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Daniel Wong: A Brilliant Jazz Pianist from the World of Classical Music

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By Fredric Dannen

Jazz fans were left grumbling in 1999 when Philips Records released a 200-CD set called Great Pianists of the 20th Century, and restricted the collection to classical keyboard artists. Of the 72 pianists that Philips selected, there were exactly two—Friedrich Gulda and André Previn—who were also skilled jazz musicians. The wall separating the two disciplines exists to this day. Music conservatories routinely churn out pianists who can breeze through Chopin’s 24 Études, but are paralyzed if asked to improvise a basic three-chord, twelve-bar blues.

The brilliant Mexico City pianist Daniel Wong, who will be making a rare appearance in San Miguel at an October 19 benefit concert at the Bellas Artes, is a notable exception. “I have never seen a dividing line between classical music and jazz,” Wong says. “For me, there is only music.” Wong is a professor of jazz piano at the prestigious Escuela Superior de Música, the Mexico City conservatory from which he, himself graduated with degrees in jazz and classical piano. Among his 13  CDs, there are solo jazz albums and jazz piano trio recordings, along with disks including works by Ravel, Stravinsky, and Prokofiev, in collaboration with the Orquesta de la Opera de Bellas Artes and the ensemble Tempus Fugit. The Sinfónica Nacional recently commissioned and premiered his original composition Chorinho Perpetuo. In 2014, Wong performed and recorded with double-bassist Eddie Gómez, a jazz legend.

For his Bellas Artes concert, Wong is appearing with two local audience favorites, José Luis González Chagoyan on bass and Victor Monterrubio on drums. Chagoyan, better known to his fans as “Hopalong,” is also a guitarist, composer, and arranger. He won a national Yamaha competition for songwriting, and has worked with notables such as Lila Downs and Hermanos Castro. Percussionist Monterrubio, also a graduate of the Escuela Superior de Música, has performed widely throughout Mexico and abroad. He has shared the stage with jazz and pop luminaries such as Agustin Bernal and Rodrigo Castelan.

Wong and Hopalong met in 1990 when they both performed with John Hager’s big band, Brass Explosion, and have been friends and collaborators ever since. Their newly formed trio, making its first-ever appearance in San Miguel, is called El Trio Wong / Hopalong / Mont. “Our concert will consist of music in the classical sense of jazz,” Hopalong says, “in the style of Bill Evans, Oscar Peterson, and Thelonious Monk,” and will include both original compositions and jazz standards.

The concert, scheduled for 7pm on Thursday, October 19, at the upstairs performance space at the Bellas Artes on Hernandez Macias, will be the latest installment of the Steinway Series concerts in support of Libros para Todos, an outreach program to promote reading, with a focus on children and young adults. (Visit makingreaders.org for more information.) Advance tickets are 250 pesos (300 pesos at the door on concert night) and are on sale at La Conexión (Aldama 3) and online at steinwayseries.com.

 

Concert

Jazz Piano Trio

By Daniel Wong, piano; Hopalong, bass, and Victor Monterrubio, drums

Thu, Oct 19, 7pm

Miguel Malo Auditorium, Bellas Artes

250 pesos (advance)

300 pesos at the door

Tickets: La Conexión (Aldama 3)

steinwayseries.com

 

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