Luis Perdomo: Focus Point

Tomas Pena By

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Branford Marsalis is always saying that Miguel Zenon, Yosvany Terry, Dafnis Prieto, David Sanchez, Danilo Perez and myself are changing the way Latin jazz is perceived.
Pianist Luis Perdomo grew up in a home filled with music. Born in Caracas, Venezuela in 1951, Luis was exposed to the sounds of salsa, Latin-American music, R&B, classical music and jazz by his father, an avid music enthusiast and collector.

Drawn to the piano at an early age, Luis made his early professional appearances on Venezuelan TV and radio at the age of twelve.

It was around this time that Luis started to seriously consider the possibility of pursuing a career as a professional musician. The more Luis listened and to read about the greats—the more he became aware of the fact that most of his favorite artists lived and/or recorded in New York City. Consequently, it was only a matter of time before Luis decided to live, study and perform in New York.

The catalyst to move to New York came in the form of a full scholarship to the prestigious Manhattan School of Music. In addition, it was here that Luis began his formal studies in both classical and jazz piano with Harold Danko and Martha Pestalozzi.

After receiving his Bachelor of Arts Degree in Performance (1997) Luis pursued his Masters Degree at Queens College with the legendary Sir Roland Hanna. Little did Luis realize that his association with Sir Roland Hanna would turn out to be one of the most pivotal moments in his development as an artist. In brief, Sir Roland Hanna made Luis aware of the fact that he still had much to learn about music and the piano.

Which is not to say that Luis's musical education was strictly limited to the classroom. Shortly after relocating to New York Luis quickly established himself as an in-demand sideman, performing with the likes of John Patitucci, Ray Barretto, Brian Lynch, Dave Valentin, Jane Bunnet, John Benitez, Ralph Irizarry, Jerry Gonzalez, Claudia Acuna, Alice and Ravi Coltrane, Dafnis Prieto, Miguel Zenon, Ralph Peterson Jr, Hans Glawishnig, Yosvany Terry and others.

In addition, Luis has made his mark as a performer, composer and arranger with groups led by bassist John Benitez and saxophonist Miguel Zenon.

With such impressive credentials, it was inevitable that Luis would eventually form his own band and become a leader in his own rite. Focus Point (RKM Records) brings together some of Luis's friends and fellow musicians - Miguel Zenon, Ravi Coltrane, Ralph Peterson Jr., Roberto Quintero, Max King, Miriam Sullivan and Ugonna Okegwo. Furthermore, it showcases his talents as a pianist, composer and arranger.

I was fortunate enough to attend Luis's debut as a leader at New York's Jazz Gallery on September 18, 2004. After two searing sets, I had the pleasure of speaking with Luis about his life and career.

All About Jazz: This evening marks a milestone in your career. How does it feel to be making your debut as a leader?

Luis Perdomo: Well, introducing my work has been quite a challenge. Naturally, being a bandleader requires a different mind-set from being a sideman. Being a band leader involves a lot more responsibility but I welcome it. I have been waiting for this moment for a long, long time {smiles with glee}.

AAJ: The Jazz Gallery has been your musical home for a number of years. Personally, I can't think of a more appropriate venue for you to make your debut as a leader, can you?

LP: In answer to your question, the Jazz Gallery has been very important in my development as a musician. I started playing here in 1999 with the Yosvany Terry quartet and a number of other young, up and coming musicians. Over the years the Jazz Gallery has boosted all of our careers in one way or another.

AAJ: During the 70's and 80' there was an abundance of performance spaces where musicians were able to congregate, rehearse and try out new material in front of a live audience. Today venues such as the Jazz Gallery are far and few between.

LP: It's funny because I have been in New York since 1993 and I had never heard of it until saxophonist Yosvany (Terry) mentioned it.

AAJ: It's true, in many respects the Jazz Gallery remains one of New York's best kept secrets. However, this does not diminishes its importance as a cultural institution and showcase for new talent. Getting back to Focus Point, I see that Ravi Coltrane had a hand in the production . . .

LP: Ravi and I produced the album. However, Ravi is the Executive Producer.

AAJ: Some of the material dates back to your college days. The rest of the repertoire is relatively new. What drew you to these particular tunes? Let's discuss each track one-by-one.

AAJ: Track 1 - "You Know I Know."

LP: I wrote that song while I was in college. It is based on a 12-row series, and it was influenced by the music of Schoenberg. The song has gone through some changes over the years. Initially, It had a different title. However, the most recent alteration was adapting the music to fit a Bata rhythm {imitates the bata rhythm verbally}.

AAJ: Track 2 - Fragments is a short improvisational interlude. How about track 3 - "Book of Life"?

LP: The tune was inspired by (saxophonist) Ornette Coleman's music and my years in junior high school.

AAJ: Quite a juxtaposition. How so?

LP: At my junior high-school there was a book called the Book of Life. Students who had disciplinary problems or poor grades were required to sign the Book of Life. Rumor had it that any student who signed the book three times would be expelled automatically. Not so, I signed the book (at least) three times and lived to tell about it {Laughter}!

AAJ: {Laughter} What about track 4 - "Procession"?

LP: Procession is a song that I originally wrote and recorded with bassist, John Benitez ( Descarga in New York - ZOHO Records). I composed the tune in the wee hours of the morning and recorded it the next day. This particular version is true to the original concept. On John's recording we performed the tune as a duo.

AAJ: Track 5 - "San Millan"?

LP: San Millan is inspired by an Afro-Venezuelan rhythm from the coast.

AAJ: You mentioned during your performance that track #6 - "The Stranger" was inspired by Albert Camus's (book) - The Stranger. Tracks 7 & 8 - "Spirit Song 1 and 2"?

LP: That is a tune that bassist Miriam Sullivan wrote especially for this recording.

AAJ: Track 9 - "Dreams"?

LP: A song that tenor saxophonist Max King wrote. I've always loved it.

AAJ: Track 10 - "Breakdown"?

LP: I wrote "Breakdown" for my senior recital at Queens College. I was studying with Sir Roland Hanna at the time.

AAJ: Last but not least, track 11 - "Impromptu" is an improvisational piece. What about the title of the album? Do the words, Focus Point (the title) hold any special significance for you?

LP: It represents the fact that various aspects of my life are coming into focus.

AAJ: Sir Roland Hanna had a tremendous impact on you both personally and professionally. Describe your relationship with Sir Roland Hanna.

LP: I loved Roland. He was the only teacher that kicked my ass. Meaning, he told me, "man, you cannot come here without practicing your lessons!" That really worked for me.

AAJ: While conducting my research I read that Sir Roland Hanna inspired you to reevaluate your technique...

LP: Yes. He would ask me to play a major scale and tell me to accent three notes {laughter}. He taught me how important it was to pay attention to what I was playing. He opened up my mind to classical music. After I started studying with Roland, I saw the piano differently. Playing the piano actually became more difficult...

AAJ: Was it like starting from scratch?

LP: Yes. Sir Roland Hanna was the person who is responsible for making me aware of the endless possibilities.

AAJ: On another note. When was the last time you visited Venezuela?

LP: Funny that you should mention that. I was there last week. In fact, I just returned two days ago.

AAJ: Did you perform while you were in Venezuela? If so, how is your music received there? Is there an audience for jazz in Venezuela?

LP: Prior to January, it had been ten years since I performed in Venezuela. Back then I used to play at the Juan Sebastian Bar, which is one of the most famous jazz clubs in Venezuela. It was there that I shared the stage with artists such as Chucho Valdes and Gonzalo Rubalcaba. To answer your question, yes, there is a large audience for jazz in Venezuela. I hope to be able to perform in Venezuela in the future.

AAJ: Many of the musicians you chose to accompany you on Focus Point are fellow "Gallerians" (up and coming musicians who performed often at the Jazz Gallery) such as saxophonist Miguel Zenon, saxophonist Ravi Coltrane and bassist, Hans Glawishnig

LP: Yes, Hans and I have been playing together for the last ten years. In fact, I went to school with Hans.

AAJ: And the drummer? He was awesome.

LP: Yes, that is Ralph Peterson Jr. I met him during my years at the Manhattan School of Music. I have always loved his playing (he used to hang out there).

AAJ: When is Focus Point set to be released?

LP: I am not really sure. Hopefully, some time this Fall.

AAJ: What kind of music and/or artists are you currently listening to?

LP: Elis Regina Live in Montreaux, a Miles Davis recording from 1969 called Live from Juan de Pins with Jack DeJohnette, Alfred Cortot, a French classical pianist. Arturo Benedetti an Italian classical pianist from Italy. Lots of salsa (laughter). I grew up listening to all kinds of music. When it comes to music I do not discriminate. Even if I don't like something right away, I give it some time. Believe it or not, when I was young I didn't like jazz. I used to listen to a lot of salsa growing up.

AAJ: Is it true that you began playing the piano at the age of six?

LP: I started playing with my father when I was six. Technically, My father was not a professional musician. He played by ear. Officially, I started playing the piano at the age of ten.

AAJ: How's the future looking for bandleader, Luis Perdomo?

LP: I recently recorded new projects with Yosvany Terry and Dafnis Prieto. I just completed a new recording with Ravi Coltrane that will be released this February. Also, I will be recording Jibaro with Miguel Zenon this December (2004).

AAJ: Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers?

LP: I would just like to thank you for coming out this evening.

AAJ: The pleasure was all mine. In my humble opinion, you and your "posse" represent the future of Jazz and/or Latin Jazz.

LP: Funny you should say that. Branford Marsalis is always saying that Miguel Zenon, Yosvany Terry, Dafnis Prieto, David Sanchez, Danilo Perez and myself are changing the way Latin jazz is perceived. I have never given it much thought.

AAJ: Take it from Branford, he knows what he is talking about. Besides, Branford is not one to bestow a compliment lightly. Switching gears for a moment, back in the 1970's and 1980's it was the Gonzalez brothers, Paquito D'Rivera, Ignacio Berroa opened the doors for a new (multi-cultural) generation of musicians. In my opinion, the torch is being passed...

LP: Thank You for saying that.

AAJ: Thank you for an evening of great music. Also, my gratitude to the staff at the Jazz Gallery for being a home away from home to the next generation of up and coming musicians. On behalf of All About Jazz, continued success.

Visit Luis Perdomo on the web.

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