Cuba’s 2014 JoJazz Festival Awards

Irina Echarry

Alejandro Meroño

HAVANA TIMES — The competition of Havana’s JoJazz Festival this year was held in the Avenida theater located in Havana’s neighborhood of Marianao, a small but cozy place that has the acoustics that an event of this nature requires.

Soloists and small bands, such as JazzVision, made up of third and fourth year students from the Amadeo Roldan conservatory, took the stage here in the course of three days. Other young musicians from different provinces around the country who do not receive formal jazz training as part of their syllabus but learned it on their own, with the passion that the unknown tends to awaken, also participated in the competition.

Some faced the challenge of playing in front of an audience for the first time. Others were already used to such performances. All, however, were nervous. It is said that there were heated discussions among jury members and I saw a number of participants outside the Lazaro Peña theater (where the awards ceremony was held) express their discontent over the experience.

Small Format Winners

Third place: El Quinteto (Higher Institute for the Arts)

Second place: Rolando Benítez y Jazz tú sabes

First place: Maracujazz, from Camaguey

Maracujazz was created two years ago. At the competition, they peformed Over the Rainbow and Pica Pica. Thanks to this award, all of the band members have been invited to the 30th Jazz Plaza Festival in December and will be included in the catalogue published by the National Popular Music Center, a company promoted and coordinated by the JoJazz Festival.

Roberto West Martín

The concert offered by the Joven Jazz Band during the awards ceremony held on November 15 was dedicated to the recently deceased jazz musician and founder of Cuba’s renowned Irakere band Carlos Emilio Morales. Musician Joaquin Betancourt referred to his death as a “great loss for Cuban culture.”

The group called The Jazz Band performed a special program, with pieces composed or arranged by its young members, such as Just One Moment, written by Michel Herrera.

Accompaning the Jazz band were the seductive voices of Zule Guerra, who sang You Don’t Know What Love Is, Yanet Valdes, with Cry Me a River, and Dayme Arozena, who treated us to a magnificent version of Summertime.

On Sunday, November 16, the other awards were granted participants, during an evening of Pianos JoJazz, with guests such as Alejandro Falcon, Jorge Aragon and Alejandro Meroño.

Falcon, accompanied by Adyan Varono (bass) and Oliver Valdes (drums), opened the ceremony with a version of Thelonious Monk’s When You Need It and his own Danzando entre puentes.

Aragon performed next to Jorge Reyes (standup bass) and Oliver Valdes (drums). He thanked them for the opportunity of being able to learn from them, and treated the audience to a number of his pieces.

Young Meroño’s performance was memorable. Alone, he managed to dredge up every imaginable emotion from the piano, moving from one mood to another with overflowing sincerity and creating a very intense atmosphere that moved everyone in the Lazaro Peña theater.

Following the concert, the JoJazz 2014 awards ceremony began.

Performer Awards (over 18)

The jury decided not to grant any performer a first, second or third place award in this category, but bestowed mentions on Antonio Guzman Sanz and Tyler John Peterson.

The jury also decided to acknowledge the work of a musician who accompanied different bands and offered an excellent performance. The award is granted in exceptional cases to young people who are not directly involved in the competition, and his work is truly deserving of such recognition.

Accompaniment award: Juan Carlos Sanchez Padilla


New Performers Awards

Third place: Arthur Luis Álvarez (saxophonist and oboist) and Jesus Raciel Pupo

Second place: Roberto West Martin (standup bass)

Third place: Jorge Felix (saxophone)

At the close of the ceremony, the cash awards offered by the Cuban Music Copyright Association (ACDAM) in the category of composition were announced.

The jury also decided not to select any performer for the third place award.

Second place: Rolando Benitez

First place: Eduardo Campos

Eduardo Campos is a musician with Maracujazz – the boys from Camaguey swept the board this year.

Beyond the competition and awards, the JoJazz Festival has become a speace that legitimates and acknowledges the work of some music students and recent graduates from Cuban music academies, a platform designed to promote the work of young talents who wish to belong to the world of jazz. With effort, sometimes individually and sometimes with the help of Cuba’s “jazz brotherhood”, most of them achieve just that.

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