can, and he was AT home and welcomed as such.
Spok’s set was energetic and electrifying and on their last song they played an extended blistering brass line that made us all look in disbelief and want to inspect their instruments after the gig. It reminded me of a photo of the trumpeters in the London Philharmonic examining Louis Armstrong’s trumpet in the early 1930’s. The SpokFrevo Orquestra’s virtuosity and precision speaks to hours and hours of practicing and also to the quality of their leadership.
We went on stage playing and swinging hard, determined to finish the night and the tour right. The audience was very lively and active and they absorbed the range of music we played with no hesitation or judgment of the various styles. I always have to remind myself that our listeners have definitely not heard the original music we play (mostly because almost all of it is unreleased) and that many of them have also never heard any of the traditional arrangements, and if they have, it was on a recording and not live. That’s why we always say ‘play the music of all periods just like you wrote it yesterday.’ This group of listeners loved both Spok’s set and ours.
As the night wore on, I was cognizant of the time and of our hard curfew. Spok came out and we played his “Moraes é Frevo”, which we had rehearsed earlier. I have to ask his forgiveness because I don’t think I played one complete measure properly and definitely messed up the double-tonguing part that I had been going over in my mind all day. Luckily, the Orquestra trumpets were covering me up. After a string of improvisation we took it out and Ali played his difficult drum break correctly. The audience loved it, and so did we.
It is always special to come together over something meaningful and difficult, and we were definitely trying our best to get with Spok and the cats. We then played “Vassourinhas”, the most popular and highly played song during Carnival, the equivalent in Recife to Joe Avery’s “Second Line” in New Orleans. Once again the response from the crowd merited another song. Because this night was the 200th anniversary of the US consulate in Recife (it’s one of the oldest in the world) and our Ambassador Liliana Ayalde was in the house, both groups saluted our mutual 200th by playing a rendition of ‘Happy Birthday’ in the alternating languages of Frevo and New Orleans Jazz. Everyone went home happy and satisfied. It was a diverse and full night of music.
After the concert we met so many interesting people. I had the opportunity to fellowship with Ms. Lêda Alves, the Secretary of Culture of Recife, who sponsored this visit and made it possible. She was so relaxed and dignified that I had to hug on her. Then I signed a number of things and took a pile of pictures with new friends and suddenly, our tour was over.
As the proverbial ‘icing on the cake’, we were invited to a jazz-themed club/restaurant called ‘Mingus’ whose owner, Nicola Sultanum, has one of the most distinctive goatees in the world. Ironically, he was the singer in that blues band that Marcelo played guitar with years ago. Nicola, his restaurant, club, his goatee and his vibration all belong in the “soul” hall of fame. HE TOOK CARE OF US.
As we sat and talked and drank and ate, the overwhelming generosity of our hosts brought us right back to the incredible roll call of positive experiences and people we have encountered in this last month. From every promoter, Ambassador, fan, hotel worker, restaurant owner, musician, student, teacher, ticket buyer, driver, guide, pilot, translator, to old friends and new ones, we have been blessed over the course of these four weeks. And our community of supporters, loved ones, photographers, road crew, sound and production gurus, staff on the road and the staff back at home, kept us safe and of sound mind and body and always in pursuit of the swing. In the words of Frank Stewart “It was glorious.”
As Ted and I walked 6 blocks back to the hotel at around 1:30 am, we talked about the changes we would like to see in the world and other such light subjects. We passed a group of kids playing soccer and speculated on how long our old asses could last in a game with them. After laughing at the thought, I wanted to ask him if he remembered a time about 15 years ago after a gig in Australia, long after everyone had gone home, that he and I went back to get our horns and decided to play ‘Epistrophy’. We didn’t stop until about 20 minutes later and afterwards, we laughed (in the same way that we just did) dapped each other and put our horns away. We caught a ride with someone in a vintage car or something like that…. but I decided not to ask him about that memory, there was too much to talk about that had just happened. Like all that horn Spok played, or that hard double-tonguing that Ted said “reduced him to playing shapes, but Sherman played the hell out of.” (This made me feel better about butchering my part because Ted can play everything). These two days were full!
Ain’t no sense in belaboring it. In the words of Marcos Portinari, Hamilton de Holanda’s manager, “After ‘love’ there is nowhere else to go but down.”
We have planes to catch home.
After driving all night, we arrive in São Paulo at about 9am on Saturday morning. People who have slept on an overnight car trip look hung-over. So we crept into the hotel looking like we had been through something, while everyone we encountered was brimming with energy in their best morning sunshine. As Chris checks us in, I try to remember that we’ve actually done nothing to be ashamed of.
Although daytime slumber has always been next to impossible for me, tonight is the 2nd of 4 gigs across 3 nights, so I’m determined to get some sleep this afternoon. After a series of futile attempts, I decide to call my longtime friend Gustavo ‘Guga’ Stroeter. As a philosopher, historian, vibraphonist, bandleader, club and studio owner, musicologist, optimist and unflinching purveyor of music of all styles for the mind, body and soul, he is always ready to deal with rhythm and tune.
About 25 years ago, we experienced our first truly great international jam session at Guga’s house. He had arranged his band on one side of the living room and our septet was set up across from them. We both traded off and also played together on a range of styles from Ellington to Bossa Nova, to Samba and New Orleans music. The spacious house was packed with young men and women cooking, dancing, listening and having an epically great time. That first hang at Guga’s was electric, and over the years we had several more that featured a colorful integration of musicians, partygoers and revelry.
Back then, Guga’s band was called “The Heartbreakers”, and when they were hitting we would go to their club, play with them and party all night long. Now, here we are (some 10 years later) and within minutes of seeing each other, we’re at his new crib that is across from an outdoor basketball court. Everything in this neighborhood is colorful. After stepping on the asphalt for good luck, we head down the street surveying his new club and studio (which was once an auto repair, mechanic and a body shop) checking out the room where a coalition of 13 big bands in the city called ‘The Elephants Movement’ meet and rehearse, seeing where the Santeria masters convene and talking about the National Museum of Brazilian music (that he’s spent a lifetime conceiving). Instead of talking about “Where the party at!” our conversation now centers on how to contribute to the world of music and the world in general.
Guga tells me about a movement of great young suburban musicians that come out of the Evangelical church. He has observed that they are timely and respectful and fantastic readers and players, but that they won’t play Afro-based traditions because the church tells them it’s evil. This leads into a discussion on the similarities between religion in Brazil and Cuba. Guga says that Afro-Brazilians are mainly Bantu, and they and the Cubans have the same Yoruban roots. Both were also under the dominion of the Catholics (who were far more lenient than Protestants) therefore the Orishas between Brazil and Cuba, are similar in their identities and in their syncretization with Catholic saints. He tells me of a project he worked on that brought both traditions together and we listened to some of his Orishas music. Hanging with him is always informative and of spiritual substance. While surveying some samba artifacts in his house, I realize it’s time for the soundcheck and gig.
The afternoon traffic dictates that there will be no returning to the hotel after soundcheck. We have played the Sala São Paulo before and the sonorous acoustics demand that we play with control. The home of the São Paulo State Symphonic Orchestra, it is a beautiful space that was converted from a room in the old Julio Prestes train station. The shape and grandeur of this room resembles The Rudolfinum in Prague or Symphony Hall in Boston, except here, it’s easy to get into the audience from the stage. The great Swedish trumpeter Håkan Hardenberger has come tonight with Marcelo Lopes, a former trumpeter with the São Paulo Symphony, who is now their Executive Director. I’m always excited when great longtime musical colleagues come out to hear us play (and trumpet players in particular). For years I have admired Hakån’s playing and what he continues to do for our instrument and for music, so his presence in the hall was especially meaningful. All across Brazil, and particularly in Sao Paolo, there is a tradition of excellent trumpet playing. Through his years of dedicated and fantastic playing, teaching and advocacy, my dear friend Clovis Antonio Beltrami has been a catalyst for continuing this revolution in superior trumpet playing. Because of all this, our whole trumpet section is on edge and on point tonight.
Before we go on stage, I ask Carlos to start “Mood Indigo” as soon as he gets situated. Once that swing has commenced, I go down and begin to play in the house. I see a little boy of about 10 and tease him by playing to him. He hits me with a selfie. We play to a full house and a healthy response. Over the next two days we will play about 40 pieces ranging from King Oliver to Neal Hefti, from Moacir Santos to Coltrane, from Ted Nash to Chris Crenshaw and to the Blues. As I go down into the audience one more time at the end of the show, the cats start singing a blues about me busting my behind (because I am always dizzy and uncomfortable walking around on stage). We play two encores and everyone is very generous and responsive. We can’t tell if we’re overplaying the hall, so we’re extra grateful for the support. Before we leave, Marcelo says, “You all are always welcome to come back.” I’m relieved because we will be back tomorrow night.
The next morning it’s Sunday and I’m up nice and (too) early. We are playing a morning concert in Ibirapuera Park and it looks like the impending rain will surely cancel it. We show up at 10 for sound check, but the stage isn’t ready until 10:35. This is so close to the 11:00 gig time that we have to announce to the already gathering audience that this not the performance but actually the soundcheck. We start laughing and joking saying things to the crowd like, “Don’t listen to this. You aren’t really hearing us mess up Vince’s arrangement. Thank you for coming out, it’s been a pleasure playing for you.” Soon we are into it for real, playing on the masterful architectural soundstage of Oscar Niemeyer in São Paulo’s iconic park.
Playing outdoor picnics, parades, and festivals is second nature to us because so many of us grew up playing them. With these kinds of gigs it’s all about your soundman, and the magnificent Sugar Rob shines. Twenty-five years of working together, he loves the sound of Jazz music and knows the nuances of each orchestra member. With him at the board, I’m confident the music will translate well to the large audience in the park. Rain appears more imminent, but the great Zuza Homem de Mello, the writer, scholar, music producer, student of jazz bass, participant in the New York jazz scene of the late 50’s, Juilliard and Tanglewood attendee who curates this series, tells me, “People are used to this weather. They will come and even if they must bring umbrellas and plastic, they will be very attentive.”
As soon as we hit our second song, I see exactly how well he knows his folks. The park is packed with people and the sun has pushed the rain right out of the sky. What an audience! They make us want to keep right on playing. Our point guard, Ali Jackson, plays with such spirit, fire and dedication; you would have no idea that he’s under the weather. When Ari Colares, our brother and esteemed colleague for 20 years, joins us with his pandeiro on Victor’s arrangement of Hermeto Pascoal’s “O Ovo” the bandstand starts melting under the intensity of rhythm and tremendous ovation.
On outdoor gigs, you normally play mid to up-tempo celebratory groove pieces with a repeated bass line and some sort of looped percussion groove. This audience wanted to swing!! Every time we went into 4/4 swing they got happy. And when we played slow, they were so quiet it was almost eerie. For an encore we played a rousing rendition of Eddie Durham’s masterful arrangement of “The Blue Room”, and when people wanted more there wasn’t but one thing to do, some super slow blues featuring Sherman. When he stood up and walked to the microphone, we knew it wasn’t going to go but one kind of way: HIS. He swooped, swayed and swang people into good health, playing at what’s known as a Grown Folks’ Tempo. Both the audience and band left satisfied. What was supposed to be a 75-minute gig ended up lasting two hours.
Later that night, we played a second concert in the Sala. It was extremely festive and featured a finale of us walking out into the hall playing Joe Avery’s “Second Line” with our extended Brazilian family. I’m going to turn it over to Zuza Homem, who will speak more eloquently to our general happenings in Brazil:
“The Brasil Jazz Fest had an unforgettable final night on Sunday, March 29 at Sala São Paulo, the Concert hall of the city with the performance of Wynton Marsalis and Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra. That was the 4thconcert they played in 3 days, the first in Rio at the new Cidade das Artes Hall on Friday. Newspaper O Globo considered it “The Wynton Marsalis jazz class”. They started playing Count Basie’s “Sleepwalkers Serenade” and ran out the performance through Jazz landmarks such as Dizzy’s “Things to Come.”
Mr. Marsalis invited Brazilian musicians to play with the band, such as Victor Santos (trombone) and Mario Adnet (guitar), both from Ouro Negro Orchestra, which performs the compositions of Moacir Santos. After playing “Bebê” from Hermeto Pascoal they closed their successful night in Rio playing “Coisa numero 8” (thing number 8) another Moacir Santos composition in what O Globo called a “2 hours of alive jazz educational and no arrogance, without any imperfection”.
Next day they flew to São Paulo for 2 concerts indoors and one free at the Ibirapuera Park on Sunday with thousands of “paulistas” (born in São Paulo) jazz fans and their families, wives, children as well as many bikers. They simply loved the so casual attitude properly for an air concert.
The final night, on Sunday was a great music party with delirious people for every arrangement or solo from Mr. Marsalis and his musicians. They started from New Orleans old days, and then jumped on 2 Monk tunes “Epistrophy” and Marsalis’s arrangement for the marvelous sax section on “Ugly Beauty.” On Dizzy’s “Fiesta Mojo” Wynton invited another Brazilian musician, Proveta, to play clarinet with the band. His name is Nailor Azevedo, and got the nickname ‘Proveta’ because he started so young and yet so well that musicians called him ‘Bebê de proveta’ (test tube’s child). A brilliant alto sax player as well, Proveta is the arranger and leader of the Mantiqueira Orchestra, a very successful big band in São Paulo. The audience loved this generous attitude that persist in Wynton Marsalis concerts.
The next tune of the concert had 2 more São Paulo’s musicians invited by Mr. Marsalis: the pandeiro (tambourine) player Ari Colares and Vinicius Barros who plays percussion, specially northern triangle and samba’s cuica. They played Latin rhythms and Brazilian sambas as well and New Orleans Carnival rhythm which shows how close it is to the “maracatú” a popular beat from Pernambuco state in northern Brasil.
People at São Paulo’s concert were in ecstasy like in a happy party when musicians played in the rows of theatre. Another master class of the most splendid jazz that closed the Brasil Jazz Fest in pinnacle, celebrating 30th year of jazz in Brasil by the same group of producers and curators since 1985.
Actually this Brazilian deal of the tour was set almost by accident. For more than a year Dueto Producers (from the Festival) were trying to close the deal with the wrong person, and in 2012, my wife Ercilia and I were at the Metropolitan Museum on a Matisse exhibition when she said: Look, Wynton Marsalis is there! I went to him and asked him how was the business for the Brazilian tour going on, but surprisingly Mr. Marsalis did not know anything about it. After that, the conversations took the right direction and the tour was booked.
The tour will be ending in Recife at the capital of Pernambuco State in Northern Brasil, the land of the frevo rhythm that has now the Spok Frevo Orquestra as the very best big band on that superb form of acrobatic dance and perfect music especially for brass bands. Together, Spok Orquestra and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra will certainly put fire into the pernambucanos, people born in Pernambuco State.”
Yes, it was a fantastic time and the playing with all of us grooving across culture and time was cleansing and healing. After the gig, I meet so many musicians and trumpet players and take pictures with them all. Finally, before leaving I get a shot with the great security team at the Sala. The São Paulo Symphony members jokingly call these guys “the Marsalis family”. Here we are. You be the judge.
On Monday, most of us have a day off. But some of us teach class. Let’s hear from someone who is teaching and always participating, the great Marcus Printup:
“Today, my brother Walter Blanding and I went to teach a workshop at the Escola de Musica do estado de Sao Paulo. When we arrived, we received a soulful greeting from Maria Estela Corea (Cultural Affairs Specialist).
She was extremely passionate in briefing us on the students. She explained to us that this school was comprised of students from low-income households (the average monthly salary for these families is $500 per month). The age span of the students is from 14 to 25 years old. There is a strict audition process as well.
When we arrived at the venue we were introduced to all the teachers. EVERY one of them was passionate about the kids. Their enthusiasm was very sincere and heartfelt.
Before we worked with the 80+ students, we were briefed with a 15-slide presentation of the program. They have over 40 programs in the lowest of income sections of Brazil.
Once inside the performance room, a special feeling of warmth overwhelmed us. We met all the students individually. One of the young students shook Walter’s hand and began to weep. The first ensemble played Wayne Shorter’s “Witch Hunt” and a traditional Brazilian tune. These high school-aged kids played with such passion that it moved us to tears.
As educators, we learn from our students. These kids healed us today. I told them to always know that as musicians, we are healers. When we play, we must understand that it is more than a performance. We have to make the listener feel the passion WE have for life/music.
Music is powerful. It touches the deepest parts of our souls. Although they all had obviously put in time on their horns, we heard nothing virtuosic today; however, everything we heard was sincere. When music is sincere, it can speak volumes to those who are open to receiving it. That’s what happened to Walter and I today. Of course, we critiqued them and told them how to fine-tune their musicianship. But we also commended them on their depth of feeling and the tremendous heart that they displayed in their performance.
We invited my friend and great trumpeter instructor, Daniel D’alcantara, to play with us. I met Daniel 12 years ago through a Brazilian trumpet company we both endorsed. He was KILLIN!! Sounded like Fats Navarro. It’s always great for students to see their teachers playing on the same level as the visiting clinicians. We spent an additional 30-45 minutes signing autographs and taking selfies with them. The Brazilians are indeed some soulful people.”
Greg Gisbert describes what happened with him:
“On our Monday off in Sao Paulo, the seeds for an epic trumpet hang were planted by two young trumpeters named Bruno and Otovio. We met in the hotel lobby at noon. After a brief lunch, they took us to a magnificent rehearsal with full orchestra and Big Band playing Choro music from the early 20th century. It was inspiring. From there, three trumpeters went to the home of Otovio for a little trumpet fellowship. My two new trumpet brothers then posted a Facebook message that we were playing trumpets etc. Within minutes we had 12 trumpet players crammed in one little room playing blues in F. I had the chance to share with them a few exercises Clark Terry had shown me as well as some diminished patterns I learned from James Moody. The spirit of togetherness, mutual interest and love with the São Paulo trumpet crew is something I will ALWAYS remember.”
Ted Nash uses his days off wisely. He shared some of his thoughts about this leg of the tour:
“Coming to São Paulo is always as much a reunion as it is a gig. Over the years I have met so many soulful musicians and people here and coming back is an opportunity to reconnect.
Some of my favorite experiences have been playing with the Jazz Sinfonica Orquestra. This symphony orchestra includes a full big band, and under the baton of João Maurício Galindo presents guest soloists on orchestrations of the guest’s original music. Like many great things, they are suffering economically. But this strain doesn’t affect the passion and feeling with which the musicians play.
This was evident when I invited Ali Jackson and Greg Gisbert down to one of their rehearsals. We smiled ear-to-ear, listening to them play through a program of choros. The musicians in the orchestra certainly have the discipline needed to play in any classical orchestra, but they bring something extra – this thing you can’t really write out or teach; a feeling, a spirit.
Over the years I have gotten to know Vinícius Barros, a percussionist from the Orchestra. When I got to town I reached out and invited him to our concert at Sala São Paulo. I told him to bring a few “toys.” Backstage I introduced him and his shoulder bag of percussion instruments to Wynton who invited him to join us on our closing number. Vinícius rose to the occasion elevating the groove on the tambourine and later taking an expressive solo on the cuíca.
Collaborating with musicians from other cultures has always been something that enriches all of our lives and creates lasting memories. Ali and Greg were as impressed and inspired as I was. It was a great way to spend an off day.”
Ali started out with Ted and Gizzy, but his day took another turn. Here’s how he tells it:
After Sunday’s 2 concerts and struggling to fight off a cold (compliments of the hotel air conditioner) I was in dire need of a day of rest. On my way to sleep, Ted sent an email asking if I wanted to come check out a rehearsal. Monday morning I woke up feeling much better and with enough time to make the rehearsal.
Vinícius picked us up for lunch and took us to rehearsal. While Ted and I were hanging with him, Greg Gisbert was holding court on the other side of the table with trompetistas.
When we arrived at the Jazz Sinfônica rehearsal (http://www.jazzsinfonica.org.br/) we could see that they were not in an expensive state of the art facility. They were in a theatre, attached to a school, and I knew then that they would sound great. Their organization looks like many arts organization that are scratching and raising just enough resources to stay alive.
Vinícius introduced me to all of the musicians. They were very welcoming and many of them had been to our concert. They invited me to play in the section and/or stand in the section. I thought about it, but decided to take one of the few opportunities to enjoy the sound from the house and truly listen.
Jazz Sinfônica played music from various Brazilian composers. The arrangements integrated Samba, Jazz, Western Classical and West African music elements. They executed with such great rhythm! On Afro based grooves, it is very rare to have strings, percussion and brass play in the same orbit of time. This was fascinating to hear and witness.
On the break, Marcos Portinari, Hamilton de Holanda’s manager, connected me with Vinny, the A&R rep for the largest Fabricator of Brasil percussion, Contemporanéa.
He picked me up in a nice car and took me on a tour of the factory. After the tour, he surprised me with all types of Brazilian percussion instruments.
Afterwards, he took me to a Casa Do Samba named Boemis. The cat that runs it is known as Jåo de Pandeiro. Vinny told me that he is one of the baddest living musicians on the Pandeiro. Jao was super cool! He treated us like royalty, or better, family you love. He seated us in the front, got us drinks and food. The place had the vibe of the small clubs that my dad used to play in Detroit, so I was perfectly at home. It is a neighborhood bar and was basically empty. The vibe and the feeling of the musicians were very high. They played nonstop segueing from song to song and rhythm to rhythm for 50 continuous minutes. This is the core of our belief in the music.
On our way out the club Jao introduced us to his friend Don Hunter, a big brother from Philly, PA. He is an expatriate of 25 years, bringing his love and knowledge of life through basketball. He trains and organizes youth basketball programs primarily in Sao Paulo. We met him on the street and in 5 minuts a brand new hang ensued. Don invited us to his crib for a drink 100m from Boemis. We then went to another club, hanging and vibing on the unexpected channels that open up new energy in life. These are the types of experiences you can’t plan. To explain: the kind of soul and hospitality Vinny displayed was exemplary. This guy picked me up at 3:30pm and is now taking us home at 3:30am…wow, too much!
On Tuesday morning it is time to leave for Recife. I have breakfast with Guga and we discuss all sorts of things. I reflect on what he has told me about the vicissitudes of time and the universality of the true blues that visit us all. Because ten years had passed since we last saw each other, the physical effects of being middle aged were obvious, but the emotional and psychological changes (although they are often a lot more dramatic) are not so easy to see. Everything from the death of parents and loved ones to health issues, to different types of estrangement from kids, spouses and/or siblings becomes more extreme as time gets shorter.
Normally, middle-aged people sink down into a nostalgic yearning for a past that only exists in our memory, but we veered a bit left of this typical center and talked about whose political corruption was worse, US or Brazil, followed by a typical comparison of the erosion of cultural and educational values. But when I asked him about the state of things in his life, he said, “There are things I would surely prefer to be different, but the world is full of opportunities, and to be an adult means that you have to be able to re-construct and reinvent life, and to embrace this cycle of change while cultivating a more realistic understanding of your past.” With that, he saved us from the commonplace and took us both higher. On that thought, we shook hands and agreed. Better not let 10 more years slip away before the next time.
We landed in Rio last Friday feeling the excitement in anticipation of participation. Everyone knows about its rich and fertile culture, but Rio also has a mythical significance in the Jazz world so we knew our time there would be meaningful and well spent. Our presenters, Chris Street and Monica Moreira of Dueto Produções greeted us at the airport. They have already been wonderful partners and Clarice Philigret, who has been our point person for this leg of our Brazilian tour, has put in countless hours to make it happen. They are on top of every detail and instantly establish a climate of warmth and familiarity. This in itself is a highly specialized skill of great value. We arrive at the hotel and some members of the band head immediately out to enjoy the beach.
Tonight we are being treated to a reception hosted by two of JALC’s Chairman Circle members, Laura and Lywal Salles, in the home of Lywal’s sister Angela and her husband Antonio Alberto Gouvea. As the Salles are longtime friends and colleagues of JALC Board Member Hugh Fierce, we know a good time is sure to be had. Upon arrival, we see that their home is spectacularly tasteful and comfortably elegant, but that the hospitality is strictly down home. The scene was captivating; all was aglow with a relaxed Brazilian spirit, aided by caipirinhas, casual dress and familial conversations.
The room is packed with friends, citizens of cultural interest and importance, as well as musicians of the highest character and quality. Guitarist Mario Adnet, mandolinist Hamilton de Holanda, trombonist/arranger Vittor Santos, trumpeter Jesse’ Sadoc, soulful soprano saxophonists Zé Nogueira and Bossa Nova legend Marcus Valle – we found ourselves in the best possible company imaginable.
We have admired, played alongside and recorded with these accomplished musicians many times over the years. For example: Mario came and played with our Orchestra about 4 years ago and he just performed in Dizzy’s last month with his band. I recorded a great Pixinguinha choro “Um a Zero” with Hamilton, whose playing transcends description. The Orchestra performed a couple of Vittor’s insightful arrangements 15 years ago on a show entitled “Carnival on Broadway” and I loved Jesse’s playing on the album “Ouro Negro”. Coincidentally, he said I had given him a lesson when he was a kid, and that I was nice to him. It truly was extended family of the most functional sort.
The evening’s conversations ranged from Hugh Fierce’s generosity, to his trademark assiduity and diligence when he was Lywal’s boss at Chase, to overnight trading in stocks, to the history of the Bossa Nova, to what base liquor is best to use in a Caipirinha, to a great young trumpeter named Aquiles Moraes. We were riffin’. It was an unforced and comfortable gathering, with all participants in pursuing a good time through fellowship regardless of prior familiarity. Everyone talked to everyone, making it easy to meet new friends and to hatch plans with old ones in fulfillment of mutual objectives. Many of the musicians accepted our invitation to play with us on the next night’s concert.
And the world is small in many surprising ways. First, I was speaking with Mr. Marcelo Roberto Ferro, a prominent Brazilian lawyer, who was generously complementing my father’s playing and that of my family. He then went on to tell me about a friend of his, Donald Donavan, who had attended our opening season concert that featured Cucho Valdes and Pedrito Martinez at Rose Hall back in September. Mr. Donavan told Roberto that after the concert he had seen me on the subway and approached me saying, “Don’t worry, I’m not stalking you. I just heard you play last night.” I remembered that encounter so clearly and the ensuing conversation, which I recounted to Roberto to our mutual bemusement. Then, I had an interesting conversation with Vanda and Paulo Klabin who said they follow the blogs on Facebook. I said “y’all will definitely be in this one.” Here you are…and thank you for countering everyone who says they are too long.
The meal was delicious and everything was so gracefully handled that the quality of the good time enjoyed by us all became a primary topic of conversation. After dinner, I jumped on the piano and disrespected piano playing all over the world with my amateurish fumbling. Taking pity on me, Ali then jumped on the piano and accompanied Vincent who sang a blues. Finally, and thankfully, Marcus Valle rescued all of us at the keyboard and played his classic “Summer Samba”. Gizzy, Marcus and I all used my trumpet and tried to handle those changes and the very flat keyboard which Angela apologized for (there was absolutely no need) and Marcus Valle kept the groove and changes where they needed to be in spite of whatever I did to them. Soon the night was over and people left as gracefully as they had come, with full stomachs and hearts, and light in spirit.
Our concert the next night was part of the Brasil Jazz Fest in the new Cidade das Artes Hall. Getting to the gig was an experience. Whew Rio traffic!!!! When we arrive, Zé tells me he has been involved with the programming of this festival for some 25 years. We play through a set including compositions by Chris Crenshaw, Victor and me, New and Old Testament Count Basie, arrangements by Carlos, Sherman, Ted, Marcus, Chris and me of the music of Horace Silver, Dizzy, Monk, and Brazilian masters Moacir Santos and Hermeto Pascoal. On Moacir’s “Coisa No 2.” Vittor Santos comes out to join us on the trombone. On Hermeto’s “Bebe” all the cats came out to play, Hamilton, Jesse’, Mario and Aquiles, a young trumpeter everyone had been speaking about – with good reason.
Hamilton started it off right with one absolutely musical and thoroughly heard chorus. This is not the easiest song to play on with a three-part form of different harmonic shapes. He is a great musician who is as humble and gracious as his magical talent is deep. The rest of us went on into the music from that high point and Aquiles added a coda to what we played. He is humble and possesses a poet’s lyricism.
We ended the gig with a movement from Victor Goines’ “Crescent City” and everyone played except Mario who said, “I will listen intently.” The New Orleans rhythm is always inviting and interesting to hear from the perspective of different cultures. I think our audience loved seeing us play all together in an impromptu type jam session especially because we were trying to find each other……and did. The encore was Ted’s tricky and colorful arrangement in 6/4 of Moacir’s “Coisas no. 8” and we eased down into it. Moacir was a genius.
After the gig we greeted everyone and all of us musicians set plans for some big collaborations in the future. Hamilton’s manager Marcos Portinari is a natural diplomat who glitters with optimism and industriousness. He brings an abundance of cultural gifts (in the form of music and spirits) and also brings the blessing of belief in creating positive change. With his involvement, a powerful collaboration will surely come to fruition.
I have the pleasure of speaking with the President of Fundação Cidade das Artes, Emilio Kalil. We exchange comments and he says, “I want y’all back here.” These are words we all love to hear especially from Emilio. He is a rare person who understand the functional role of the arts in elevating a community, AND knows how to turn the rusty wheels of large institutions to make positive things happen. As I leave the hall, Marcos becomes the defacto translator because he’s the only one here that speaks both languages. A local musician and I speak. We end with a salutation that included the word ‘love’. Marcos moved on, but the musician kept speaking. I laughed and said, “We lost our translator.” Marcos replied, “After love there is nowhere else to go but down.”
Later that night, after every picture had been taken and booklet signed, Chris Street and I prepared to drive the 7 or so hours to São Paulo. It was about 1 am, but before heading out, we joined Victor, Paul and a friend named Thierry, who were across the street, right off the beach, drinking and talking in a small shop. We hung with them for a good hour with Vic and I regaling (or boring) them with stories about our teenaged years in New Orleans. And then, we finished our beverages and started our journey down a long stretch of Brazilian highway.
When we left Montevideo last Wednesday the weather was spotty. We were set to travel by ferry to Buenos Aires and ended up being delayed by about an hour and a half. As we waited for the skies to clear, we sat in the spacious chairs and had the chance to fellowship with each other. The conversation ranged from a Shorty Rogers record, to the schedule of our next concert season. Due to the fragility and state of support for the arts today, I’m always cautious when speaking about an upcoming season. I’ll mentally substitute the word ‘if’ rather than ‘when’ just to be safe. Once on our way, the ride is easy and soon we are pulling into Buenos Aires at 3 pm with a 5pm soundcheck and an 8 o’clock gig. Not a lot of time but just enough.
My mind falls on the great Argentine trumpeter Fats Fernandez who I always want see and hear.
Dr. Osvaldo Hamburg, his wife Noemi and two of their kids Hernan and Eduardo, meet us at the train station. We have been friends for years and no trip to Buenos Aires has ever been complete without visiting their home for a good meal and listening to some of his great record collection. The last time, too many years ago, we listened to the Terry Gibbs big band swinging all to be damned. I love the tradition of greeting people at the airport or train, as it softens the journey. Our celebrity soundman David “Sugar” Robinson leaves the train station in a car with me. He has to get to the theatre immediately to set up the rapidly approaching sound check and the gig. The band works steadily from about 4pm to 11pm every day. David works from 11am to 11pm and is extremely serious about doing a good job. He has been in communication with the hall for months making sure that all the stage and technical specs are right.
Tonight we are playing the mighty Teatro Colón, famous the world over for its golden acoustics and physical beauty. About 30 min later, we have dropped Sugar Rob at the hall and I am at the hotel where my iron doesn’t work. Suddenly, I get a call from Sugar, “Hey man, the hall is full of students and people who were told the sound check was at 3! What do you want to do?” That question means you need to come down here – immediately. There goes that small window of time.
I walk a block and a half to the hall and the staff is very kind and professional. When I arrive, Maestro Guillermo Scarabino, the Director of Artistic Production is there to greet me. As we walk to the stage, he agrees to translate for the class of students that has assembled; the number or ages of these kids is completely unknown to me. Upon glimpsing the large number of people, conducting the Q&A from the floor instead of the stage seems more appropriate. As we rush onto the floor of the hall, its grandeur startles me. There is a glow of beautiful people who greet me with an abundance of warmth and respect. Everywhere I see people who are smiling, cheering and exceptionally inviting. I try to answer the questions as accurately as possible and probably take too long with my replies.
I’m asked a range of subjects from, “What do you think about when you improvise?” to “Can you teach me something so I can tell my friends I was taught something by you?” I love being on the floor in this hall and Maestro Guillermo who is clearly a pro, does a very good job being both relaxed and authoritative. Walter shows up later to help me out and also speaks and plays. He is especially funny describing how he started playing saxophone. His father told him to pick out any instrument he wanted in a music store. Because his father played bass, he picked a small version of the bass, a violin. His father looked at him and said, “Pick something else.” We all started laughing. Then later, Gizzy joined.
Suddenly, Zulema Scarabino (who handles International Relations) tells me it’s time to get on the stage and begin soundcheck. I like the name Zulema. Just saying it reminds me of the Crescent City. Well, she made sure we understood IT WAS TIME TO MOVE ON. We begin soundcheck even though Ali’s drums haven’t all arrived. We work up Ted’s arrangement of the tango classic ‘Flores Negras’ from the 2000 collaborative concerts and dance we did with Orquesta El Arranque but are uncertain if it’s really ready to be played in front of an audience.
Our dear friends Eugenio and Maribel have come down from Mexico to see this gig. I first met Eugenio here in Buenos Aires over 20 years ago when he was a student of Fats. They’ve come because he wants to be here with us in the Colón. It’s hard to explain the relationship citizens and musicians have to the Colón. For everyone I have spoken to, IT IS A HOLY PLACE. Eugenio tells me that Fats probably can’t make it tonight because he is struggling a little with his health. We exchange recognitions of his greatness and his impact on us as trumpet players and as people. Maribel accompanies me with her typical substantive conversation (this one on Argentine architecture) as I rush back to the hotel, while Eugenio helps Ali sort out a playable drum kit.
While on the walk back with Maribel, we meet a guy who tells us that he has driven for 22 hours to come hear tonight’s concert. His name is Marcel and he has come down from Salta, in the northwestern part of Argentina. He is a trumpet player (so much drive and dedication, of course he plays trumpet) and asks to take a picture with me so that he can share it with his students. I am more than happy to oblige. Meeting someone like Marcel, who is willing to travel so long and so far to hear us play is always special and incredibly humbling.
Now I’m absolutely rushing. I have to eat and iron and I’ve just learned that the show will be two 45-minute halves as opposed to one 90-minute set. There goes the hour’s work to balance the set so everyone solos and the tempos and keys follow some intelligible progression. No way is there now time to reconfigure the sets. We will just have to work it out as we play.
My iron won’t cooperate and I’ve got to get back to the hall. It’s now 7:35 and I’m in danger of being late for real. The backstage crew in the Teatro is so absolutely professional and courteous and someone hooks up my suit as I shave and get ready. This show will be performed without microphones. Just one month before, my friend Leonardo Paz, a violinist son of Buenos Aires from a family of tango, came to a concert in Rose Hall and said, “Don’t use microphones in the Teatro Colón.” It’s purely David Robinson’s call and he has made that decision. Ali will have a difficult job being attentive at all times to Dan’s volume above and Carlos’ presence down below…. while still driving the band. As we prepare go on stage, the cats say let’s play ‘Flores Negras’ as an encore (if we get one). This gives us so more time to stretch on the other songs or I can call one that’s not on the set list.
The band played with a lot of poise and maturity. Though saxophones, trombones, drums and bass are all playing with substitute and inferior instruments, we play dynamically, blend, and try to show our best to the Teatro Colón. Carlos is unflagging in spite of his displeasure with his instrument and Ali is especially impressive in his control and virtuosity. Our audience is receptive and responsive and we return that appreciation by trying to swing harder and play with more feeling and nuance. It becomes apparent that we will play an encore and the Colón is up and calling for some more of that Swing.
We play ‘Flores Negras’, which the audience immediately recognizes, and make it through the intricacies of the arrangement without a problem. As we walk off the stage, Ted says, “everyone was really concentrating”—And we were. The last thing we were thinking about was messing up an original classic tango in front of Argentinians in the Colón in Buenos Aires. People continue clapping and the depth of feeling and intensity of this embrace is moving because this theatre means so much to everyone and a performance here is something special and significant. Even though we don’t exactly understand what it is, we feel it very directly.
After the gig we are told by the backstage crew to wait and meet the General Manager. After a few minutes Darío Loperfido and his wife Esmeralda appear with a group of people who are generous with their praise. Before greeting each band member with a handshake, words of welcome and thanks, Dario says, “Twenty-something years ago, when we (he and I) were both in our twenties, I was a writer for Pop and Rock Magazine and I interviewed you in your hotel room.” He smiled and said, “Fats Fernandez came in and you saluted each other with great feeling and you gave him a present of a trumpet.” He continued, “I am now entrusted with the management of this house and I want you all to know this is also your home.” He then went on to shake each orchestra member’s hand and then we all took a picture. It was glowing and glorious (in the words of Frank Stewart) and I saw another experience come full circle. This was the Teatro and we were being offered a seat at the welcome table. I can’t express the fullness of feeling as I looked around at all of the cats and crew interacting with such ease and friendship and took in the great hall once more before leaving.
Could I have imagined this type of feeling as a high school student in New Orleans practicing like a fool everyday? No. Or as a student at Juilliard? Or playing with Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers? Nope. As a young person traveling the world playing concerts, did I know when meeting young colleagues that they would go on to assume leadership roles at significant institutions and I would be out here long enough to reconnect with them in middle age with such genuine respect and common aspiration? NO WAY. Yet here we were, in front of the Colón, thanking people for coming out and signing autographs and taking pictures and even selfies. It was something I wish my grandmother were alive to see.
Later, I have to decide whether to go immediately to the jam session or out with Osvaldo. It’s hard because our traditional hang is at stake. Here’s Rob to explain about it.
“Not your average lawyer, Dr. Hamburg is also a trumpet player. He would come to NYC for the International Association of Jazz Educators conference every year. Religiously. Since its demise he still makes the pilgrimage to the states in January to soak up the jazz scene, stock up on books and recordings, and visit all the major exhibitions ongoing at the museums.
Always gracious, he never forgets to bring boxes of Alfajores, the delicious dulce de leche treat that is a symbol of Argentinian hospitality. And oh yeah, the latest recording of the master, Astor Piazzolla. He is a purveyor of fine dining and constantly seeks out the best new restaurants that will always insist on picking up the check!
His kindness and generosity knows no bounds. Even at home in Buenos Aires. He lays out a spread of the finest empanadas and argentine meats, complimented by Noemi’s wonderful salads and graced with bottles of Argentina’s finest wines. Then we sit around and play records from his extensive collection. All while browsing through his collection of photos he has taken with trumpet kings of all generations. But true to his bearing of good taste, there are also a few of Harry Carney from Duke’s first visit to Argentina. He and Noemi are the epitome of graciousness and class.”
So the decision is made and Rob and I head out with Osvaldo and Noemi to eat steaks (much too late at night). Hey, it’s Argentina. The restaurant is swinging hard. Cy Touff with Sweets Edison, Shorty Rogers with Doc Cheatham, some trumpet was being played. Normally, Osvaldo comments on different things that he likes and Noemi listens and gives some type of additional “I agree or I don’t think so.” It’s late so we are in more of a festive afterglow. Still, I love the way Osvaldo shakes his head before he speaks when he does not agree. It’s more effective because he is also the most respectful listener to a point he disagrees with. Sometimes you think he is with you and at the end of very attentive listening, with direct and friendly eye contact, here comes the head shake and the deliberate “I do not agree.” Then, he will always come with a well-considered and experienced point of view. He calls my name “Oh Wiiin-TON” in the same sing-songy way everyone used to say it in Louisiana when I was a kid.
After some colorful conversation about the Colón and its traditions, Osvaldo makes me eat some of his dessert. It’s 1:30, time to go to the jam session. In the cab, some young people pull up beside us and salute us for the concert. At the red light they hand me a CD and one says, “This is a CD of my father. He plays trombone!” Hehe. I loved it. Even though I wanted to hang, I decided to go to sleep knowing 7am would be coming fast and furious. But at 1:50 Ali sends me a text: Where you at? Meet me at the other club. Let’s play one tune. Then at 1:52 another text follows with a photo:
These are all trompetistas and they are looking for the old man!!! (That would be me)
As much as it pained me (cause I’ve gotten out of a bed many a night to find the swing) I had to leave my trumpet playing brothers hanging.
This is Ali’s recounting of the session:
“After a sold-out concert at Teatro Colón, Marcus Printup, Vincent Gardner and me went to the Jazz club Thelonius. The club was packed. People are everywhere. There was bandstand of enthusiastic musicians swinging.
We were invited up to play. We played a slow swinging blues, “Bags Groove”. The blues is always common ground, and it always lets everyone know ‘who you are and where you’re coming from’. And ‘have you done your homework?’ People in the club washed themselves in it with Printup and Vincent lavishing soul on everything in sight. We then played an up-tempo rhythm changes. The bass player said that he couldn’t play so fast. I told him to just play half notes. He hung in there, and so did I. We took numerous pictures and enjoyed the ‘hang’, then moved on to the “Black Man” Jazz club. Following a heated rendition of “Sweet Georgia Brown”, the neighbors called the police at 3:30AM and they concluded the swinging for the evening.”
Kenny also shared his thoughts saying,
“Our time in Buenos Aires was very short, but packed with great hangs, food, friends and music! My old friend and bassist extraordinaire, Pablo Aslan, happened to be back in his hometown to celebrate his Father’s birthday. I’ve known Pablo since I first moved to NY in 1989. We played in a small Latin-Jazz group together through the early ‘90’s. What a great coincidence that his last night in Buenos Aires, before heading back home to NY, was the night we played there. We met up at the soundcheck and the hang was on! After the concert, I told Pablo I wanted to get a serious Argentinian steak and he knew just the spot! He took me, Sherman, Dan Nimmer and Ayano all to a place called Lalo’s, where I had the thickest and most tender medium rare steak of my life! I actually was able to cut it with a fork. It was absolutely delicious and cooked to perfection.
After that glorious meal, we all went to a local jazz club, where most of the JLCO were already there and playing their hearts out. Unfortunately the jam session had to come to a close about 2 tunes after I arrived because neighbors were complaining and called the police. Nonetheless, it was a GREAT hang; meeting local musicians and fans of the music. The people couldn’t have been more open, friendly or sincere. I hope to get back to Buenos Aires soon!!!”
Yeah. Just like the good old days. One night in Buenos Aires is not enough. I can’t believe we didn’t see Fats.
We’re leaving early tomorrow for Rio.
Upon arriving in Montevideo we are met by Philippe Pinet and Remigio Moreno, who tells us that he goes by the name ‘Tato’. Just the name ‘Tato’ lets us know we are in good hands. Both native Uruguayans, Philippe is of French ancestry and Tato is of Andalusian. We head off to have a good meal and discuss family, nations, heritage and the next day’s events and objectives.
Philippe has prepared a thumbnail history of Jazz in Uruguay and takes us through it with colorful commentary. A real tennis pro, he was a former Davis Cup player for Uruguay and an Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) player who now has a couple of companies. One is Muracciole, a family operated business that acts as an agent for various industrial, commercial and service companies. The other, Jazz Uruguay (that is known commercially as Jazz Tour) is a non-profit dedicated to bringing music to the people. They promote quality music, from concerts to educational activities, integrating local and regional musicians and supporting the development of homegrown talent. Philippe is smart, dedicated and for real. He also will sneak up on you with his guitar playing if you’re not careful.
Jazz Uruguay currently presents one concert a month and Philippe is interested in expanding and attracting new audiences through a diversity of styles of shows. He says, “Jazz Tour is already a quality brand. People come to the shows not knowing what they are going to see, but assuming it will be a first class show. It is our wish to develop educational programs with our teachers and as a long-term goal, to be a regional Jazz University with the support of the international shows and collaborations like this one with JALC.”
In the context of the meal, we learn about the quality of beef here in Uruguay and that almost all of the cattle are tagged and profiled for pedigree from birth until death. The conversation progresses to national facts and then to how we will structure the press conference scheduled for the following day.
The next morning we head to Solaris Hall to speak about Jazz and culture. There are members of the press and musicians joining alongside Philippe and Maria Julia Caamaño, President of Centro Cultural de Música (CCM). There is also a special surprise for me. Vera Heller who was president of CCM when we came to Uruguay some nine years ago is also in attendance. During the press conference we cover a range of topics from the fundamentals of Jazz, to hospitality, to hip hop and the repartee is lively. Several people talk about their own parent’s interest in the music being the genesis of their participation. I am using headphones to hear the English translations and it’s a trip to hear a voice say words without the emotion of the speaker who is right beside you.
After the concert I meet several musicians including Leo Mendez, who gives me books and recordings of their national music, Candombe. We talk about the rhythms and melodies and I am moved by his spirit and belief. I meet someone else who tells me that he has driven 600 miles to get here. This statement punctuates the importance of being for real every time there is an opportunity to communicate.
The Hall is very beautiful and a little dry acoustically for us. Brass players have to work harder in drier halls because every imperfection is exposed. I’ve always felt it was good to practice in dry rooms because the acoustics give the starkest impression of your sound. The first night’s audience is generationally diverse, with good representation from the 20-30 year olds. They are very enthusiastic about the band and respond to the dynamics and variety of soloists.
Philippe had suggested that we play a song with Uruguayan tenor saxophonist Héctor “Fino” Bingert. Of course we are happy to share the stage and when we hear him, happiness turns immediately to joy. He can play! Fino plays with a great deal of depth, fire and patience. We all perform a Duke Ellington blues and he and Sherman make it clear to everyone why Jazz is so successful as a form of communication across cultures.
The next morning the education committee of our orchestra – Victor, Ted, Vincent, Kenny and Sherman (whose birthday it is) – have a roundtable brainstorming discussion with Jazz Uruguay’s education team. Vincent recounts,
“It was a very productive meeting with a core group of Jazz educators. We discussed ways for them to expand and enhance their vision for Jazz education in the city. The meeting proved to be very educational for me on many levels. My first realization was, that outside of 7 or 8 dedicated educators (5 of whom were sitting with us) Jazz education does not exist here. As we like to say in the Orchestra, there is no ‘they’…THEY are the ‘they’ and they are working everyday to further the presence and knowledge of this music that we all love.
These educators have already put in place a number of initiatives including Jazz-themed programs in schools, and an upcoming multi-day Jazz camp that will take place in the very theater that housed our two concerts. While discussing these different objectives with them and offering some suggestions, I had a revelation. Until then I hadn’t fully understood how much JALC’s education programs have created a model and set a standard for the type of educators we were meeting with. And, these programs can be replicated (even if modified) in different places.
When beginning Jazz instruction, the Uruguayan educators target late high school and early college-aged students. Using examples of JALC’s own WeBop, JFYP on the road, Middle School Jazz Academy and Essentially Ellington, we stressed to them the importance of introducing Jazz to young people at a much earlier age, and of keeping a continuous Jazz presence in their lives through the High School/University age. This was something that they hadn’t considered and the idea of starting the exposure so early seemed to surprise them.
These dedicated educators face other challenges as well. For example, their national music is Candombe, an Afro-Latin, percussion based music. Uruguayans love it and are culturally tied to it, whereas Jazz is not a part of their culture and they generally don’t understand it. But, as is the case in many cultures, people mistakenly devalue the artistic importance of their own music and place Jazz or music from other cultures above it. They think of Candombe as only “street music” and of Jazz as “art”. We stressed to them that Jazz music also had “street music” beginnings and in spreading the message of Jazz in Uruguay, they should also embrace the artistic qualities in Candombe and elevate ITS position with the people. We also suggested that a fusion between Jazz and Candombe would be one of the most effective ways of introducing more Uruguayans to Jazz music. They also told us that one of the top local governmental officials is a Candombe drummer, which gives them a slight inroad in gaining support for their programs.
This session also taught me how much our support means to other people and institutions attempting to establish similar programs in other countries. When it comes to even discussing securing support from their local or state government there are many bureaucratic obstacles preventing them from even getting in the door. They emphatically and repeatedly told us that the support of Jazz at Lincoln Center goes a long way in breaking down barriers that prevent them from promoting Jazz education in Uruguay.”
Victor also shared some of his observations,
“Our education committee spent the noon hour with Philippe and a team of local musicians/educators discussing ideas to develop a system of Jazz education in Uruguay. According to Philippe, who is truly passionate and dedicated to Jazz and its presentation, the small number of people interested in the music makes the process of raising funds very difficult. In my opinion this is very similar to what has happened in New Orleans post Hurricane Katrina. The basic educational system is just not in place, so that foundation (which we tend to take for granted) needs to be replanted for anything to grow.
We all concluded that if he is to have long term success, it will have to come from developing his audience not only through educating and exposing young kids to Jazz, but also through engaging the larger community over a sustained period of time. As a longtime member of the JALC family, I have seen the most success achieved by implementing this model. I think Philippe and the Uruguayans are up to the challenge. They are persistent and willing to put in the tremendous amount of work required to create a better cultural environment for their community through Jazz.”
On the second night of our performance the audience was a bit older and more reserved. It gave us the opportunity to pull out chestnuts like “Sent for you yesterday”, “The Flaming Sword,” and “I Got Rhythm.” Though they were quiet, I could tell they were feeling it. I have never believed it to be an accurate sign that people are enjoying music more just because they are whooping and hollering. Our job is to provide the good time, not to rely on audience response to establish the quality of our playing. That’s not to say we don’t appreciate help. Because Jazz is such an interactive spontaneous music, it always helps to have some help. We remained focused throughout the night and the audience was appreciative. In the end I felt they enjoyed the music and we did our best to maintain the integrity, feeling and improvisational intensity of what we played.
After the gig we attended a reception at the Ambassador’s house hosted by Deputy Chief of Mission, Brad Freden and his wife Piedad. We first met them more than ten years ago while on tour and it was great to see them again after all this time. They welcomed us in style. We heard a fantastic Candombe group led by Daniel Tatita Marquez, with Nacho Seijas and Jose Pepe Martinez. I made the mistake of playing with them and demonstrated why I should have practiced the piano like my father said. Ali redeemed us by grooving with them.
On the way home, I wonder whether or not our residency has helped Jazz Uruguay fulfill its objectives. We later received a note from Philippe who summarizing everything from his perspective:
“The experience with the JLCO and Wynton was, maybe, the best one we ever had. It came at the right time, the 15th anniversary of Tour and the inaugural year of the new project, Jazz Camps for 2014 and 2015.
We had not only a super show but also an extremely interesting and useful round-table (and brainstorming) with some of the most experienced guys and our team of educators. Then we had 3 masterclasses and the room was completely full of musicians and students. Wynton was very interesting and press was very impressed by this. His Q& A was a very special moment; we were all delighted by that. All this, I’m sure will help us for the start up of our Jazz Camps and for our future!!!!!!!
We are looking forward in our next conversations with the JALC educators about our programs …and to get information about the Junior Camps…We already have a few ideas to work on, that we’ll share with the JALC team.”
As we head to the ferry to Buenos Aires the next morning, I look back and reflect on the intensity of the last couple of days in Montevideo; the education programs, Sherman’s birthday on the road, the concerts and the audiences, and on Philippe and Tato. On one walk from the hotel to the Hall, I had asked Tato about the huge statue of Artigas. “What did he do?” I asked him. Tato went on to give me a lesson on the history of Uruguayan independence. He concluded by saying, “Like life, it is not exactly a clear thing.”
Just two nights earlier at about 11:30pm after our meal, a mother with her grandmother, mother and daughter had interrupted an intense 1980’s-era conversation Philippe and I were having in front of the hotel about Jazz fusion and real Jazz. They were afraid to walk across the square to their car because there were some nefarious characters lurking about with mischief and mayhem in their evening plans. The little girl, who looked to be about 8 years old, was leaning into her mother and almost crying. Naturally, we were honored to oblige them. As we very deliberately and patiently crossed the square, they were all linking arms looking like one person at different ages in a perfect picture of familial love and solidarity. We went on to have this exchange:
Where are you from?”
“Do you like Montevideo?”
“I like y’all.”
“We have relatives in Ohio.”
“Do you visit them?”
“Yes. We love the States.”
“Thank you. That is our car.”
Philippe and I pass into the night happy to leave the 1980’s conversation and begin a new one.
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.’
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.
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!”
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.