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Michel Camilo: Pianist for a Golden Era

By Published: March 1, 2004
AAJ: You've been all around the world doing music, how are the audiences? Do they change in Europe? What's the flavor out there for jazz music?

MC: They're always different everywhere you go. One of the biggest lessons I learned was in Stockholm once, at a famous jazz club there, when, in between numbers the audience would barely applaud. That's the way they listen to the music there. At the end, they exploded. I thought they weren't enjoying it. I was really spooked. [laughter] I just said, "OK, I'll just do my thing and who knows?" But you learn to respect that. Every audience is different. If you're sincere and honest with your playing, somehow you click and the audience tunes in. We are spoiled here in New York, because people applaud your solos and they interact with you throughout the set. It's not the same everywhere else. It's very different. You just have to go out and do your thing.

AAJ: Do you find there's a good interest and hunger for good jazz music?

MC: I would say yes. Right now, we're living in an incredible golden era. The audiences are huge everywhere I go. They get sold out, all the concerts. And the interest is unbelievable, from the young, which is the future of our music, not just the older folks, but the young ones. Nowhere is that more apparent than in Japan. The Japanese audience is the youngest one. Because they start from when they are like 14 or 15 to come to a concert. The jazz clubs support a young audience, because they have a student rate for entrance. Thursday evenings, they sell standing room for the students at half price. And that is very good for nurturing the audience. You can see it. They're soaking it in and they really get to be fans for life. And that's what you want. You want them to go with you in your musical journey.

You'd be surprised, in South America there is a big jazz audience as well. Especially in the Caribbean basin. I would say safely that all the islands have at least one jazz festival. And they're big. I've been going to the Puerto Rico Heineken Jazz Fest for the last five years. And there it happens four nights in a row, outdoors and the audience is at least 4,000 people every night. Even Berklee College of Music comes with some teachers for the festival week and they teach there, then they give a scholarship to the best student to bring to Boston. So there's a lot of interest.

And of course there's the Cuba one. The one in Havana is huge. I got invited to that one by Chucho Valdez, who's a very good friend. We have collaborated together. We have played duets all over Europe, as well. And here at Carnegie Hall.

So it's really good to see that jazz is expanding so good, so fast.

AAJ: You have a rigorous schedule. You seem to be busy and things are going well.

MC: I can't complain. You know, when I moved to New York at the beginning of the 80s, things were a little bit darker, in a way. The prognosis for jazz was not that good. I remember reading that jazz was dead. I said, "Oh my god, I got here late!" [laughter] I was really in shock. But luckily from the mid-80s on, I guess with all the young blood that came, things started moving slowly but surely upward for jazz. The 90s, of course, jazz really took off. And nowadays we live in that golden era, which is worldwide. Because the rest of the world caught up to what was going on here in the US. It's a good thing. I'm glad it's going on like that. I hope it lasts.

But I can see the young blood and the young players that are coming up. It's really good to see that the music keeps on standing.

Visit Michel Camilo on the web at .

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