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