May 2022 — “Preserving Latin Jazz! That’s the goal of the free Latin Jazz Youth Ensemble program launched by JazzArts Charlotte this Spring”, announces John Le, covering the program in a recent article by Queen City News.
The program, Nuestro Tiempo, launched with almost two dozen middle and high school students of a wide variety of backgrounds, some experienced jazz students new to the Latin jazz style, while others new to jazz altogether.
The Latin jazz rhythms are quite different from traditional jazz. “You really get a new angle,” said saxophonist Ricardo Forges. “Like say if you only play jazz all the time, you would never really think about certain rhythms and different aspects of like harmony.” The clave, two little inconspicuous looking wooden sticks, are the heartbeat of Latin jazz. One particular class early in the session, instructor Johnny Conga passes those sticks around the room as the full ensemble played, offering each musician, regardless of their main instrument, a chance to experience playing the clave (the core rhythmic pattern) with the clave (the instrument).
In a Latin jazz ensemble, each instrument has its own pattern centered around the clave rhythm, whether a traditional jazz instrument like trumpet or bass, or a traditional Latin instrument like the congas and timbales. Several students hadn’t heard of the clave rhythm before, and even clapping it was a new experience. Through the class, they developed the ability to internalize those rhythms while playing their own melody on top of it.
Latin jazz music is based on popular dances. “It’s important to recognize why the dance is integral to the music.” say instructor Julio Jeri. “Its originates from the dance the slaves of Cuba performed in their free time.” To emphasize that importance, one particular week Jennifer Geyer, from Rumbao Latin Dance, taught the students salsa, cha cha, and guaguancó. The experience was meant to access the origins of the music and help them internalize the rhythms on a very physical level.
“We’re passing on the legacy of the music; the history and the culture,” instructor Johnny Conga said.
Like the music itself, the experience is designed to bring communities together. Those who had played jazz discovered a whole new language of jazz to explore. Several students new to jazz, who were originally scared of the idea of the improvisational aspect of jazz, after becoming comfortable and energized by the Latin sounds, are now asking to try it.
After 12 weeks hard at work learning this new style, the Latin Jazz Youth Ensemble is presenting a FREE performance, open to the public, as part of a Cuban movie event on June 4th at Camp North End. “These students have come a long way.” Says Lonnie Davis, CEO of JazzArts Charlotte. “I am incredibly proud of what they have accomplished and can’t wait for the public to get a chance to hear them.” Details are not yet available – so keep your eyes peeled!
Thanks to a generous grant from Bank of America, this ensemble experience has been offered free to students, as part of their commitment to ensuring access and opportunity to the LatinX community. We are further grateful to announce that this grant has been extended, and the Latin Jazz Youth Ensemble will be back after summer break, for a Fall 2022 semester. So if you were not able to participate this semester, keep your eyes out for an opportunity to audition and join in the Fall!