JazzReview: I’m with David Virelles (an award winning pianist) and Luis Deniz (an award winning alto saxophonist) of the The David Virelles Quintet.They have known each other for a long time, having gone to school together in Cuba. The band has just finished playing their set for the Beaches International Jazz Festival. The festival takes place in the east end of downtown Toronto on the shore of Lake Ontario. Davide you have just finished a tour, how did that go? Are you happy with the results?
David Virelles: Oh, I was very, very happy with the outcome, in terms of logistics and everything you know; we didn’t miss any planes or any thing. Musically we did really well. The people all seemed to enjoy the music, very, very happy.
JazzReview: How about you Luis, was this your first tour?
Luis Deniz: Yes, I got to be in a lot of places in Canada. It was more like a vacation. (Chuckles from Davide.) Well for me, it was like a vacation, for me it was all about the music, as long as I can play my music it’s great. You know, it’s all about the music.
JazzReview: I know, that’s great Luis, no worries, just music. Davide where did the tour kick off?
David Virelles: Alberta, the Calgary Jazz Festival, and then Medicine Hat, Alberta. The Vancouver Jazz Festival, BC, on to Victoria, British Columbia next, and Cobble Hill, a little place right on the island of Victoria, which wasn’t actually a part of the tour, we had three days off and we wanted to do something so we played a club there. It was great, then off to the Edmonton Jazz Festival. After that concert we came back home to Toronto. On July 6 we played the Montreal Jazz Festival, because of us winning the grand prix de jazz we got offered a couple of other gigs in Montreal. Next, we played the Halifax Jazz Festival; we played a couple of clubs as well as at the Mainstage of the festival. Luisito (Davide’s Spanish nickname for Luis) and I also got to do some other projects together with different artists.
(A Jazz East festival highlight report states, "Luis Deniz (saxophone) and piano virtuoso David Virelles made quite a splash during this festival, performing over five shows each throughout the Halifax festival. They arrived Sunday night and headed straight for Stayner's, where they jammed way passed late. The highlight of the evening was a surprise visit by Celso Machado, who stopped into Stayner's to add a little rain forest spice to the Cuban invasion already underway.")
Luis Deniz: Davide and I played a duet a t a club in Halifax, it was really great.
David Virelles: Yes, it was nice, really nice.
JazzReview: What is the state of the jazz scene on the east coast?
David Virelles: The east coast, you mean the Canadian east coast.
JazzReview: Halifax in particular.
David Virelles: Oh, I met a couple of local guys, both are great musicians. Everybody we met was really nice. The jazz scene is happening, it’s vibrant. The organizers of the festival do a great job. They’re bringing in a lot of international acts, Jim Hall, Mose Allison, Jeoff Keezer as well as many others. There was, Seckou Keita master Senegalese kora player and percussionist. Brazilian singer, songwriter, guitarist and percussionist Celso Machado, amazing, and a lot of people playing world music, but with a jazz vision. If there is such a thing.
JazzReview: Definitely, I know what you mean; I hear that jazz spirit in many different types of music, Middle Eastern, Flamenco, West African. It’s all encompassing.
David Virelles: There really are no boundaries, you know labels, like this is jazz or this is pop, it could be anything, really just anything.
JazzReview: I think the worst thing is labels; I have a lot of trouble putting things into neat little compartments. What would you call your music?
David Virelles: Oh, I don’t really think about those kinds of things, I don’t know if you feel the same way.
JazzReview: Luis is shaking his head, what do you mean by that Luis?
Luis Deniz: Well I don’t want to call it jazz or Latin jazz I just want to call it music. It goes beyond that, you know.
David Virelles: We try to incorporate a lot of different things.
Luis Deniz: Everybody always talks about jazz as improvisation, I’m improvising now while I’m talking to you, were all improvising when we speak, does that mean we’re speaking jazz. Steve Coleman said in an interview, he doesn’t like to call what he does jazz, he calls it spontaneous improvisation. That’s really, what it is.
David Virelles: There is a group of people, traditionalists or generations that are bringing there own individualism to the music. They have their own individual take on it, there own voice and that’s what makes jazz, jazz. Bringing the individuality out, creating your own product.
JazzReview: Speaking of creating your own product, how do you go about writing a song? Is there a certain focus to it, like melody first and then expand on it?
David Virelles: I don’t really have a method for writing the songs. Sometimes it starts with a melody and you try to develop it. Other times it starts with some great sounding chords. Or you come up with a rhythm and a melody may develop from there. Sometimes it’s just experimenting, random techniques; I’m trying to get better at it.
JazzReview: Practice makes perfect?
David Virelles: Yea for sure.
JazzReview: Does the band contribute to the writing process. Are they your contributors?
David Virelles: Yes they help to bring the idea together, well if it’s one of my songs, sometimes it’s Luis’ song or the drummer brings his and we all have input towards the structure and that’s how it happens. The creative process at work.
JazzReview: Getting back to the Montreal Jazz Festival for a moment and winning the award, what was the name of the award you won and what else does the award entail?
David Virelles: We get a one CD recording deal with Justin Time Records. A $5,000.00 Cash award (chuckles). We get to play the festival again next year as well as the Festi Jazz International de Rimouski. Oh yea and we opened for Dave Brubeck when we won the award.
Luis Deniz: Bonus, but we never got to see Dave Brubeck, but apparently, he was there, (chuckles all around).
JazzReview: What is the award based on, how do they award this prize and who are the judges?
Luis Deniz: As far as we know, the panel of judges are made up of people in the music industry, Record Companies, radio stations, the Galaxie Radio Station, the press, the critics and people like that.
David Virelles: They are looking for Canadian acts that are doing something new and exciting within the vocabulary of jazz. We are really pleased they chose us; we had no idea that this was even going to happen.
JazzReview: Who are your major influences Davide?
David Virelles: My jazz influences, Art Tatum, Bud Powell, Thelonious Monk, Andrew Hill, Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker, Sonny Rollins, Herbie Hancock, Coleman Hawkins.
JazzReview: And the list goes on.
Luis Deniz: Once you move here, you get to listen and watch a lot of stuff you never heard before.
David Virelles: I don’ know if you would agree with me or not, but there are people who are my influences, my heroes as I was growing up that you wouldn’t know. If I mentioned their names, you would never have heard of them, because they are only known in Cuba.
Luis Deniz: That happens here to, there are major artists in Chicago who make mention of these great players who have taught them. These people aren’t known outside of these small musical circles, but they are incredible players. Apparently, there is some elderly sax player in Detroit who plays exactly like Kenny Garrett or Kenny Garrett plays exactly like him. This guy is unknown outside of Detroit.
David Virelles: Like for example one of my major influences that comes through in my music is from my father, a singer songwriter. Both he and my mother taught me a lot about music.
JazzReview: Your father plays the traditional music of Cuba, named Son?
David Virelles: No, a different style but coming from that tradition, he plays Mela Trova.
JazzReview: I saw your father play at a club once when he was visiting you here in Toronto. He was great, nice folk style singing and guitar playing, very spirited, joyous and uplifting.
David Virelles: Yes, he did a couple of shows while he was here and Jazz.Fm featured his music as well.
JazzReview: You were Jane Bunnett’s keyboard player for a long time, a few years any way.
David Virelles: Well I’m still her piano player, I hope!
JazzReview: She just did a tour this summer.
David Virelles: She did her tour in the States, I have just become a landed immigrant in Canada, so that’s a bit of a tricky situation for me. Hopefully soon I can tour the U.S. I have some upcoming shows scheduled with Jane’s band. We’ll be playing in B.C. next week and were doing a lot of gigs in Ontario as well.
JazzReview: Is your band part of the Guelph Jazz Festival?
David Virelles: No unfortunately, we sent them are stuff, but I guess they thought it was to straight ahead. This is more of an Avant-Garde Festival. The folks who run that festival are doing a great job. I believe this is one of the best festivals in Canada. I’m going to be there to see Steve Coleman. They have some great acts scheduled. They have in the past brought in some of the greatest acts, William Parker, Jason Moran, Dewey Redman, Steve Lacy, so it’s the real deal.
JazzReview: Last time I saw you guys play, it was at the Distillery, a late night jam. The great tuba player, Howard Johnson said that Luis sounded like Frank Wright, I said more like Dolphy and he was adamant that it was Frank Wright tonight. I’ve been listening to Frank Wright and he is a very avant- garde, free style player. I’m surprised with Luis on sax that you didn’t get to play the Guelph Festival, maybe next year. What’s in the future for the David Virelles Quintet, what are your plans?
David Virelles: Right now, the main concern is to do the recording, we’ll take it from there and hopefully more opportunities for tours or gigs will develop from that. You know we want to get the music out there, that is what it’s all about for us. At least that is my main concern right now.
JazzReview: Have you got anything special planned for the recording, any guest artists or special tunes?
Luis Deniz: Oh yea, we have some special guests we’re trying to line up.
David Virelles: Nothing is confirmed yet, the musicians we would like to guest are busy with tours and other sessions. When we have confirmation on who is available we will let you know.
JazzReview: I’m really looking forward to hearing a finished product, I know it will be great and I wish you guys all the best. Thank you very much for giving me the time to do this interview.
David Virelles: No, thank you that was great.
Luis Deniz: Thanks a-lot to you for taking the time.
JazzReview: My pleasure, be well and play on.
By Paul J. Youngman KJA Jazz Advocate