This is our first time performing in Lima, so everyone is dedicated to representing
When we landed in Lima last Monday, the weather was warm and balmy. Our hosts for the next few days, Lali Madueño Medina and Nata Furgang, greeted us at the airport, displaying a level of professionalism and attention-to-detail that was so on point, we knew we were in expert hands. On our way to the hotel, we noticed that Lima is a very expansive and layered city. There is a motley assortment of apartment buildings in all shapes and colors and in various states of undress. We could see everything from the underlying brick frames of unfinished apartments to the sheen of the ultra modern. And despite the traffic and hustle-bustle of a population of over 10 million people, everyone was going about their daily business with an unusual calm. They exemplify relaxed urgency at its most refined.
While in Lima we are being presented by Alberto Menacho. He is an architect by trade and demeanor, and his mother was a first class concert pianist. He considers growing up in the arts to be his most treasured gift. After a revolution in 1968 sent his family to England, he returned to Peru in 1994 to practice his trade and discovered a dormant scene for presenting classical virtuosos. His love of country and classical music compelled him to present music of the highest quality in Peru. Following the overwhelming success of his first few concerts, Alberto founded ‘TQ Producciones’ as a tribute to his mom, Teresa Quesada.
What began as a hobby for national interest has become a fantastic business. I can say without hesitation that TQ Producciones is an absolute pleasure to work with. My guide for our stay, Lali, is very intelligent and deeply engaged with the culture. She is a source of all kinds of information about the history, the music and the contemporary aspirations of the nation. She also produces interactive documentaries for DOCUPERU, a local organization that gives voice to the concerns of ordinary folks. They are dedicated to improving different regions of Peru with educational, intercultural and collective development. To me, that sounds a lot like the mission of New Orleans Jazz in the early years.
The very first night we are treated to an excellent Peruvian meal at La Huaca Pucllana Restaurant curated by our hosts. We ate ceviche, tiradito, anticucho, causa, yuquitas and other dishes that we pronounced poorly, but had absolutely no problems eating.
The restaurant sits next to a Pre-Incan ruin and the view is spectacular, but the food will make you float home. We thoroughly enjoy the hospitality of our hosts. These types of gatherings between artists and promoters are becoming less and less frequent in our own country. And it is so vital. Not only does this fellowship build authentic relationships, it gives you the breathing room and time to learn about the culture and one another.
Alberto tells us about the revolution in Peru. He says that very few families held all of the wealth and that the redistribution of some of it left the country much better. He spoke eloquently about the necessity of economic balance saying, “To choose to share resources is the most relevant way to protect and expand what we all have.” From there we went on to discuss everything from family to politics to college sports.
The next day Ted, Kenny, Paul and Vincent taught classes on improvisation and critiqued a couple of bands. According to Ted:
“I taught two master classes in Lima. At the first one, with Vince, we paired a tenor saxophonist and valve trombonist to improvise with each other on a Bb scale. The tenor player had some experience, but I think the trombonist (a very short armed, young kid) had been handed this instrument for the first time just before the workshop. It was interesting…
One student from the workshops, an alto player, wanted to learn so badly he followed us around, rode the busses with us all day, came with us to the kids concert and asked a million questions while we warmed up. He had a nice sound. I think he will be a good player.
The kids told me they watch every live stream (from Jazz at Lincoln Center). They recalled specific moments from concerts and what instruments we were playing on what tunes.”
We rarely get to connect directly with people who watch our concerts online, especially outside the U.S., so we were impressed by the students knowledge of the orchestra, what we had played and who did what. Paul Nedzela, who is just beginning his journey of teaching master classes told us:
“I haven’t done nearly as much jazz education as the other cats in the band. So sometimes I can get more nervous about that than about playing. But it’s always good to do education events with some of the other guys because it’s really interesting to hear different perspectives on the same subjects.
I know that when Ted, Vincent, Kenny, and I heard the first school band play, we all heard a lot of the same things that needed work. What was really interesting to me was what aspects of the performance certain cats choose to talk about, and how they chose to go about improving the sound of the band with very limited time. And in that way, I sometimes end up learning as much from these education classes as the students.
At one point, I wanted to focus on the rhythm section and try to get the bass and drums to really lock in with the swing. But that’s not so easy to communicate, especially when jazz is virtually nonexistent in the history of the culture. But Vince got to the universal aspects of the music by talking about how to make to certain notes feel, how to make them moan and ache like when you’re in pain. That was something they understood quickly, even if they couldn’t recreate it right away. I could see that it would happen.”
While in Lima I had the RARE opportunity to sightsee. This isn’t something I traditionally have time to do – as I’m usually running to and from events, doing interviews, working to get our set list together for the upcoming night’s gig and spending hours in the car driving. So this was extra special. The town square and the market place are always interesting places to begin. Lali and I are joined by Jaime, who brings the feeling of the neighborhood and deep soul wherever he goes. Our first stop is the Plaza Mayor, which is the exact location that Pizarro founded Lima. It is also where Peru proclaimed its independence in 1821. The square is lined with the usual official and religious buildings but it also very colorful with lots of bright mustards and yellow and blues.
Next was the Plaza San Martin, which was established in 1921 on the centennial celebration of Peruvian independence. I am told that the monument of Argentinian General José de San Martín is not to be confused with Venezuelan Simón Bolivar. Although they were both influential figures during the Latin American Wars of Independence, they had different ways of achieving that end.
We see many things of interest from the dying Rimac River, to the 19th century Courret photo studios building, and eventually we end up in Barranco, a district made famous by the many artists, poets, and intellectuals who found inspiration there to create definitive and enduring art. We visit the Puente de los Susperos, the “Bridge of Sighs”, and view the monument to singer, poet, and cultural icon Chabuca Granda. Her music is still very present and relevant. Finally, all that we have seen and done is solidified with a meal at the local family establishment Juanito. Jaime is in the house calling our waiter/bartender ‘primo’. “Primo, can we have this. Primo what about that?” and Primo was just eating it up. I learned that ‘Primo’ is the equivalent of saying brother.
The concert that evening was in the new and very elegant Gran Teatro Nacional. The acoustics are clean and clear and the moody lighting of the boxes from the stage leaves an indelible imprint. We acquitted ourselves on a repertoire of originals and classics that give our audience a sense of the breadth and scope of Jazz. The music has so many excellent composers and definitive styles that are fun to hear and play, that I wish we had time to present more.
This is our first time performing in Lima, so everyone is dedicated to representing. There are many highlights and our audience is very receptive. They are generous with applause and very attentive listeners. After the show we meet a number of impressive guests and amongst them is US Ambassador Brian Nichols and his wife Jeri Kam.
Todd Stoll, Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Vice President of Education, is also here with us. He has been coming to Peru for years, and has established a strong relationship with the school that we will perform at the next day. We love playing at a school’s general assembly. They are special and rare occasions; as they allow us to relive our own childhoods and to function in the context of community. Undoubtedly, the students have little exposure to our music (this is also true in the US) but we enjoy playing for them and always try to play as if it is our most important concert, regardless of their attentiveness. Todd Stoll is closer to the ins and outs of this concert than any of us and he says:
“Over the past 15 years, I have travelled to Lima several times and have developed strong relationships with a number of local musicians and great educators. I was introduced to Angel Irujo, Gabriel Alegira (two great Peruvian trumpet players) and saxophonist Carolina Araoz, at a jazz conference in New York City back in 1997. They were all part of a national jazz organization and now run their own independent jazz schools. Gabriel is a professor at NYU and performs at Dizzy’s later this month with his Afro-Peruvian Jazz Sextet.
The highlight of my trips was always a concert at Colegio Los Próceres, a K-12 public school in a section of the city called Surco. Due to socio-economic challenges, the students there don’t have many opportunities to hear live music and were always so appreciative. It shocked us. The feeling of the entire school, from the Director Maria Lourdes Marín, to the ladies working in the kitchen, was always one of overwhelming gratitude and love. When the opportunity arose for the JLCO to present an outreach concert in Lima, this had to be the place!
As you can imagine, at at a public school with few resources and limited funding, the logistics of bringing our orchestra are prohibitive. Fortunately, The US Embassy, and our Ambassador, Brian Nichols, came on board as a sponsor for all costs associated with this performance and their team, lead by Cultural Affairs Attaché Vanessa Wagner, was amazingly efficient, professional, and went beyond what we would call supportive. In addition to risers, sound system, chairs, stands, a huge awning to mitigate the midday sun, and all the technical requirements, they had huge welcome banners made for both inside and outside the school. This inspired a number of the Próceres teachers to make their own welcome banner that was placed inside our dressing room, a converted science classroom, complete with a real skeleton! It was carefully and colorfully hand painted and included pictures of the JLCO, Wynton and various instruments and of course the school’s badge and US Embassy symbol. The school kitchen staff prepared sandwiches, drinks, fresh fruit and snacks that the band consumed with great appreciation.
Before the JLCO played, my friend and Proceres Band Director, Walter Liza, led the school band in an arrangement of a traditional criollo waltz by Peruvian legend, Chabuca Granda, “La Flor de la Canela” (the cinnamon flower). The band sat in the JLCO set-up and played with the type of nervous energy and soulful feeling we have heard from school bands all over the world; but with an audience of more than a thousand, and the JLCO looking over their shoulders, this was akin to them playing at Rose Hall. When it came time for the trumpet solo in this piece, the smallest member of the band, 12 year old Antonio Cueto, (with our trumpet section behind him) stood and played a perfect phrase with a bravura that was well beyond his years. It was a perfect moment and the audience responded with a thunderous ovation.
The band played a serious concert and the students loved Chris Crenshaw’s plunger playing on ‘Black and Tan Fantasy’ and Vincent Gardner’s singing on ‘Yes Sir, That’s My Baby’. Students were listening with varying levels of intensity but all enjoyed the presence of these musicians roaring through big band pieces with precision and passion – and in their schoolyard no less.
As the JLCO left the stage, students clamoring for pictures and autographs surrounded them on both sides of the stage. For more than an hour, the band obliged as students, school officials and dignitaries said their goodbyes. Musicians shared sweaty embraces, students smiled for pictures, language barriers were removed by feelings of mutual love and respect, and the enthusiasm shown between our Peruvian friends and members of the JLCO is something we will continue to build on for the future. So much so that three of the Peruvian band directors we engaged with on this trip, have already signed up for our Band Director Academy in NYC this June.”
I stayed and took pictures with all the students and especially my young trumpet section. Next thing I knew, we were in the airport headed to Santiago.
This trip was one for the memory books. We are going to miss Nata and Lali and Alberto. They were great hosts. Before leaving the terminal I look back at Jaime, “Primo” I tell him. We both open our arms, smile, shrug our shoulders and then I’m off.