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The History of Jazz in SMA

By Salomón Maawad

UNESCO has named April 30 as an International Day of Jazz, a very important day for those of us who are jazz musicians. Let’s celebrate in the best way by honoring the great legends of this musical genre. These musicians have influenced millions of artists for various generations throughout the world with their creative genius. You are invited to join us at this grand event.

A brief history of jazz in San Miguel

It all began in August 1979 on a bohemian night in Mama Mia Restaurant with an acoustic guitar and alto saxophone. San Miguel was still a tiny town with only 15 to 20 taxis and no buses. The Lunas, owners of Mama Mia, came up with the idea of hiring me to form a jazz quartet on the weekends for three months.

In November of that year, they hired the quartet to play five days a week, and that’s how Los Downbeats started. The legendary Marlow Wolf was on the piano, Chava Martínez, on the bass, Jorge Leal, on the drums, and I played the saxophone. Thanks to this group, as many as 100 musicians have come and gone, and some have decided to stay, such as Gil Gutierrez, Bob Kaplan, José Luis “Hopalong,” Ken Basman, Toño Lozoya, Gabriel Hernández, Lila Downs, Magos Herrera, Janusz Bakum, musical director Ricky Martin, and others.

In 1994, Elena Shoemaker and I created the International Jazz Festival. I worked as musical director, organizer, and musician accompanying singers and soloists such as Nora York, Etta James, Cynthia Hilts, Denny Berthiaume, Patrice Fisher, Allen Hermann, Bob Montgomery, Tino Contreras, Bob Ackerman, Betty Farmer, Butch Miles, Randy Bernsen, Claire Daly—and the list goes on. The almost endless nightly jam sessions after the concerts in local bars were memorable, sometimes lasting until five or six in the morning.

Los Downbeats are always changing with different musicians, new projects, and original compositions, bringing new life, new sounds, and richness to the music I began so many years ago.


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