Celebrating Latin Jazz with a New Festival

September 24, 2018

Charanga Carolina

The UNC Department of Music has been celebrating the intersection between Latin and jazz music for years, but this year is special. Professors Stephen Anderson, Juan Álamo and David Garcia each have a unique Latin music repertoire that they bring to the department. Now, the trio is putting their events together with the help of a few special guests and other department faculty to host UNC’s inaugural Month of Latin Jazz Festival from Sept. 29 – Oct. 30.

Anderson’s group, The Dominican Jazz Project, consists of percussionist Álamo, saxophonist Sandy Gabriel, drummer Guy Frómeta, pianist Guillo Carias, guitarist Carlos Luis, bassist Jeffry Eckels, percussionist David Almengod and Anderson himself on piano. The group will open the festivities by hosting The Dominican Jazz Project Clinic from 1:30 – 3:00 pm on Saturday, Sept. 29 in Kenan Music Building. They will also perform at Sharp 9 Gallery in Durham that night, and in Moeser Auditorium in Hill Hall on Monday, Oct. 1 at 7:30 pm.

Álamo is the founder of Marimjazzia, a Latin jazz ensemble. Marimjazzia is made up of Álamo, Anderson, and three UNC music alumni — Pete Kimosh, Beverly Botsford and Brevan Hampden. The quintet performs at least once a month and will close out its fall concert series with a performance at the Center for the Study of the American South (Franklin Street) on Thursday, Oct. 4 at 5:30 pm.

Garcia, who directs Charanga Carolina, the only university-based Cuban Charanga ensemble in the country, will be collaborating with professor Jim Ketch. Ketch’s UNC Jazz Band and Charanga Carolina will perform together in a Scholarship Benefit Concert in Moeser Auditorium on Saturday, Oct. 6 at 8:00 pm. Tickets are $10 general admission and $5 for students, faculty and staff.

UNC Jazz Combos and the Brazilian Violin Trio, a group led by UNC alumnus Finn McGill, are also a part of the festival. UNC Jazz Combos will perform at Moeser Auditorium on Friday, Oct. 5 at 4:00 pm, and the Brazilian Violin Trio will host a workshop for Ketch’s Jazz Improvisation class in Kenan Music Building on Tuesday, Oct. 30 at 9:30 am.

Though the department has been hosting events that honor Latin jazz for quite a while, this is the first time that a full lineup of workshops and concerts has been packaged together to create the Month of Latin Jazz Festival.

To understand what inspired Anderson, Álamo and Garcia to explore the intersection between jazz and Latin culture, one must take a look back.

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When Stephen Anderson first met Guillo Carias while performing one night in Raleigh, he had no idea their relationship would blossom the way it did.

Anderson, a professor of composition and jazz studies in the Department of Music, often performs at various venues in the Triangle area with his group, the Stephen Anderson Trio.

Carias was a retired pianist from the Dominican Republic who lived in the area. He and his wife would come listen to Anderson play piano at restaurants and bars. Over time, Anderson and Carias became friends, and one night at Brasa Brazilian Steakhouse, Carias invited Anderson to perform with him and local players for the 2014 Jazzomania Jazz Festival in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.

When performing together at the festival, Anderson befriended a Dominican drummer, Guy Frómeta, who invited him back to the country a few months later to perform in another festival. The group continued to bond, and after Anderson brought them to his Summer Jazz Workshop in 2015, they decided to record together.

“In this ironic way, we just realized we were like brothers,” Anderson said. “We had a lot of the same interests. They wanted me to write my harmonies, not Dominican harmonies. But (they wanted me) to reference their music and to use their grooves.”

The group, which consists of Anderson, Carias, Frómeta, tenor saxophonist Sandy Gabriel, guitarist Carlos Luis, bassist Jeffry Eckels, percussionist David Almengod and fellow UNC professor and percussionist Juan Álamo, makes up The Dominican Jazz Project.

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Growing up in Cidre, Puerto Rico and even attending the Puerto Rico Conservatory of Music in the ‘90s, Juan Álamo wasn’t afforded many opportunities to study or play jazz music.

“There was no jazz whatsoever,” Álamo recalled of his time on the island. “It was all classical music (or) European music. I grew up listening to (jazz) on the station, and I was attracted to it, but I never got the opportunity to play it.”

Álamo had a passion for the genre, but it wasn’t until he moved to the United States and attended the University of North Texas to pursue a master’s degree that he was able to consistently perform Latin jazz. UNT had a Latin jazz ensemble, and Álamo organized his own groups to perform in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

With the UNC Department of Music, Álamo has directed the percussion ensemble, performed with Charanga Carolina and joined The Dominican Jazz Project with Anderson. In 2014, he formed Marimjazzia as an experimental music project.

A Latin-American himself, Álamo was sure to recruit talented musicians who understood Latin culture when he created the ensemble. The trio of UNC alums, percussionist Beverly Botsford, bassist Peter Kimosh and drummer Brevan Hampden have all traveled to Latin American countries to study and perform. Álamo is excited for his students to have the opportunity to learn from former students who have been immersed in Latin culture.

“Them being here gives our students access to that information and an opportunity to interact with them and pick their brains,” Álamo said. “There’s a great value, musically, for having this type of event on campus for a whole week. I think it’ll be a great resource for our students to pick their brains and get to know more first-hand about Latin American music and Latin American culture.”

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A son of Ecuadorian immigrants, David Garcia has always had a strong interest in Latin American music.

Since he joined the UNC Department of Music in 2004, Garcia has taught undergraduate courses in the music of Latin America, world music and jazz. He has also taught graduate seminars in ethnomusicology, music of the African diaspora and popular music.

In 2004, Garcia founded Charanga Carolina, a university ensemble that specializes in Cuban danzón and salsa music, usually made up of 15 students. The group is a string-based ensemble with an Afro-Cuban or salsa rhythmic core that performs salsa and other Latin music for dancers at off campus venues.

“As professional jazz musicians, you’re expected also to be able to play some Latin music,” Garcia said. “That’s why Jim Ketch is very supportive on the ensemble. In wanting to develop well-rounded jazz musicians here at UNC, he very much encourages his students to do at least one semester with me in the ensemble.”

Garcia, who believes it is important for music students to immerse themselves in different cultures and music genres, says Charanga Carolina does a good job of diversifying the experiences of students in the department.

He hopes that non-music Latinx UNC students attend the events in the festival.

“I think it would be important, if they don’t realize it already, that the Department of Music and the university, in general, values the music and culture and history of Latin America,” Garcia said.

“We’re living in a time, yet again, where music helps to bring people back together. In the case of Latinx students, that expresses a commitment to their cultures, to their parents’ cultures, to their grandparents’ cultures.”

To see the complete listing of events for the festival, please visit https://music.unc.edu/month-of-latin-jazz-festival/.

By Parth Upadhyaya