TONICA is thus an attempt to provide more structure for the improvised music scene in Mexico. Angelberto, the foundation's only chromatic harmonicist, has been attending classes within TONICA for several years. Starting out playing the blues, he was influenced by Belgian harmonicist Toots Thielemans.
"TONICA helped me tremendously in becoming a musician," Angelberto said. "Without TONICA, I would never have been able to meet Antonio Sanchez, Chris Cheek, Ari Hoenig, Donny McCaslin, Ben Street...people who are very important for the contemporary jazz scene. TONICA is very important for the local scene to grow."
Escobar's understanding of the relationship between culture and social development sheds an even more meaningful light on the TONICA project and the context within which it is developing. "In Latin America, people are starting to expect a lot from culture in general- -be that music, arts or community engagement through theatre," he said. "So local governments are starting to not only expect but, I would hope, put their money where their mouth is, and really fund new activities. I'm not trying to say that this is a model in itself, but this is a phenomenon that's parallel to the fact that still in Mexico and Latin America, things are largely funded by the state; but the way the state views culture and arts is starting to change. Columbia, Venezuela, Brazil and Mexico now have a widely recognized, well-known discourse about cultureand not just its artistic merit, but its social potential."
Escobar emphasized the human aspect of a not-for-profit organization like TONICA, as well as the social power the arts have. For him, the arts have the ability "to engage in communities and create contributes to better outcomesto help the economy to help people have sustained visions for their own lives that go a little bit further than their immediate horizons. If you imagine the horizon of a kid in a marginal, sort of a favela, or in a poor neighborhood in Guadalajara, it's very easy to imagine they don't expect great outcomes there. Maybe they don't have reasons to; I would say that programs that are well-designed, have very clear intentions and really take this side of culture seriously matterbecause taking a concert to a poor neighborhood doesn't change their lives at all. It provides a good show, and I'm sure it provides a lot of enjoyment, but you can't assume that's doing the job. You have to do a lot more. You have to design programs. You have to try to put the locks and the gears where they're supposed to be so that change happens."
TONICA is reminiscent of Danilo Perez's project in Panama. The pianist's foundation has allowed several local Panamanian musicians, such as trumpeter Aquiles Navarro and flutist Melvin Lam Zanetti, to receive scholarships to study in the United States. JazzUv, in Xalapa, is another festival inviting several jazz musicians to perform in Veracruz every November.
Hopefully, such projects continue to thrive in Latin America. Escobar added that "governments are starting to notice that things can be done, but there's still a lot to be experienced and done and researched on how we should do it. So the Ministry of culture right now is doing a lot of work in poor communities in Guadalajara, and throughout the state, to locate the arts and culture into community projects that help develop kids' lives through music, through literature and books and potentially other artistic [activities]."
This year, TONICA's concerts only cost a couple of dollars each, an amazing opportunity for the audience and the TONICA students to enjoy high quality music. Bettye LaVette, for instance, gave an astounding blues performance, and Kurt Elling was breathtaking. If TONICA is able to invite such luminaries, it is certainly on the right track and improvised music will end up thriving in Mexicoespecially since TONICA is set on teaching the business side of being a professional musician.