JoJazz 2009 Prizes

By Irina Echarry, photos: Caridad

Gretchen Suarez, First Prize for interpretacion.
Gretchen Suarez, First Prize for interpretacion.

HAVANA TIMES, Nov. 30 – This past Thursday, the Mella Theater was not completely full, but the jazz faithful -young music students and lovers of the genre- had turned out.

At 8:30 in the evening, when Jazz Band began playing under the direction of Joaquin Betancourt (an important arranger, musical producer and the orchestra’s director), the doors opened to a new edition of the International Competition of Young Jazz Musicians (JoJazz 2009), dedicated this time to the 35 years of the artistic life of trumpet player Jose Miguel Crego Castro “el Greco.”

Possibly many of those who heard the version of “Penny Lane” (from the Beatles anthology) or “La verdad” (The truth), by Michel Herrera, weren’t aware of how this annual event came into being.

The vice-president of the Cuban Institute of Music recalled, “Several years ago, almost secretly, on a December afternoon at the La Zorra y el Cuervo jazz club, twenty or so young people met with a jury presided over by maestro Frank Emilio. (…) Those of us who began the competition believed in the youth, and we continue believing in the youth.”

That’s why, in this 12th annual edition of JoJazz, spectators were not surprised when Yasek Manzano delighted everyone with his trumpet, offering a personal version of “Te quedarás”, a Benny Moré classic.  Nor was it unexpected that people would relish in the sublime playing of Emir Santacruz on sax or Jorge Luis Pacheco on piano.

During the festival, competitions in composition and interpretation took place in the cultural hall of the Amadeo Roldan Theater, as did trumpet workshops.  The audience reveled in jazz, harmony and interpretation, as well as the performance of the two invited Norwegian groups, Pist and Listen.

This competition has launched the musical careers of several artists and has caused a revolution in Cuban music.  It’s a shame that it gets such little promotion, especially in terms of the times and places of the concerts and jam sessions.

Getting a hold of JoJazz program is becoming an increasingly difficult proposition; it’s not even posted on the Internet.  This is why it’s not so strange to see the small turnouts at the various venues.

Following the several days of competition came the day of the awards on Sunday.

In the closing gala was heard the group Aires in concert, a band that won an award in past years, as well as Jorge Aragon, the 2008 prize-winner in composition with his work “En un espacio de tiempo” (In a lapse of time).

The Award Winners

Composition, Teen Category:

Although he didn’t compete for composition, the jury decided to give special mention to Silvano Hernandez for his work “Fiesta lenta” (Slow party).

First mention: Eduardo de la Cruz, for the work “Ahora sí” (Now’s the time).

Third Prize: Felix Joan Alonso, for the work “Traspasando en clave de fa” (Going beyond the note of fa).

Second Prize: Junior Arronte, for the work “Voy Andando” (I’m leaving now).

First Prize: Irvin Aday O’connor, for the work “Confusiones” (Confusions).

Interpretation, Teen Category:

The jury decided to leave the first prize vacant, but granted first mention to trumpeter Randy Veitía.

Third prize:  Harold Gonzalez Canovas, bass.

Second prize (shared): trumpeter Kali Rodriguez and saxophonist Junior Arronte.

Small Combo:

The jury decided to leave awards vacant in the category of small combo but granted two special mentions to the groups De concepto and BrassCuba.

Adult Category:

The jury agreed to give two special mentions to musicians who were not in the competition: drummer Luis Naples, from the group De concepto; and David Rubén Rodriguez Labrada, the saxophonist who plays with Irvin Aday.

Third Mention: Ariel Jorge Perez Caballero, trombonist.

Second Mention: Hansel Guerra, clarinetist.

First Mention: Esdiedrei Gonzalez, pianist.

Third Prize: Marileidis Rodriguez, vocalist.

Second Prize: Redys Fernandez Acosta, flautist.

First Prize: Gretchen Suarez, vocalist.

Many hoped there would be no award slots left vacant since there’s so much talent among young Cuban jazz musicians, but it was a good jury.

What could have happened in their deliberations?  That’s a question we can’t answer.  Perhaps the second prize was shared in the teen category because the jury couldn’t come to an agreement.

In any case, the players left satisfied, especially Kali (interviewed recently by Havana Times), who was presented his award, in addition to a fine case for his trumpet, by el Greco.

The best gift was the applause from a public for the efforts made.  What remains is more work, more study and more perseverance.

JoJazz is an event where everyone wins: those who compete and those of us who get a chance to hear good jazz that comes from the hands of Cuba’s very youngest players.