Saturday, May 26, 2007

Latin jazz vs. the jazz establishment?

Pete Escovedo Orchestra @ Arte Americas - May 25, 2007
Latin jazz bandleader Pete Escovedo performed last night at Fresno's Arte Americas, a local Latino cultural arts center. Every Memorial Day weekend, they kick off their summer long Friday Night concert series with a Latin jazz headliner. Last year, it was Poncho Sanchez, the year before that it was Eddie Palmieri, before that the Spanish Harlem Orchestra, etc. It's always a fun event, with great music, food, people dancing, and all of that stuff. It was a good concert, maybe not as good at the Palmieri or Sanchez shows, but it was without question a good time, and the very diverse crowd loved it. Latin jazz seems like a good entry point into the world of jazz for a lot of people, and I think presenters and radio should keep this in mind, especially with the growing Hispanic population in the US.

Too often, jazz venues and promoters and radio treat Latin jazz as a stepchild to "real" jazz. I had a promoter the other day react in shock (in a positive way) when I told him our station would be playing the new Spanish Harlem Orchestra CD quite a bit. He said he wasn't sure how radio would respond to it, or if stations would even play it (it's a pretty straight ahead Latin jazz/salsa album, with one odd track featuring Paul Simon tacked on the end of the CD). It's not the first time I've heard this sort of thing from promoters. I guess this is because a lot of radio stations just won't play it, especially if it has Spanish lyrics. A few artists have been able to break through. Arturo Sandoval always gets good airplay on jazz radio, and Poncho Sanchez, through relentless touring and a string of well produced CDs that have crossover appeal (and guest stars), gets good airplay.

But overall, I don't see the jazz establishment embracing Latin jazz. In 2002, Jazz at Lincoln Center founded at Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra, led by pianist Arturo O'Farrill (son of legendary band leader, composer and arranger Chico O'Farrill). A couple of years ago, the group released a fine album of Latin jazz big band classics, Una Noche Inolvidable, on Palmetto Records. But just this April, it was announced that J@LC was cutting its ties to the band. (NY Post Article) According to another article on the website, it came down to money.
“A year or two ago we all sensed a diminishing lack of resources for the orchestra,” said O’Farrill.

He says about a month and half ago he sat down with JALC Artistic Director Wynton Marsalis.

“He said that that he loved us,” said O’Farrill. “That he was sorry that it wasn't enough of a platform on which to continue the orchestra.”
But this doesn't mean that ALJO is no more. Instead, O'Farrill is going to forge out on his own, and try to become its own institution. And for now, it's forging ahead, with a fall season at Symphony Space, starting in September. I wish Arturo and his band the best of luck, perhaps they'll come out of this as a stronger band, and with an enhanced image. I can't imagine ANYONE in jazz attempting to lead a big band at J@LC, trying to get publicity and recognition while basking in Wynton Marsalis's shadow. I must admit I was surprised when they created the ALJO, but I wasn't nearly as surprised when they parted ways. Such is often the case when the jazz "establishment" deals with Latin jazz.

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Blogger Chip Boaz said...

Joe - thanks so much for this post! I think that you hit a lot of issues right on the head. I think the problem lies in the lack of understanding that promoters and such have about the music. When a lot of people think of "latin jazz", an image of watered down pop-salsa comes to mind instead of the fusion of Bop and Cuban rhythms that has come so far over the years. I talked about the AFLO issue on my latin jazz blog. I would love to see latin jazz develop the type of support that striaght-ahead jazz has recieved.

11:31 PM  

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