In case you missed it, read about the first two days of the DR Jazz Fest here.
Day 3 and 4 of the DR Jazz Festival took place in Cabarete, and in Cabarete, there’s no better place for a concert than the beach! A giant stage was constructed, with a tent to protect at least a fraction of the crowd from the inevitable rain, and so began two exciting days of great music, with plenty of dancing as well. Here’s a recap.
Day 3: Josean Jacobo and John Patitucci
First on the program for day 3 was Dominican pianist Josean Jacobo with his group Tumbao. Josean plays a type of music that he calls Afro-Dominican jazz, which is a concept that many of the musicians I’ve spoken to are exploring by mixing jazz with traditional Dominican rhythms. I had the opportunity to speak to Josean the morning of the concert, and he discussed why, coming from a jazz background, he became interested in incorporating Dominican influences into his playing:
“Me gusta mucho el jazz, y pensé en un momento, “Yo no puedo ser un músico más de jazz, yo tengo que conocerme yo mismo.” Entonces para conocerme yo mismo, hay que investigar de donde tu vienes, quien tu eres, cual es lo que forma tu entorno cuando tu te desarollaste, y fue cuando entonces empecé a interesarme en los ritmos autóctonos de aquí.”
“I really like jazz, and then I thought, I can’t be a jazz musician anymore. I have to get to know myself. So in order to get to know myself, you have to investigate where you come from, who you are, what influenced the environment in which you grew up, and that was when I became interested in the indigenous rhythms here.”
– Josean Jacobo, pianist
Unfortunately, I didn’t get any good videos of his performance because I was way in the back of the noisy crowd, and at times the festival was more of a beach party than a concert. Fortunately, Josean has a good web presence. One of the tunes the group played at the festival was called “La Maña”, and it was Josean’s interpretation of gaga Check it out:
Josean Jacobo and Tumbao were definitely one of my favorite groups at the festival – I was so impressed by how they incorporated unique Dominican rhythms into the tunes, while still making their music accessible to a multicultural jazz audience. Plus, Josean played some killer solos! I would encourage you to listen to the group some more on spotify and explore his website as well.
Next up was John Patitucci, the festival’s big name U.S. bassist, with his trio of John Ellis on saxophone and Nate Smith on drums. Though they weren’t much of a crowd pleaser, I was more than pleased with the way the musicians interacted and outlined complex harmonies, even without a chord player.
I also had the opportunity to attend a workshop by the Patitucci Trio for students from the conservatory, in which Patitucci even took a turn at the drum set to demonstrate the importance of being able to keep time, no matter what instrument you play.
A concert and a workshop with a renowned jazz bassist, in the same day, all for free? It doesn’t get much better than that.
Day 4: Music from Across the Caribbean
The highlight of Day 4 was the Pedrito Martinez Group, a Cuban salsa and Latin jazz band. I got to attend a workshop with the group, listen to (and salsa dance) at their concert, and even jam with them afterwards!
The highlight of the workshop was some very intimate and energetic performances. It was also something of a comedy show. At least, I think it was funny… everyone was laughing, but most of the jokes compared Dominican and Cuban culture and they went straight over my head!
Pedrito’s band closed the concert that evening, and successfully turned it into a full-on dance party. I was sitting with a group of students from the conservatory, who can be fully credited with starting said dance party, much to the dismay of the people sitting behind us. I think this video demonstrates the overwhelming enthusiasm that Pedrito’s group was met with, especially from my section of the crowd. Sorry if the video is a bit shaky…I was trying really hard not to dance!
Then, even though the concert ended, the night didn’t. There was a post-concert jam session and Pedrito and his group decided to come jam with us! Pedrito switched instruments, but he was just as animated and almost as talented on the drum set as the congas. I managed to push my way in for a solo (after a flute, violin, saxophone, a few guitarists…). People seemed surprised that I could play a somewhat stylistic salsa solo, on the French horn, despite my blond hair. Check it out in this video at minute 16:40.
Someone even called me “la gringa dura” afterwards – I’ll take that as a compliment!
Though I spent the most time with Pedrito, the other Day 4 musicians were also quite impressive. The concert started out with pianist Mario Canonge, who is from the French Caribbean Island of Martinique. By the end of his set he had the whole audience singing and doing choreographed dance moves.
Here is a clip of the first tune he played. Less audience interaction on this one, but virtuosity and Caribbean influences are abundant.
Last but not least, guitarist Pengbian Sang and his group Retro Jazz played all sorts of jazz-pop arrangements of well known Dominican tunes. The audience loved their bluesy version of the famous bachata “Pena” by Luis Segura. Listen to both versions on my Spotify Playlist. Bonus points if you leave me a comment with your thoughts about how they compare!
So that wraps up the DR Jazz Fest. Three weeks later, I’m still flying high from four days jam-packed with new sounds played by creative musicians. Many of the musicians (whether performing or listening) expressed a strong interest, appreciation, enthusiasm and knowledge of Dominican music and folklore – something that was infectious and motivating for my continuing study of fusions of Dominican music and jazz.
After the craziness of the festival, I decided to relax a bit, and in the process I discovered this gorgeous beach in Sosua:
Then I played a gig at this restaurant literally hovering over the ocean:
And then I went on a boating/ hiking adventure to this beautiful spot called La Boca, where the river meets the ocean:
November was a pretty good month, if I do say so myself.
P.S. If you want to learn even more about jazz in the DR and you speak Spanish (or are an expert at google translate), check out this blog, Jazzendominicana, written by dedicated jazz fan and concert producer Fernando Rodriguez de Mondesert, who I also had the chance to speak to at the festival.