Juan De Marcos' Afro-Cuban All Stars Pay Tribute to the Diversity of Latin/Cuban Music

New Orleans merges music and culture from three continents during the turn of the 20th Century to help create Afro-Cuban music - A Historical Perspective. Part 1 - 1900 - 1999

Since the inception of jazz, a Latin influence has been very apparent in various early incarnations. One variation such as the Storyville, New Orleans style, incorporated Latin rhythms into the jazz lexicon almost 100 years ago. These Latin rhythms have proved very influential to the development of jazz, as we know it today. These "Spanish tinges" are a result of the American cultural melting pot that existed in New Orleans around the turn of the century. Due to the open trade offered by a sea harbor with Spanish, French and American ownership, the region boasted a cultural mix of diverse musical influences including French, African and Latin cultures. Early jazz / ragtime recordings of pioneers like: Jelly Roll Morton, Scott Joplin and W.C. Handy feature elements of Tango and other Hispanic dance rhythms. Xavier Cugat, the Cuban bandleader introduced Americans to various Latin rhythms and even popularized "rhumba" dancing in the 30's. Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker were also instrumental in incorporating Afro-Cuban rhythms in the 1940's.

The last half of the century has offered many Latin contributions. In the 1950's the Woody Herman and Stan Kenton big bands featured the work of Cuban arrangers and composers (Chico O'Farrill & Perez Prado). The, I Love Lucy decade spawned Latin jazz artists Tito Puente on percussion and Cal Tjader on vibes. Charles Mingus presented a sultry collection of Mexican folk melodies, blues tonalities and a strong rhythmic power with his 'New Tijuana Moods' album. The collections of intense improvising featured on such tunes as "Ysabel's Table Dance" show Mingus at his inquisitive best. He also offered, his tribute to Diz's "Woody 'n' You" with his signature arranging style on the tune 'Dizzy Moods'. Astor Piazolla produced lush arrangements and romantic melodies on the bandoneon (accordion type instrument) which helped to boost the popularity of the tango in Argentina and the world. While mixing the romantic melodies from his Italian roots and the robust folk music of his adopted country, Piazolla effectively, "legitimized" the tango. His influence on other musicians and the respect he raised for the art form around the world is immeasurable, even today.

The 1960's decade proved the world was engrossed in the bossa nova fad, which was a direct result of the beautiful, seductive music from the soundtrack to the film, 'Black Orpheus'. The film boosted the music's popularity and that of the musicians who performed bossa so well, like Stan Getz and Herbie Mann. Astrid Gilberto, J. Gilberto and Getz earned a Grammy for their work in '61 with "The Girl from Impanema," a world - wide standard still to this day.

The 1970's ushered in Chick Corea and Return to Forever which infused electronic fusion styles and daring compositions, featuring virtuoso performers. The intensity of rock and blues music was now fully incorporated into the jazz idiom, which broadened the fan base for Latin music for a younger audience. Corea, RTF and Weather Report helped convert many rock / pop listeners to the vibrant Latin / world beat with a tribute to beautiful, seductive melodies and pulsating dance rhythms.

The 1980's offered Cuban trumpeter Arturo Sandoval and his renowned "cubop"(Cuban bebop) styling, which paid homage to Dizzy Gillespie and added a new level of flawless trumpet mastery. Pianist, Danilo Perez and percussionist Jerry Gonzalez also offered new approaches to the music. The beautiful compositions & virtuosity of Al Di Meola helped forge a partnership with Paco De Lucia and John McLaughlin that created the Acoustic Super Trio. With their 1981 Columbia release, 'Friday Night in San Francisco,' the trio-featured Spanish- flamenco, Moorish compositions and Mediterranean - jazz elements to offer a cornucopia of finesse and fire. The collection is an unprecedented victory for the acoustic guitar which, to date has sold in excess of two - million copies worldwide. Two successful tours and releases have followed and influenced more people and musicians to experiment with the joy and diversity of Latin music, which is created from three continents and known all around the world for the energy and joy the music can bring.

The 1990's would prove Latin music is more powerful than ever with pop icons Gloria Estefan, Ricky Martin, Enrique Iglesias, Cubanismo and Selena. Jazz and world music would usher in the new millennium with resurgence in the rhythmic arts from the Caribbean. This re-introduced the world to the Cuban music masters now known as members of the Grammy-winning 'Buena Vista Social Club.' These artists have caused the world to get up and dance in concert with infectious grooves from accumulative rhythms, beautiful compositions, sensitive melodies and the smooth delivery of the soneros (singers), which deliver the message of good will to the masses with elegance and grace. This revived Afro-Cuban resurgence is deeply indebted to the artistic vision and love of the indigenous island music shared by Juan De Marcos and his countrymen. With the gift of his music and a passion to spread the good will of his music around the globe, Juan has presented a profound legacy to the world. Juan De Marcos and his thirteen-piece dream band celebrate the island's best contributions to world music including band members from three generations. As music director and arranger of most of the 'Buena Vista Social Club' sessions, Juan's chief vision was to feature the grace and passion of older "retired" stars of Cuba's Cabana heydays. "I had the idea for more than 10 years to make a good album trying to revive the Cuban music and trying to bring again to life, some of the most important Cuban musicians of the 50's."His vision would prove as profitable as it was prophetic. Stars such as Ibrahim Ferrer and Ruben Gonzales enjoyed certified world -wide acclaim with their fiery performances around the world especially, Amsterdam and Carnegie Hall which is documented on the video and CD. A Grammy win would soon follow and give Cuba and the dance music it was once famous for producing, a household name status in current music circles. "Up to 1961 we (Cubans) were the best-seller of tropical dance music in the world, so now we are recovering the place that we had before." Juan also voiced his happiness for the musicians, smiling when he recalled how they were living in a dream and recognized not only worldwide but in Cuba as well. Remember Ricky Ricardo and I Love Lucy show anyone?

2000 -2001 A new century for a growing love affair with Latin / World music, worldwide. Part II

After featuring the seasoned veterans of the Cuban music scene for the first two Afro - Cuban All-stars releases, Juan has focused on introducing the new bloods from the third generation. The music has never ceased to grow and live in Cuba. Despite the commerce and cultural embargo from the USA and others, the music has always been alive and vibrant in Cuba. Now the music has a new home? around the world! When asked about the Afro - Cuban ensembles focus, De Marcos commented, "The sound is not the sound of the Buena Vista Social Club, of course." " It's much more contemporary, but at the same time it keeps the roots. I'm doing this using the spirit of the old times with contemporary (musical) language." Juan notes the changes in personnel offer change and new fire in his music project. Hence, the word denotes a living, evolving work, which is constantly being updated. The isolation that can exist with repressive politics does not keep the fire of music extinguished, nor keep humanity from spreading the passionate message of love. The Afro - Cuban All Stars 2nd release, 'Distinto, Diferente' featured a Ruben Gonzalez original "Reconciliacion," a plea for the ceasing of mutual suspicion and distrust between two neighbors in the Caribbean. Perhaps, the new commerce that Cuba enjoys from the fruits of artists such as Juan De Marcos and his friends from the Buena Vista Social Club, support of the arts will grow in Cuba. "I will fight to bring the contemporary Cuban music to the position it deserves!" De Marcos declared. We should expect more vibrant music from such a beautiful, growing, legacy and remember jazz has a profound Latin influence which has over a century of development. Some of the greatest masters to create compositions in the jazz idiom have explored the Latin lexicon extensively. Jazz incorporates everything useful in the creation of music, proving it viable to the ever-evolving, living art form. Devices such as modal - improvisation, juxtaposed rhythms, question / answer phrases and on-the-spot composition show a parallel tradition to jazz. Regardless of feelings voiced by Wynton Marsalis or Ken Burns, who seem to scorn or even ignore this Latin jazz tradition, the art form contributes heavily to the vitality of present day jazz. In essence, all you have to do is go to a jazz festival and checkout the beautiful history of jazz and all the incarnations from swing, bebop, fusion, world-music and see and hear the Afro- Latin influence.

Juan De Marcos' Afro - Cuban All Stars ignite crowd during a fiery, "souled out" performance at Vanderbilt's Langford Auditorium Vanderbilt University- Langford Auditorium Nashville, Tennessee April 19, 2001

Juan De Marcos and his now infamous, Afro-Cuban All Stars created a volcanic intensity at Langford Auditorium in April. I had not witnessed a crowd's rabid reaction to such intense music since the Mingus Big Band performed there two years ago. As bandleader, De Marcos coaxed unbelievably powerful energy from his band causing the crowd to jump and dance to the infectious grooves immediately. The rousing set began with "6/8 Celine" a tune which featured the Afro - Cuban 6/8 rhythm which is perhaps the most versatile of all the grooves. Because it offers the widest varieties of time feels- one can play funk, rock, straight -ahead jazz and shuffle time over the same pulse. Juan made great use of stop time figures and a versatile round of soloing from the various instrumentalists. The instrumental salsa fired up the audience with robust applause. The second tune "Distinto- Diferente," introduced two elderly soneros or vocalist which performed elegant singing and showmanship. The soneros offered a romantic twist to the incredible stop time rhythm figures laid down by the band. With what seemed to be musical ESP the group used all dynamics and punchy horn kicks to seduce the audience with their passionate interplay. After the 3rd number, "Vaiven De Mi Carr," the intensity rose to a fever pitch and the audience participated in the festivities by clapping the Son clave rhythm and dancing on stage with the band. From the third number on, the crowd stayed on their collective feet, clapping and dancing! The piano, trumpet and violin were the featured solo instruments. Each musician gave a great melodic performance and had an individual voice. The 4th selection was "Bajando Gervasio" another instrumental featuring another punctuated stop time figure in the horns and a grooving tenor sax solo. The trombone, bass, tenor sax and trumpet soloist would complete the tune. "Habana Del Este," tune number 5 would offer more textures to the sound canvas Juan De Marcos was composing and creating for the audience. The entrance of the flute played by "Polo" Tamyo Garriga would offer a soft seductive duet with Juan's guitar melody while the trumpet and trombone contrasted with the bright aggressive solo-style. Both trumpet 1 & II would solo and support the vocalist who returned to inspire the band and audience to a fever pitch. The 6th composition, " Yo Soy El De Sent" offered a highlight of soloing in the percussion section. The rhythmic pulse that started the tune was very tribal and gave the first direct look at the African roots that are the compliment to the Latin styled melodies. The crowd was inspired by the infectious grooves of the three amigos on congas, bongos and timbales. Not to be out done, the soneros walked into the audience and brought ladies to the stage where they danced with the band. The first trumpet contributed some screech trumpet to bring the crowd to a hesitant end. The intermission was to take place after the 7th tune "Sitios Asere." However, after the accumulative rhythms from the rumba, salsa, son, tumbao, bomba, mambo, guajira, plena and cha-cha grooves, the band and audience came to a mutual respect and meeting of the spirits. Although an intermission was scheduled, De Marcos held the band on stage and the crowd reacted with almost feverish joy and intensity which inspired the band to perform an impassioned version of the Ruben Gonzalez (Buena Vista Social Club-pianist) piece "Reconciliacion." While directing the band with flawless artistry and communication, Juan De Marcos made good use of the young and old soneros whose juxtaposed vocals were used to good effect. "Reconciliacion" is an impassioned plea for the end of mutual suspicion that the Cuba and US have had for too long and the message appeals beyond national identity and reaches emotional borders of the soul. The nights festivities would conclude with "Candela", "El Negro", "Miserigordia" and the closer tune "Chan - Chan."

The audience embraced the band, the music and the beauty that is part of humanity sharing a good time with music and a mix of culture. The sold out performance is a testament to the dedication and far-reaching artistic vision of Juan De Marcos and the passion and fire from ours neighbors in Cuba. As the architect of the Buena Vista Social Club, Juan has offered the indigenous music of three continents into a Cuban home place for the world to enjoy beyond mere words. Langford Auditorium offers a fitting venue for great jazz / world music artist at a seating capacity of 1200 and a great staff which is serviced by the smiling faces of the student workers and the great selection of enriching artist from the Surratt Student Center staff. Jazz music will constantly evolve and incorporate the humor, folk melodies, instruments, indigenous grooves and rhythmic pulses from around the world to offer a new creation. Jazz as a whole, has no borders as it transcends the geographical regions of the planet, offering a look into the soul of humanity. When we witness the creation of art through inspiration of the moment, the improvisation is magical and captivates our lives and enriches our hearts and love for one another. Thanks Juan, Bravo! Indeed.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Juan De Marcos\ Afro-Cuban All Stars'
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