Last night was the final concert of a month-long tour that took me through seven countries, four climates and a three ounce deodorant stick.
Entering our third week tour meant saying good-bye to the lovely country of Panama and hello to shorter visits to two other wonderful places: Peru and Chile.
First I want to say one thing about Peru: Mangoes. Well, okay two things: pisco sours. A couple of these local beverages had me quite animated at our promoter-hosted dinner the night we arrived in Lima. The restaurant was set at the base of the remains a 2,000 year old pyramid, and the view was stunning (which had nothing to do with the effect of the indigenous drink).
The highlight in Peru was the education we did and the enthusiasm of the students, one who followed us around, riding on the bus, asking questions, pulling out his horn while we we set up for an afternoon concert for young people.
In Santiago, Chile, I did a masterclass at a local music school, and the instruments arrived just moments before. I walked several blocks in 90-something degree weather to the concert hall to grab my alto, and then several blocks in the opposite direction to get to the school. Sweaty and late, I walked into a small, stuffy room packed with about forty or so students of various ages, wide-eyed and expectant. With no time to check if my reed was working I pulled out my horn and played “Take the A Train” with a group of teachers. The reed was gone, and I could barely get a sound. I spoke for a few minutes about improvisation while I soaked a new reed in a glass or water. With this fresh cane I continued the workshop, jamming on a few tunes with the students.
It was painful we were in Buenos Aires for only 16 hours. This is such a great place and deserves a few days to explore. I remember dancing my first tango here years ago in a late night tango club, an experience directly responsible for the formation of my group Odeon, which fuses aspects of tango, Klezmer and second line grooves with modern jazz.
The last week of this tour took place in Brazil. Coming to São Paulo is always as much a reunion as it is a gig. Over the years I have met so many soulful musicians and people here and coming back is an opportunity to reconnect.
Some of my favorite experiences have been playing with the Jazz Sinfonica Orquestra. This symphony orchestra includes a full big band, and under the baton of João Maurício Galindo presents guest soloists on orchestrations of the guest’s original music. Like many great things, they are suffering economically. But this strain doesn’t affect the passion and feeling with which the musicians play.
This was evident the other day when I invited Ali Jackson and Greg Gisbert down to one of their rehearsals. We smiled ear to ear listening to them play through a program of choros. The musicians in the orchestra certainly have the discipline needed to play in any classical orchestra, but they bring something extra - this thing you can’t really write out or teach; a feeling, a spirit.
Over the years I have gotten to know Vinícius Barros, a percussionist from the Orchestra. When I got to town I reached out and invited him to our concert at Sala São Paulo. I told him to bring a few “toys.” Backstage I introduced him and his shoulder bag of percussion instruments to Wynton who invited him to join us on our closing number. Vinicius rose to the occasion elevating the groove on the tambourine and later taking an expressive solo on the cuíca.
Collaborating with musicians from other cultures has always been something that enriches all of our lives and creates lasting memories. Our experience in Recife, Brazil was the full embodiment of this collaboration. After dinner the night we arrived in this large port town (sometimes referred to as the Brazilian Venice) we walked down cobble-stoned streets to check out the rehearsal of a local frevo band. Frevo is a particular style of music that originates in this region of Brazil. It's very fast and technical; like choros on speed. We joined the musicians and marched in the streets, playing loud and ignorantly, sweating like pigs by the end. A crazy, musical riot.
The climax of our visit here was last night’s outdoor concert where the Spok Frevo band, considered one of the most important frevo groups in Recife, opened for us and then joined us on the last tune, an original composition by the band leader, alto saxophonist Maestro Spok. Due to just a short run-through at sound check, this technically challenging piece had the JLCO a bit out of our comfort zone musically, but right in the middle of it culturally and spiritually.
As great as this month has been, it’s time to come home...