Upon arriving in Montevideo we are met by Philippe Pinet and Remigio Moreno
Upon arriving in Montevideo we are met by Philippe Pinet and Remigio Moreno, who tells us that he goes by the name ‘Tato’. Just the name ‘Tato’ lets us know we are in good hands. Both native Uruguayans, Philippe is of French ancestry and Tato is of Andalusian. We head off to have a good meal and discuss family, nations, heritage and the next day’s events and objectives.
Philippe has prepared a thumbnail history of Jazz in Uruguay and takes us through it with colorful commentary. A real tennis pro, he was a former Davis Cup player for Uruguay and an Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) player who now has a couple of companies. One is Muracciole, a family operated business that acts as an agent for various industrial, commercial and service companies. The other, Jazz Uruguay (that is known commercially as Jazz Tour) is a non-profit dedicated to bringing music to the people. They promote quality music, from concerts to educational activities, integrating local and regional musicians and supporting the development of homegrown talent. Philippe is smart, dedicated and for real. He also will sneak up on you with his guitar playing if you’re not careful.
Jazz Uruguay currently presents one concert a month and Philippe is interested in expanding and attracting new audiences through a diversity of styles of shows. He says, “Jazz Tour is already a quality brand. People come to the shows not knowing what they are going to see, but assuming it will be a first class show. It is our wish to develop educational programs with our teachers and as a long-term goal, to be a regional Jazz University with the support of the international shows and collaborations like this one with JALC.”
In the context of the meal, we learn about the quality of beef here in Uruguay and that almost all of the cattle are tagged and profiled for pedigree from birth until death. The conversation progresses to national facts and then to how we will structure the press conference scheduled for the following day.
The next morning we head to Solaris Hall to speak about Jazz and culture. There are members of the press and musicians joining alongside Philippe and Maria Julia Caamaño, President of Centro Cultural de Música (CCM). There is also a special surprise for me. Vera Heller who was president of CCM when we came to Uruguay some nine years ago is also in attendance. During the press conference we cover a range of topics from the fundamentals of Jazz, to hospitality, to hip hop and the repartee is lively. Several people talk about their own parent’s interest in the music being the genesis of their participation. I am using headphones to hear the English translations and it’s a trip to hear a voice say words without the emotion of the speaker who is right beside you.
After the concert I meet several musicians including Leo Mendez, who gives me books and recordings of their national music, Candombe. We talk about the rhythms and melodies and I am moved by his spirit and belief. I meet someone else who tells me that he has driven 600 miles to get here. This statement punctuates the importance of being for real every time there is an opportunity to communicate.
The Hall is very beautiful and a little dry acoustically for us. Brass players have to work harder in drier halls because every imperfection is exposed. I’ve always felt it was good to practice in dry rooms because the acoustics give the starkest impression of your sound. The first night’s audience is generationally diverse, with good representation from the 20-30 year olds. They are very enthusiastic about the band and respond to the dynamics and variety of soloists.
Philippe had suggested that we play a song with Uruguayan tenor saxophonist Héctor “Fino” Bingert. Of course we are happy to share the stage and when we hear him, happiness turns immediately to joy. He can play! Fino plays with a great deal of depth, fire and patience. We all perform a Duke Ellington blues and he and Sherman make it clear to everyone why Jazz is so successful as a form of communication across cultures.
The next morning the education committee of our orchestra – Victor, Ted, Vincent, Kenny and Sherman (whose birthday it is) – have a roundtable brainstorming discussion with Jazz Uruguay’s education team. Vincent recounts,
“It was a very productive meeting with a core group of Jazz educators. We discussed ways for them to expand and enhance their vision for Jazz education in the city. The meeting proved to be very educational for me on many levels. My first realization was, that outside of 7 or 8 dedicated educators (5 of whom were sitting with us) Jazz education does not exist here. As we like to say in the Orchestra, there is no ‘they’…THEY are the ‘they’ and they are working everyday to further the presence and knowledge of this music that we all love.
These educators have already put in place a number of initiatives including Jazz-themed programs in schools, and an upcoming multi-day Jazz camp that will take place in the very theater that housed our two concerts. While discussing these different objectives with them and offering some suggestions, I had a revelation. Until then I hadn’t fully understood how much JALC’s education programs have created a model and set a standard for the type of educators we were meeting with. And, these programs can be replicated (even if modified) in different places.
When beginning Jazz instruction, the Uruguayan educators target late high school and early college-aged students. Using examples of JALC’s own WeBop, JFYP on the road, Middle School Jazz Academy and Essentially Ellington, we stressed to them the importance of introducing Jazz to young people at a much earlier age, and of keeping a continuous Jazz presence in their lives through the High School/University age. This was something that they hadn’t considered and the idea of starting the exposure so early seemed to surprise them.
These dedicated educators face other challenges as well. For example, their national music is Candombe, an Afro-Latin, percussion based music. Uruguayans love it and are culturally tied to it, whereas Jazz is not a part of their culture and they generally don’t understand it. But, as is the case in many cultures, people mistakenly devalue the artistic importance of their own music and place Jazz or music from other cultures above it. They think of Candombe as only “street music” and of Jazz as “art”. We stressed to them that Jazz music also had “street music” beginnings and in spreading the message of Jazz in Uruguay, they should also embrace the artistic qualities in Candombe and elevate ITS position with the people. We also suggested that a fusion between Jazz and Candombe would be one of the most effective ways of introducing more Uruguayans to Jazz music. They also told us that one of the top local governmental officials is a Candombe drummer, which gives them a slight inroad in gaining support for their programs.
This session also taught me how much our support means to other people and institutions attempting to establish similar programs in other countries. When it comes to even discussing securing support from their local or state government there are many bureaucratic obstacles preventing them from even getting in the door. They emphatically and repeatedly told us that the support of Jazz at Lincoln Center goes a long way in breaking down barriers that prevent them from promoting Jazz education in Uruguay.”
Victor also shared some of his observations,
“Our education committee spent the noon hour with Philippe and a team of local musicians/educators discussing ideas to develop a system of Jazz education in Uruguay. According to Philippe, who is truly passionate and dedicated to Jazz and its presentation, the small number of people interested in the music makes the process of raising funds very difficult. In my opinion this is very similar to what has happened in New Orleans post Hurricane Katrina. The basic educational system is just not in place, so that foundation (which we tend to take for granted) needs to be replanted for anything to grow.
We all concluded that if he is to have long term success, it will have to come from developing his audience not only through educating and exposing young kids to Jazz, but also through engaging the larger community over a sustained period of time. As a longtime member of the JALC family, I have seen the most success achieved by implementing this model. I think Philippe and the Uruguayans are up to the challenge. They are persistent and willing to put in the tremendous amount of work required to create a better cultural environment for their community through Jazz.”
On the second night of our performance the audience was a bit older and more reserved. It gave us the opportunity to pull out chestnuts like “Sent for you yesterday”, “The Flaming Sword,” and “I Got Rhythm.” Though they were quiet, I could tell they were feeling it. I have never believed it to be an accurate sign that people are enjoying music more just because they are whooping and hollering. Our job is to provide the good time, not to rely on audience response to establish the quality of our playing. That’s not to say we don’t appreciate help. Because Jazz is such an interactive spontaneous music, it always helps to have some help. We remained focused throughout the night and the audience was appreciative. In the end I felt they enjoyed the music and we did our best to maintain the integrity, feeling and improvisational intensity of what we played.
After the gig we attended a reception at the Ambassador’s house hosted by Deputy Chief of Mission, Brad Freden and his wife Piedad. We first met them more than ten years ago while on tour and it was great to see them again after all this time. They welcomed us in style. We heard a fantastic Candombe group led by Daniel Tatita Marquez, with Nacho Seijas and Jose Pepe Martinez. I made the mistake of playing with them and demonstrated why I should have practiced the piano like my father said. Ali redeemed us by grooving with them.
On the way home, I wonder whether or not our residency has helped Jazz Uruguay fulfill its objectives. We later received a note from Philippe who summarizing everything from his perspective:
“The experience with the JLCO and Wynton was, maybe, the best one we ever had. It came at the right time, the 15th anniversary of Tour and the inaugural year of the new project, Jazz Camps for 2014 and 2015.
We had not only a super show but also an extremely interesting and useful round-table (and brainstorming) with some of the most experienced guys and our team of educators. Then we had 3 masterclasses and the room was completely full of musicians and students. Wynton was very interesting and press was very impressed by this. His Q& A was a very special moment; we were all delighted by that. All this, I’m sure will help us for the start up of our Jazz Camps and for our future!!!!!!!
We are looking forward in our next conversations with the JALC educators about our programs …and to get information about the Junior Camps…We already have a few ideas to work on, that we’ll share with the JALC team.”
As we head to the ferry to Buenos Aires the next morning, I look back and reflect on the intensity of the last couple of days in Montevideo; the education programs, Sherman’s birthday on the road, the concerts and the audiences, and on Philippe and Tato. On one walk from the hotel to the Hall, I had asked Tato about the huge statue of Artigas. “What did he do?” I asked him. Tato went on to give me a lesson on the history of Uruguayan independence. He concluded by saying, “Like life, it is not exactly a clear thing.”
Just two nights earlier at about 11:30pm after our meal, a mother with her grandmother, mother and daughter had interrupted an intense 1980’s-era conversation Philippe and I were having in front of the hotel about Jazz fusion and real Jazz. They were afraid to walk across the square to their car because there were some nefarious characters lurking about with mischief and mayhem in their evening plans. The little girl, who looked to be about 8 years old, was leaning into her mother and almost crying. Naturally, we were honored to oblige them. As we very deliberately and patiently crossed the square, they were all linking arms looking like one person at different ages in a perfect picture of familial love and solidarity. We went on to have this exchange:
Where are you from?”
“Do you like Montevideo?”
“I like y’all.”
“We have relatives in Ohio.”
“Do you visit them?”
“Yes. We love the States.”
“Thank you. That is our car.”
Philippe and I pass into the night happy to leave the 1980’s conversation and begin a new one.