The theme for the 8th edition of the Carolina International Jazz Festival was “Carolina Swings.” There are two definitions in jazz for the word “swing.” Swing is one of the essential elements of jazz. Quoting Duke Ellington song “It Don’t Mean a Thing If It Ain’t Got That Swing.” The Jazz Book by Berendt and Huessman defines swing as the “overlapping of two different conceptions of time,” the more “holistic African sense of time and the clock-based time sense of the Westerner.” “Swing gives jazz its peculiar form of precision, which cannot be compared with any other kind of precision in European music.” This definition of “swing” is present in all styles of jazz but must not be confused with the jazz form or style played by the Big Bands of the late 1920’s, 30’s and early 40’s. That was the era of Duke Ellington, Count Basie and Benny Goodman.
Most of the music played in the Carolina International Jazz Festival falls into the first definition, music that can be defined as jazz, so it swings, but the musical offering of the fest was not entirely music from the Swing era. The students of the Carolina Arts School under the direction of professor and saxophonist Janice Maisonet opened both nights of the Festival. The music presented by these talented students, even though it contained elements of Latin jazz, bolero and forms of Latin music, was the closest in style to the Swing style of the 30’s. Their repertoire included nice versions of “Sunny Side of Street,” “There’s No Greater Love,” and Duke Ellington’s “It Don’t Mean a Thing.” Student/singer Dorian Andrade joined the group both nights singing this Duke Ellington classic and also did some good scats ala Ella Fitzgerald.
Julito Alvarado was the second act on this first night of the Fest. Alvarado is a trumpet player with vast experience in both Latin jazz and salsa music. Alvarado and his group, pianist Richard Trinidad, bassist Pedro Perez, percussionist Xavier Diaz, drummer Luis Manuel Rodriguez and trombonist Eliu Cintron heated up the stage with their latin rhythms on the original compositions “Ponce Rumba,” “Cuatro Meses,” “Changes,” “Mambo Loco” and the Bebop “Vacaciones.”
Master percussionist Tito de Gracia followed with more amazing Latin jazz in compositions like “Borifunkiando”, “Songo pa ti” and a Latin version of Billy Strayhorn “Take the A Train.” De Gracia group lineup included, trombonist Gamaliel Gonzalez. trumpeter Fernando Marcano, saxophonist Jose Heredia, percussionists Raymond Rodriguez, David Rosado and Raul Rosario, bassist Ricardo Lugo, and pianist Frank Suarez.
The mellow sounds of Japanese flutist Rie Akagi closed the first night of the Carolina Jazz Fest. Akagi style can be described as smooth jazz with Latin influences. José Febres on congas, pianist Angel David Matos, bassist Israel Cedeño, and drummer Hector Matos accompanied Akagi on the pieces “Stone Flower,” and Mongo Santamaria’s “Afro Blue,” Displaying his amazing technique on the Cuatro, a folkloric music instrument from Puerto Rico, Edwin Colon Zayas joined the group in a wonderful rendition of Antonio Caban Vale “Verde Luz”.
One of the second night highlights was the presentation of one of the best percussionist from Puerto Rico, Paoli Mejias. With only drums, congas, panderos and bongos, accompanied by Jonathan Suazo on saxophone, the eclectic musical offering of Mejias contains elements of jazz fused with African rhythms and Puerto Rican folk music Bomba and Plena. Saxophonist Norberto Tiko Ortiz and bassist Gabriel Rodriguez joined drummer Raul Maldonado and Paoli Mejias to play “Fuera de Control” from the San Juan Collective’s (Maldonado, Ortiz and Rodriguez) new album.
Almost closing the night and the fest, trumpeter/musical director Luis Perico Ortiz Big Band took the stage with some special guests, trumpet player from Venezuela, now living in Puerto Rico, Yturvides Vilchez, Puerto Rican trumpet player Humberto Ramirez, who played Sylvia Rexach song “Olas y Arenas”, saxophonist Luis Orta, and Jose Febres on congas played “Afro Blue.” Japanese flutist Rie Akagi alongside Jose Febres, Ortiz and the Big band played “My Way”, a song most people might recognize in the voice of Frank Sinatra.
After the projection of a short video paying tribute to Whitney Houston (still trying to comprehend how this is related to either jazz or swing), Antoinette Rodriguez also from the Carolina Arts School joined the Big Band in a swing arrangement of “That’s What Friends Are For.”
After another short video, this time displaying the history of Arturo Sandoval, this Dizzy Gillespie disciple, cuban trumpet virtuoso and true jazz legend closed the fest playing mostly music from his latest release, Dear Diz, a tribute to Dizzy Gillespie. No doubt this is what the people were waiting for, and Sandoval did not disappoint the audience. Sandoval directed the big band and played timbales, but it was his high notes, blazing runs and incredible technique on trumpet that amazed the public in pieces like “Bebop” and “Salt Peanuts.”
Even though the Carolina International Jazz Fest did not completely keep the promise of the Swing theme all throughout the fest, this event organized by the town of Carolina and its major José Carlos Aponte Dalmau delivered two nights of good enough music to keep the Puerto Rico jazz aficionados satisfied.