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Jazz and Blues Festival turns 18

By Antonio De Jesús Aguado

In 1994 Elena Shoemaker started the International Jazz and Blues Festival, which 18 years later is considered as one of the most important of its kind in Mexico. This year, it will take place from November 15 to 18 and it will feature Magos Herrera, one of the most important jazz singers in Mexico and known worldwide not just for of her voice but also for being nominated for a Grammy Award. The festival will pay homage to Sting and will include concerts by international singers and musicians.

The Festival past and present

Antonio Lozoya, who has participated in the Festival for 16 years, 6 of them as director, said that the festival was launched 18 years ago “due to the proliferation of jazz music in this bohemian and artistic city.” Lozoya, who started participating in the Festival as a musician, then later as art director and director, commented that over the years “the festival has developed a particular personality; every year there are innovations and new experiences that consolidate the event in all senses.”

The Jazz and Blues Festival originally, and until six years ago, was mainly geared toward residents and visitors in the city who came to celebrate Thanksgiving with their relatives here. According to Lozoya, when he became director of the event he targeted promotion beyond the city and the country because “there were many people, in Mexico City for example, who are jazz lovers but they did not even know after 12 years that there was a festival like this in the country. For that reason, we also tried to promote the festival internationally, and it has grown impressively.”

Festival attracts all kinds of audiences

According to Tere Urtuzástegui, assistant director of the festival, during the last few years there has been more attendance by Mexicans because “the stereotype of jazz as an elitist music is decreasing, and also because we really believe that art and culture are international and jazz does not have frontiers.” When the festival began in 1994, the audience attending the festival was made up mostly of foreigners, but nowadays 50 percent of the audience is Mexican. Lozoya said that during recent years the audience has been diversified and now there are also younger people attending the events, thanks to promotion.

Urtuzástegui commented that they are working with the company MMedia, which has reported that at least 20 million people have heard about the festival through different media. “Not all of them come to the festival, of course, but they are tempted by curiosity to come to the city to see what is going on, even if it is at different times of the year.” Lozoya stated that this event attracts more than 6,000 people and generates a gross revenue of seven million pesos in the city.

The Festival lineup

The Jazz Festival will begin on November 15 at 7pm at the Ángela Peralta Theater with a free concert featuring Magos Herrera. “She is one of the most important Mexican singers. Currently she lives in New York and last year was nominated for a Grammy Award as one of the best jazz singers,” said Lozoya. In that concert she will also sing Mexican and Brazilian music. She will be accompanied by musicians such as pianist Aaron Goldberg who, according to Lozoya, “is one of the most prominent musicians in New York, as well as Orlando LeFleming, a British musician living in New York who has performed several times at the festival and is a musician with an extraordinary musical quality.” Tickets for this concert are available at the theater box office and should be picked up in advance.

On November 16 at 8pm, John K. O’Donell and The Blue Streaks will perform in the theater. The band was formed to promote blues and gospel music with J. K. O’Donnell as singer and harmonica player, along with Ken Bassman, Rick Scholosser and Dany Beltrán. According to O’Donell, “Blues is part of a musical language that emerged in the South in the United States. It expresses the slaves’ human condition as well as their achievements, conflicts and melancholy. This musical style emerged from the songs sung by the Christian slaves in order to spread the news of the community to relatives separated due to slavery.” O’Donell’s happiness is based in “writing, performing and producing this music, not just because I love it, but also because it is a way of connecting with those who have ears for listening and for telling them that they are not alone.”

On Saturday, November 17, at the same venue a quintet from Denver, Colorado will perform. Among others, the group includes musicians Bob Montgomery and Allen Herman. Lozoya commented that Allen Herman, besides being a trombonist, is also a scientist who received a Nobel Prize for improving the pacemaker, and he also worked for the NASA. “But his passion always has been jazz. He is very committed to music.”

The International Jazz and Blues Festival will close on Sunday, November 18, with a concert tribute to Sting by San Miguel Jazz Cats and special guests. San Miguel Jazz Cats is made up of Antonio Lozoya on bass, Ken Bassman on guitar and drummer Víctor Monterrubio. The band has a 10-year history and is an essential element of the Festival. Among the special guests for the tribute is Randy Singer, who was so acclaimed by last year’s audience that he was invited back “because the audience wanted to hear more from him,” said Lozoya. Robert Kaplan, who has lived in the city for more than 30 years and helped keep jazz alive in San Miguel, will be another special guest, along with Julián Mendieta, Uriel Orozco from Grupo Pila Seca and Rich Schlousser, who has recorded music for Rod Stewart. If there are more musicians at the end of the Festival they also will be invited to participate in this tribute. Look for the whole program, prices and venues in the Qué Pasa supplement.


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