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