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Viva Xalapa!: Jazz in Mexico

The Mexican city played host to Latin America’s first jazz education conference

Jazz in Mexico
Students perform in the Universidad Veracruzana lounge in Xalapa, Mexico. (Photo: James Gavin

To most of the world, Latin jazz is either Afro-Cuban or Brazilian. Few listeners would associate it with Mexico, whose best-known musical export remains mariachi. Do Mexicans even care about jazz?

That question was answered for me in October, when I arrived in Xalapa—the capital of Veracruz and one of Mexico’s artiest, most culturally rich cities—for Latin America’s first Congress of Jazz Education, a milestone in jazz history. Jazz professors and students from several countries gathered for four days of lectures, workshops, jamming, and networking. The event was spearheaded by pianist Rafael Alcalá, director of the Center of Jazz Studies at Xalapa’s Universidad Veracruzana. “Our students need to know what is going on in different parts of the world and to know they are not alone in the search,” he explained.

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