Reporting From Mexico
Monterrey is the seat of the third largest metropolitan area in Mexico and is, arguably, the most “Americanized” city in the country, allowing me the idiosyncratic sensation of comfort I get from consciously eschewing establishments offering mass-hypnosis in the form of fast-food and warehouse shopping. The daily routine, though, of Encuentro Internacional de Jazz y Música Viva makes it somewhat difficult to sightsee or go shopping for souvenirs. Every day, our group of ten musicians is scheduled to rehearse from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. with workshops being conducted from 3-6 p.m. and, since Wednesday, concerts from 8-10 p.m.
Tonight (May 11) the musicians from the United States (myself, trumpeter Herb Robertson, and drummer Lou Grassi) will be featured. Yesterday’s concert featured the music of the musicians from Europe: pianist Sophia Domancich, saxophonist Harri Söström, trombonist Conrad “Conny” Bauer, and guitarist Andreas Willers. Tomorrow is the last concert and features works presented by musicians from Mexico (guitarist and event organizer Omar Tamez and saxophonist Rémi Álvarez) and Bolivia (saxophonist Marcos Miranda). Our program, so far, consists of two compositions of mine (a cycling dirge, “The Carpenter,” and an up-tempo multiple-layer blues, “9-2”), one by Robertson (“Cosmic Child,” a 32-measure piece with chord changes that is parsed into three somewhat independent events using a varied palette of improvisational strategies), and two by Grassi (“Avanti Galoppi” and “Parallel Realities,” both comprised of single-line melodies that serve to mark the compositions’ structures and forms, which are interpretations of their titles). The promoter wanted tonight’s performance to be dedicated to the memory of Paul Motian and we were happy to oblige by adding “From Time to Time” (Motian in Tokyo, JMT, 1991) to the program.
This is the third (and I sincerely hope not the last) Encuentro in Monterrey I’ve been a part of. If my memory serves me well, the first was in 2004 and the second in 2008. The first was a two-week affair with concerts held on the weekends. The artists were housed at an elegant Howard Johnson’s in downtown Monterrey. Sadly, the hotel has not been well maintained and a hurricane that devastated much of that area of the city has turned it into a mold trap. Fortunately, a Hilton opened in Fundidora Park, where Encuentro is held, and our accommodations are better than ever. Yesterday was Mother’s Day in Mexico and the hotel’s dining facilities were decked out in grand style, complete with a strolling violinist, making lunch a gala affair. But even the added festivities couldn’t alter the bittersweet feeling that accompanies the knowledge that a unique and vital musical event is now only half what it once was. While those who are in-the-know when it comes to improvised music support the Encuentro de Jazz y Música Viva Monterrey series, even to the point of people traveling from nearby Texas and New Mexico to attend, the local tastes are more acclimated to indigenous folk, popular Latin, and dance music.
Monterrey is a major, and possibly the center of corporate culture in Mexico, which is reflected in the attitude towards music education here. So far, Tamez has been working with select local businesses and the home embassies of the musicians he brings to Monterrey for support. This year a new and surprising source of support in the person of Roberto Romero, the owner of Roberto’s Winds and Michiko Studios, has appeared at Encuentro Monterrey. Roberto is no stranger to saxophonists in New York, and a saxophonist who travels to that city inevitably winds up at his 46th Street shop. I go there often to rehearse at Michiko Studios, the most affordable high-quality rehearsal studios in Manhattan. It turns out that Romero has dealerships in Australia as well as in Mexico City. Tamez met Romero on one of his trips to New York and the two agreed that this year a nation-wide saxophone competition would be included in the list of Encuentro events with the first prize being a Roberto’s Winds signature soprano saxophone. So now, not only can you buy recordings by the various artists performing at Encuentro de Jazz y Música Viva Monterrey, but you can also try out and buy a brand new saxophone from Roberto’s Winds!
I think this could be the start of something really great for Encuentro de Jazz y Música Viva Monterrey and the world of improvised music. I’ll include pictures next week, but now I have to go rehearse…