Wynton’s Blog

“Big 12” is my take on the 12 beat cycle (compas) of Bulerias

Vitoria Suite

Big 12 is a movement from the Vitoria Suite. Even though the entire suite was recorded in 2009 and released a year later, this section was composed for our first concert with Chano Dominguez and the Flamenco Jazz ensemble in February, 2003. Dedicated to the great festival in the Basque region of Spain, I took a 4 year course in Spanish music in a week of hanging with Chano. He is a troubadour, bard and teacher as well as a conservator, communicator and innovator. He taught and played with our Juilliard students this year and showed up for some classes he wasn’t even scheduled to teach! Chano is absolutely for real about music in all of its functions.

You want to go somewhere with a totally unique populace, great food, interesting history, iconic architecture, deep deep soul and a tradition of group song? Go to the Basque people. We played a gig in Bayonne, France sometimes in the 80’s, man, a group of people were going crazy cosigning every phrase and really participating in the music, made me think we were in New Orleans. After the gig, that group of about 50 people sharing motorbikes were waiting for us to come out. They were singing a chant that’s done at soccer games but using my name in the two note part of the chant. They were very very festive and genial. I asked someone at the hall,“Who are these people?” She said,“Basque.” Then we laughed in recognition and she concluded,“Very expressive right?”
Yes, very.

In Vitoria we have played every kind of gig: a swing dance, a young people’s concert, a picnic, jam session, collaborations, and a parade. Don Iñaki Añua, the Festival’s presenter, promoter and soul, is responsible for me writing this piece, and he even raised the funds with the city for us to record it! That was and remains a first. A city commissioning a jazz recording, it was as unique as the region.

Even though flamenco is not Basque regional music, it is a perfect ritualistic point of collaboration with Jazz. Improvisation, a repeating harmonic form, call and response for dancers and musicians, different musical forms for sorrow and celebration, displays of virtuosity that encompass velocity and deep expression of pathos, rigorous debate about form and meaning, a minority populace Afro-Gypsy-Mediterranean culture that mixes with European culture, and a documented history and tradition with celebrated heroes of instruments, song and dance are just the tip of the tale. It is also a part of jazz through the Spanish tinge melodies and grooves of early New Orleans and through the deep soul song of cante jondo expressiveness that is the essence of the blues itself.

And of the feeling in the room when we were recording, I can only say that everyone was trying to play on the highest level they could, individually and together. When I looked around the room I could see and feel Ali, who was completely prepared, Carlos translating for us verbally and musically, Dan pursuing the swing with unapologetic joy as he is want to do. All kinds of heavy hitters on horns: Sherman, Ted,Vic, Elliot, Vince on and on. And Marcus, Ryan and I on this session 11 years after recording Big Train, still trying to play better together and handle up on our parts (as we are doing now). And Sean, one of the greatest trumpet players and most collegial people ever, gracing our section and orchestra with his encompassing warmth and virtuosity.

There was also the supportive and elevating presence of Iñaki and members of his team that had sacrificed so much to make this recording happen. A group of people who struggled across these years to create a happy home and a quality place for jazz music, not just in Vitoria but in the world. Their concentrated involvement in this new music added to the charisma of the moment. The Jedi was there with all of his wizardry and alchemy to capture it all. He would work night and day for weeks to get it right. And we were determined to document how well we could play and once again testify to the  seriousness and depth of expression of our playing and our music.

A lot of this suite is really technically difficult, but this selection is probably the hardest to play. We had to place this song strategically in the recording schedule, because the lead trumpet part is very very challenging, not something you want to do more than a couple of times. Ryan played his part perfectly (as he does) on the first take and would have (and could have) played it as many times as necessary. His steel in these types of situations always gives us momentum and builds morale. But, the entire brass section was concentrating on this, especially on those bell tone pyramids at the end. They have to be counted, or you will definitely get lost, and we wanted to let the reeds know that we are for real.

Dan, Sean and Walter each bring their own perspective and sense of development to the melodic possibilities of their respective solo sections. The solo form highlights the diversity of moods created by different modes and also  provides so much open space, you rely on the cued backgrounds to tell you that it’s the last chorus of your ride.

Big 12 is my take on the 12 beat cycle (compas) of Bulerias. Though it is a form of flamenco, this is not flamenco. It’s jazz. It starts with the most basic rhythmic clapping (like palmas but in a louder more sanctified-church style), goes through all 12 keys, covers the mood created by different modes, features contrapuntal interplay of brass and woodwinds, has super-syncopated melodic lines that take you onto the other side of the best, and employs the most fundamental  and primary rhythm of jazz, swing.


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