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Yosvany Terry: Growth from Tradition

By Published: March 28, 2006

AAJ: Let's go through Metamorphosis, track by track. The Okonkolo provides a stable rhythmic pattern that allows the parent drums [the Iya and Itotelo] to converse. You use the rhythmic patterns of the Okonkolo as the foundation for "Okonkolo Concertante. Is this part of a concerto?

YT: The idea was to write a concerto featuring the Okonkolo, the smallest of the three bata drums.

AAJ: "El Burlón (the Joker) speaks to the idea of maintaining a sense of humor in one's art. In your liner notes, you mention that the rhythmic-harmonic motif reminds you of a buffoon. How so?

YT: Yes, by the pattern that I wrote for the piano. It was the first motif I conceived. It doesn't stay with the same character all the time.

AAJ: On "Journey of Awareness, you are joined by percussionist/vocalist Pedro Martinez. The piece is dedicated to the West African deity Obatala. It speaks to discovering new harmonic sounds and concepts. What is your method for discovering new sounds and concepts?

YT: My creative process comes from my research and the processes that most musicians go through. If you wake up every day and you only play standards from the Great American Song Book you will get better, but you have to experiment and try different things, hear different music, research different cultures. Because of my African heritage, I have always been attracted to the richness of the African legacy. In Cuba there are things that have been kept that no longer exist in Africa. That is something that inspires me and makes me want to learn more.

AAJ: "The Crying [composed by brother, Yunior Terry] has a cinematic, melancholy quality. What was Yunior alluding to when he composed this tune?

YT: Yunior wrote that at a time when it was said that all communication between Cuba and the U.S. was going to be terminated. He wrote it thinking that he might never speak to his [our] parents again. That's why it has a...I don't know the word, a...

AAJ: Melancholy?

YT: Yes, a melancholy sound.

AAJ: "Subversive is all about New York City. The vibe, the diversity. Why did you choose the word, subversive?

YT: New York has a subversive attitude. There is so much happening in the underground that never pops up. However, if you live here you learn about all the great, creative things that are happening that are not part of the mainstream. To me that is the most important part of New York. I am speaking about the kind of creative things that inspire musicians like me . . .

AAJ: Tell me about "Transito and how you envisioned [musically] a traffic jam.

YT: Yes, it's about the feeling of a traffic jam in Havana or New York. Cuba and New York have a lot in common. There is always something happening!

AAJ: "Rampa Abajo La Rampa is the name of the street that leads to El Malecon in Havana. Did composing this tune bring back any special memories from your childhood?

YT: I composed the tune in Cuba and never used it. I revived it for Metamorphosis, although I didn't decide to use it until the day before the recording session. This is another tune that talks about the vibe in New York and Havana, but it talks about it in a different way.

AAJ: It has been said that you and musicians such as Miguel Zenon, Luis Perdomo and Dafnis Prieto represent a new generation of Latin American artists whose vibrant, contemporary sounds are shaking up the jazz world. How do you see it?

AAJ: In my case, I don't do things consciously, thinking I want to change something. Nobody does that consciously. I don't think Thelonious Monk was doing what he did consciously. I wake up everyday trying to learn more about the tradition in order to grow as a musician. I wake up in the morning saying, I want to learn more about Coleman Hawkins, Sonny Rollins, Irakere, Miguelito Cuni. I believe that is the same thing Luis and Dafnis are doing. We still marvel over old recordings and play them for one another. At the same time I stay in tune with what is happening now. There are musicians all over the world—Cuba, Brazil, Asia and South America—that are doing interesting things.

AAJ: But when you do something in New York it seems to have a larger impact.

YT: New York is a different country!

AAJ: In my opinion, there are two cities that qualify as different countries: New York and New Orleans.

YT: I had the same feeling the first time I went to New Orleans. I saw the commonality between Cuba, New Orleans and the old culture.

AAJ: When will Metamorphosis be released?

YT: Tentatively, March 10th [2006].

AAJ: And what is the name of the record label?

YT: It is on the Kindred Rhythm label [in the U.S.]

AAJ: And the CD release party will be at The Jazz Gallery, on March 10th and 11th?

YT: Yes.

AAJ: I couldn't think of a more appropriate venue. The Jazz Gallery is where you began your career.

YT: That was back in 2000 or 2001. I spoke to [founder] Dale Fitzgerald about performing with my band and the timing was right. I performed with my band every Thursday and invited guests such as trumpet players Brian Lynch and Roy Hargrove and others. About four or five months into the series I suggested that we bring in other bands and start a series. That evolved into the Jazz Cubano series. That's when artists such as Dafnis Prieto and [bassist] John Benitez came on the scene. At the time, not too many people were familiar with The Jazz Gallery.

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