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

    Posted on March 16th, 2015 | 1

    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!”

    Wynton

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

    Posted on March 14th, 2015 | 0

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Wynton

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

    Posted on March 8th, 2015 | 0

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Wynton

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

    Posted on March 8th, 2015 | 6

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Wynton

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

    Posted on March 7th, 2015 | 4

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Wynton

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

    Posted on March 6th, 2015 | 0

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Wynton

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

    Posted on March 4th, 2015 | 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Wynton

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

    Posted on March 3rd, 2015 | 0

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Wynton

  • One-stop classes are fun but not as productive as return visits

    Posted on February 13th, 2015 | 2

    Last Friday after driving back from Strathmore in the wee hours of the morning, I got up at 7, ironed and went to Isaac Newton Middle School for Math and Science in Harlem. It was a great day, because I enjoyed speaking to a class of 7th graders there last October and returning means that Principal Lisa Nelson approved of my overall vibration and way of teaching. I love the school and the communal feeling that she, the faculty, and staff strive to establish and maintain. It’s not easy.

    This morning I’m traveling uptown with James Bryant. James has been driving me on special occasions since 1985 when he brought the great New Orleanian, Reginald ‘Swing Doom’ Veal from Kennedy Airport to my New York apartment, which was then on 46th Street and 10th Avenue. We stopped on 100 and something Street and got a couple of good egg sandwiches (we were looking for fish to be honest) and some strong coffee.

    I love to come back to a school. One-stop classes are fun but not as productive as return visits. You get to know the teachers, develop a better feel for the school and have more meaningful interactions with students. My contact for this visit is Jacqueline Schoninger. She is a member of City Year New York which brings a diversity of young people from 17-24 years old together to tutor, mentor and just generally serve as positive role models for kids. This is a fantastic idea. It inspires young adults and college-aged kids to be leaders and helps them to expand their horizon of aspiration through service. I find that it’s more impactful when younger kids are mentored by slightly older kids. It’s closer to an organic family dynamic with older siblings. Jacqueline and other City Year youngsters add to the positivity and progressive nature of Isaac Newton’s environment. And her affirmative dedication and resilience is a source of personal inspiration. All of these mentors are very graceful and engaging.

    Soon, I am talking to a class of 6th graders about Black History month. We talk about practical aspects history and why it’s important to know what has happened: so you don’t repeat the dumb things that have been done and you do continue to develop the intelligent things. We talk about how everything we do is affected by what came before, from practical matters like the sidewalks we walk on and the lights in a room to more abstract things like ways of talking, eating and listening to music.

    We discussed American History in personal terms: the Declaration of Independence means I’m telling you, I am free from you! The Bill of Rights tells you what you can and cannot do to me because I’m free. And the Constitution provides an overall framework to level the playing field and enable the political possibility for equality.

    We discussed the word “black” and learn that a color is not a culture. We understood that all people have at least two heritages, their ethnic heritage and their human heritage. And we discussed the differences between the two. They explained to me that everyone feels sad, everyone has thoughts and emotions, but not everyone worships the same God or takes the same holidays. They observed that our human heritage was more fundamental to being alive.

    We concluded that there are prejudices and hatreds between different types of people because people erroneously think that insulting ‘others’ will make their condition better, but it won’t. The greater someone else is, the greater you are, or we all will be on a lower level together. We decided it was better to rise.

    We talked about the Afro American experience in very general terms, and then, I requested a talented student come up and sing. After some deliberation, the students elected Ms. Fatoumata Diallo, an 11 year old first generation straight-A student whose parents are from Guinea. She shyly sang John Legend’s “All of Me” poignantly, and with intensity of emotion and intention. I loved the honesty of her delivery. She is special and is going to make us all very proud. After answering some wonderful questions from the class, we reviewed everything we had talked about and they remembered a lot.

    We then re-convened in the gym to play some ball. Fatoumata is trying to make the basketball team coached by Jacqueline, Denzil Davis and Emilio Ramos. I showed her how to attack the front foot and how to line up her shot. We played and she had the nerve to beat me 5-3. Then Jacqui and I played 2 on 2 against Denzil and Emilio. Man, she could play! She kept us in the game. But because I told Denzil he looked like a soccer player not a baller, he and Emilio took it out on us. Still, Jacqui kept us in the game and we almost won. She was a ringer, but couldn’t overcome playing with a teammate whose game was petrified. A poor shooting decision on my part cost us a straight up 10-9 game.

    I’m officially sticking to playing the anthem from now on. These pictures make it painfully clear that it’s past that time. I want to thank everyone at the school for being so hospitable and gracious and especially the students. They were a joy to work with.

    Today, I am in Chicago at the great Orchestra Hall, about to conduct a class in Buntrock Hall. I’m ironing now and would probably be late.

    Wynton

  • Music is always so much deeper than notes

    Posted on February 6th, 2015 | 0

    It’s now 5 am and I’ve just finished ironing my suit for tomorrow’s 9:15 class after having driven back to New York with Jay Sgroi from the Strathmore Music Center in Bethesda, Maryland. It is a such a beautiful facility, warm and perfectly designed to encourage the expression of communal feeling. I’m writing now to preserve the afterglow of this experience.

    The Shenandoah Conservatory Symphony Orchestra played my music with such passion and zeal last night, I can’t sleep. Music is always so much deeper than notes. And a group of musicians dealing with the pressure of performance showcases a confluence of aspirations put to the test of execution. This test can bring out the best and worse in us. With young musicians, there is a palpable sense of fresh excitement because performing itself is still new. Each concert has a life and story of its own and a lot of how you feel about yourself can ride on every concert. (And if you’re especially neurotic or a perfectionist, a lot can ride in every note!) Well, tonight, our young people over delivered.

    Where can I begin, they proved maestro Jan Wagner’s deep respect and belief in their attitude and ability. I loved the way he always, from our first meetings, verbalized an ultimate faith in them. The way they rose to the challenge of approaching the variety of unfamiliar styles, other types emotions and a different way of developing thematic material, justified that confidence. I loved what they brought to they stage! Jan was relaxed and a total pleasure to work with. He was masterful in his pacing and nuanced understanding of this proud young orchestra. I was impressed with how he approached each member as a person, with patience and care.

    As a trumpeter let me say first how proud I was of principal trumpeter Nathaniel Hussell. Nate played his tail off. I want to go around the orchestra and tell you what I loved but have to settle on touching a few people in representation of the entire ensemble.

    Start with Katelyn Kaiser playing the piccolo with a sparkling rhythmic verve and deep deep character, go on to the rich woody tone and fluid velocity across all registers of clarinetist Jacob Moyer, what about the thematic imagination of trombonist Nathan Davis and the genuine humanity in his sound, let’s address the foundation, the gravitas and unforced weightiness of Jeff Jacobson’s tuba rounding out the bottom. I don’t want to forget the grace and sophistication of concertmaster Jingjing Nie’s playing or the unforced quality of her leadership. Cellist Michael Puryear is most for real. He plays with fire, refinement and a definitive belief in the sound and purpose of his instrument. I can’t forget, Erin Reilly on the viola, stepping up with poise and authority and to improvise a beautiful chorus in front of the orchestra, or Alexandra Lee who jumped all over the flute with an authenticity in a way that would have made Richard Egües, of the fabled Cuban Orquesta Aragón, quite happy. Mr. Michael Hollin sang through his french horn, got the core of his emotion into his sound and gave us all a taste of it….Oh yeah…the percussion section handled their business with definition, dynamics and boodie-shaking joy. They kept us in the groove.

    After every performance, we musicians tend to analyze everything. We will discuss what was good or bad (in our opinion). Sometimes, we listen to a recording, if there is one, and formulate a more definite opinion. We all know that tape doesn’t lie. But I conclude with something the great baritone saxophone player Gerry Mulligan once told me about Charlie Parker. “Man, Bird’s sound! You had to be in the room with him to hear it. It’s not captured on any recording!”

    You had to be in the room tonight to experience the feeling our young musicians brought to the stage. I am forever grateful to them and to Washington Performing Arts and the inimitable Doug Wheeler (to whom this concert was dedicated) and to everyone at Shenandoah University and Conservatory. Great people.

    I also want to say it was uplifting to hang with my lifelong friend and colleague Murray Horwitz who is Director of Special Project for Washington Performing Arts and who remains a true American original.

    Wynton