Buenos Aires Jazz Festival 2009: Growing Into a Tradition
December 3-8, 2009
In the land of the tango, Argentinaspecifically the stylish city of Buenos Airesthere is a movement afoot to bring great jazz to the land, expand the audience for the music, and increase public exposure for the growing number of outstanding jazz musicians in that South American country.
That movement is the driving force behind the Buenos Aires International Jazz Festival, whose second edition took place in December 2009. Artistic director Adrian Iaiesplans to make it an annual event, a tradition. The Buenos Aires Jazz.09 Festival Internacional he put together was bigger and maybe bolder than that of the inaugural year of 2008. It showcased a number of superb South American groups and musicians, as well as artists from Spain, France and the United States. Styles of music ranged from heavily American-influencedswing to bebopto music with touches of tango, to free-from avant-garde. Listeners were as apt to hear the music of Thelonious Monk,Charles Mingus or Herbie Hancock as original music, though there was plenty of the latter.
American pianist Fred Herschwas the headliner, performing with his trio (Matt Penman on bass and Nasheet Waits on drums), as well giving a solo recital and playing another concert with his trio augmented by local musicians.
The event was a success, well attended in its club and theater venues, as well as at its outdoor concerts on the terrace of the city's Cultural Center in the barrio of Recoleta. The outdoor performances were free of charge, allowing access to the music for many residents and tourists who may have been unaware of the festival, in the area instead to enjoy the beautiful park and museums, or the basic grandeur of the neighborhood, or perhaps visiting the famous Recoleta Cemetery (a maze of amazing mausoleums that includes the resting place of Evita Peron). The crowds on the terrace were good and very receptive. Notably, a great many were of the younger set, digging the music no matter what the genre and soaking up the great vibes.
"The main point is that we are trying to start with the tradition," says Iaies, himself one of the great musical resources of the city and a three-time Latin Grammy nominee as a pianist and composer. "Put down the roots of a tradition of the festival, not only programming concert after concert." He adds, "We must support the musicians ... to stimulate (the jazz scene) and make it different (for musicians) from the regular gigs and playing standards."
Iaies is a man of passion, joyous in spirit. To converse with the director during the festival at any of the nine venues is to expect he will have to break away at various points to greet musicians and industry people who seek a bit of his time. Each is welcomed graciously and warmly. He's involved. He's committed, and backed up fervently by his ever-busy, yet always accommodating artistic producer Daniel Arano.
"Buenos Aires has a jazz festival and must have a jazz festival," says Iaies. "It is a must." He notes that the city has always been a desirable place for concerts by heavy hitters like Herbie Hancock, Oscar Peterson, Dave Holland and many others. But Argentinians who attend those concerts don't necessarily know much about who is playing great jazz in their own backyard. His trio opened for Ron Carter twice, but Iaies says more people know him from those gigs than from his stellar work in Buenos Aires and elsewhere. He hopes the Buenos Aires festival starts to change situations like that.
"Argentinean jazz has no problem," says Iaies. "The artistic quality is high. We have musicians put into a position to play with Fred Hersch or Ben Monderor Steve Cardenas," the latter two being the other American musicians who performed at the 2009 festival. But local musicians "don't have the international experience to play other countries. I hope if I link them with other musicians at the festival, the international experience will help them... increase the possibility of crossing over (to international opportunities)."
Hersch formally opened the festivities December 3 with a concert by his trio. The event was sold out, attended by not only fans, but many of the musicians who would be playing in the ensuing days. Buenos Aires Minister of Culture Hernan Lombardi also made an appearance. Hersch is one of the more renowned pianists in jazz and his sophistication and intensity as an artist made an impression. Earlier in the day, he conducted a master class at Teatro Presidente Alvear, where he spoke to students not about chord progressions and notes, but about ways to free themselves up, approach music in different and fresh ways, to avoid stiffness and open up avenues for creating in the moment.