Cuba’s Young Jazz Artist Janio Abreu

Helson Hernandez 

Cuban Jazz Artist Janio Abreu

HAVANA TIMES, Sept. 12 — The young musician Janio Abreu, a clarinetist and the leader of the Cuban jazz group “Aire de Concierto.”  As Janio noted, “Let’s hope that tomorrow they’ll keep us in mind in those venues where they truly should be featuring the art form that we consider ourselves to be championing.”

HT:  Your musical background? 

Janio Abreu:  I began in music when I was very young, studying at the Manuel Saumel School and encouraged by my father.  After me, I hope there will be many more musicians in my family, but I’m the first among my relatives.

HT:  What is the instrument that defines you as a musician, and why do you play more than one?   

JA:  Without a doubt it’s the clarinet.  I’m a clarinetist.  From the beginning of my studies I began with this instrument, which here in Cuba has been played only in bands and symphonic orchestras, but I was interested in doing something else with it – perhaps the way Benny Goodman did, taking the clarinet into those grand concert theaters in his country.

HT:  I would like to know if they chose the clarinet for your musical training given the specific conditions of wind instruments or for some other interesting reason.   

JA:  It was really of chance, because my dad liked the guitar.  But when the time came for exams for that instrument, they realized that I was left handed and so it wasn’t me possible for me to pursue that path of musical studies.  Following that disappointment, we began investigating all the programs in the diverse specialties until we came up with the clarinet program.

Janio Abreu

The moment I tried the mouthpiece, with that small barrel, it sounded for a moment.  I remember that there was a note that’s called “sol al aire,” which is nothing more than blowing air through the instrument, and when doing this it also sounded.  The teacher was very happy at that moment.  Also, my hands are well suited to the demands of the instrument.  With the saxophone, for example, I took some tests but my baby finger is a little too small, so finally I luckily wound up with the clarinet, which gave me the opportunity to begin my studies.

HT:  Do you describe yourself and your group generically within the area of concert music or jazz? 

JA:  Thanks to the members of Aire de Concierto being classically trained, as well as our acquired knowledge, I believe that we decided at a certain moment to pursue our musical direction heading toward jazz, and of course the greatest influence is traditional jazz, but always with Cuban music as a reference.

One of the most important factors for us making this first disk with the Biss Music label after having founded the group only one year earlier was the product itself: taking the clarinet and mixing it with the guitar.  This difference and mixture has had good results since the public has accepted the effort and likes to hear something different.

Thanks to this we could play Cuban music with the clarinet and guitar, and really for us the result is a Cuban genre but with our original songs.  On those songs we use the harmonies of jazz, or improvisations.  That’s to say, I believe that we’re able to do a little of everything, and I think we do it with a great deal of respect for the qualities of each style.

I’d go a little further than seeing us as Cuban musicians who play Cuban jazz, since we can play all types of music and with quality.  About this first disk, I can conclude affirming that the result is Cuban jazz, our Cuban music with the influences of jazz.  We’re going to continue working around this and developing that current even more.  We already have a repertoire in which we’re going to include other styles from here on the island, but always with incursions into jazz.

HT:  Did all the members of Aire de Concierto complete their university studies, which is a way of asking if they’re graduates from the Superior Institute of Art (ISA)? 

JA:  Yes, all of us are ISA graduates.  There are four of us: Alain Ortiz on drums, Miguel Veliz on electric bass and guitar; Joël Lafon on the soprano and alto clarinet, in addition to the alto sax; and me playing the tenor saxophone, flute, soprano clarinet and at the moment piano as well.

We came together by chance at ISA and formed the group out of an interest in doing something different with the clarinet.  We achieved an “honorable mention” when we participated in the Festival of Young Jazz Artists (“JoJazz”) in 2007, in the category of small format.  When we graduated one year later, Biss Music was able to appreciate our work, and with that and our references they decided to produce our first disk.  This was our beginning in the professional world.

HT:  Despite your opinions about the genre that defines the musical work of the group, the “Cubadisco” organizing committee nominated your first CD for an award, but not in the category of jazz.   

JA:  True, but we’re really glad that — despite having only worked together for a year, and our having gad such a short time to put together our first disk — they nominated us in Instrumental Music and the Debut categories.

Janio Abreu

It doesn’t bother us at all that they placed us in those categories.  There was a lot of competition, high quality completion, and from renowned jazz musicians.  It seems to me that everybody has their moment and if right now we make a mark playing instrumental music or opera, then great!  Let’s hope that tomorrow they’ll keep us in mind in those venues where they truly should be featuring the art form that we consider ourselves to be championing.

HT:  Are you now thinking about a second CD? 

JA:  Yes, I have proposals from other recording companies.  That doesn’t mean we won’t also record with Biss Music, like we did with the first one.  I plan to realize this second disk for the beginning of next year.  We already have the ideas drawn up, but for the next one we want to incorporate more instruments due to the versatility of the members, who are able to play more than one.

For example, we plan to incorporate different sonorities.  We’ll do songs with saxophones.  They aren’t compositions made specifically for the disk, because we’re already playing them, so they’ll arrive at the recording session with a certain degree of maturity.  We’ll play songs on the flute, among them a cha-cha-cha, original compositions by us that are based on irregular beats, things that have more to do with the new currents of jazz.

We now have two guests artists confirmed for the recording: pianist Rolando Luna and maestro Tete Catarla, who played with us in our third anniversary concert.  I think it will be a jam-packed disk displaying much greater maturity.

HT:  Do you have some place in Havana where you and your group can be seen live? 

JA:  Yes, every Monday we play at Havana’s jazz club par excellence: La Zorra y el Cuervo.  One Sunday a month we also play in a new program that has been created for jazz in the gardens of the Hotel Nacional.  It’s a setting for tourists staying there as well as for Cubans who want to drop by.