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Marina Albero: The Sweetness of the Edge

Paul Rauch BY

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Marina Albero burst onto the Seattle jazz scene in April of 2014, playing a brilliant set on vibraphone in a duo with flamenco jazz master, pianist Chano Dominguez. That evening we were not only introduced to her music, but to our new neighbor, as she was moving her family to Seattle from Barcelona. Since that time she has energized the scene with her quartet, and in duo and solo piano performance. Her style reflects her musical journey that began with touring the world at age 12 with her musical family, to her teen years spent studying in Cuba, to her association with flamenco forms in Spain. The listener can hear a world of music in her playing, from jazz, to classical, to flamenco, and undeniably, the afro cuban rhythms that are so foundational in jazz music. I sat down with Marina at Cafe Fiore in Seattle, for a brief chat.

All About Jazz: What has been the biggest adjustment musically, playing with the musicians here in Seattle, coming from Barcelona?

Marina Albero: I wouldn't say adjustment, because that sounds to me like fixing something, or trying to change something. But what I'm learning is what a community is, in such a positive way. When I first got here, I felt as if I didn't belong, but now I really feel like I do, and that has been a big adjustment for me. I wasn't ready for that, I thought I would be a freelance musician for a while. I feel loved by the musicians, it's awesome, I didn't expect so much warmth! I have not had to change, in fact, I have been asked to not change. They say, "You have your own language and we love that," so it couldn't be better. The adjustment has been, "welcome, you are loved," and it's beautiful.

AAJ: You have described yourself as an improvisational musician, as opposed to a jazz musician. How has jazz music influenced your musical language?

MA: Well, a lot, because it's been a part of my background, for my whole life. My father and my mom have always been jazz lovers, always playing records by Miles Davis, Chet Baker, Weather Report, all sorts of jazz, and world music as well. So jazz was something natural to hear, something natural to spend time with. I started as a jazz student when I was fourteen, and it was a big help to me, because I come from the classical or self taught world, so jazz was the perfect way to understand harmony, even in classical music. Jazz has been the door that opened up my mind and my technique, by being able to play and improvise how I want. I prefer not to say jazz, because I think people who really play jazz, play from the whole tradition, whereas I'm more experimenting with flamenco, cuban music, jazz, and with all of these, trying to make my own language. Jazz has been a huge influence not only for me, but for all music. It is the classical music of the 20th century, as Tete Montoliu would say.

AAJ: What do you want your audience to leave a performance with, that they can feel the day after the performance and beyond?

MA: Well, a few years ago I realized, that people really don't remember the music, it's really hard to remember exactly what the musician played, so I'm focusing more and more about them feeling and remembering some kind of experience, that is a big goal when you play music and you don't sing, and you are using just musical notes. What I'm feeling with the audience is, if they like you, and you speak a little bit with them, they become, with the musician, part of the experience. It's something that happens in America a lot, after a concert when the music is over, or theatre actors, they talk with the audience, and that is a big difference-they associate your music to your personality. To me, going a little deeper with your audience, talking to them, asking them to support you, that makes them feel more a part of it, and the experience is more tangible or real. You look at them in their eyes when they approach you, I look for that connection, to engage with each other.

AAJ: It has become more and more difficult to find clubs, or venues with pianos. What is your view on the growing trend towards digital keyboards?

MA: I think that digital keyboards are awesome toys, and they shouldn't be more than that, they should be toys or tools. It gives you the ability to record at home, play drums from a keyboard, that's all super cool. I don't like to use digital keyboards on a professional level. I'll play whatever piano they have, whether it is an upright out of tune, but playable, or I play my electric piano from the seventies, which are actual instruments, electric instruments. That's my personal fight. I'm getting known for it! The other day someone asked in this club, why I'm the only one who plays that piano, and it's a good piano! Something else, we can look for pianos, not look for gigs. If I hear of a good piano, in a venue, or someone's house, I'll try to gig there.

AAJ: You toured the world from a very young age with your family band. Your father was a legendary musician and composer. Tell us about the influence of your family on your musical journey.

MA: Oh, complete. My father would be overwhelmed by the adjectives you used, he would define himself more like a poet and activist. His aim was more delivering a message, and bringing music to the streets. He was more of a political activist with music in the seventies, with Franco. When we got democracy in Spain, popular celebrations had been banned, we could not sing in Catalan. He did a great job along with my mom, teaching music, organizing festivals, they did tough work when Spain was like a cultural desert, with flamenco just in the south, in some depressive neighborhoods in Barcelona, trying to bring all that back to the light, and they did it! They were super successful. My father and my mom, they fought for better payment for gigs. Instead of having family gatherings on Christmas, more often we would get together at gigs, where he would make a big production, and we would all be working there for a week, or a month. It's complete influence. My father would always tell me, go the U.S., travel, go to Cuba, encouraging me to take my music everywhere, and not stay still. He really believed my music could walk forward for many miles, and I had never felt that way. I would say, "No c'mon, I just play a little piano," but he would tell me people should know your music, you are awesome. He was not only one of my biggest influences musically, but also with life. The way he faced life, is helping me a lot, that's why I am here, that is why I play what I play, and why I want to play a real piano, not a fake piano. He was always encouraging me and my sisters and brothers to be ourselves, and go until the last consequences with it. He would say to you the only things you should be ashamed of are skill or still. The rest, everything that is about self expression, you should always be proud of yourself. And that doesn't mean you are better than anyone, it means, I am me, and that is beautiful, that's all, and then you can recognize the other person, because you are yourself. So then I can play music, if I love myself and I feel secure.

AAJ: You moved with your family to Cuba in your teenage years. The musical soil there is so fertile, and diverse. What musical cross currents did you experience there that inspired you then and now in a powerful way?

MA: That was my last period as a student, I was in Cuba from 15 until I was 18. I went there because I wanted to graduate with a degree in classical piano, so I never went to a Cuban music lesson but once, and it was for Cuban percussion, and it was useful. So my influences there came from my friends and teachers. We are talking about Teresita Junco, who was an amazing pianist, she has a son named Aldo Lopez-Gavilan, he was one of my best friends there, and he is an amazing piano player, he can play classical and improvise, and another son who plays violin. She left to go teach in Costa Rica, and so I started with her student, who was just 20 or 21, and she is one of my best friends, who now lives in Barcelona. Her name is Evet Frontela. I had another beautiful teacher from symphonic percussion, another woman, Damaris Favier, it was awesome, because I was surrounded by so many women musicians there, whereas in Spain it was very rare. I felt surrounded by love, like family. My family stayed for nine months, I stayed for three years, I was on my own. I felt super safe in Cuba, because my teachers, and friends were so warm there. I know Cuban music like I do because I would go dancing every night no matter what! We would do it at a friend's house with just a few percussion instruments, and singing, in the streets or in the apartment, we didn't need a big orchestra. That's how I learned Cuban music, being with them, hanging out, and especially dancing.

AAJ: Tell us about the projects you are currently working on, that we may see on stage here in Seattle.

MA: I just came up with the name MAP, Marina Albero Project. With the word project what I mean is no matter what lineup, or what band you see me in, if it's Marina Albero, it's going to be the same narrative, which is my life, my compositions, my music, my hammered dulcimer, my piano, so I call it MAP because, for instance, this month, I have 3 solo concerts, 2 duos, 1 quartet, and a quintet. I feel like it will be super different, because of the musicians and the situations affecting me, and at the same time, I'm still on the same track, which is my music and my experiences. I call it MAP because to me it's something graphically my own route, map, it's what's happening to me.

AAJ: You have a wonderful recording called #1 currently available, any plans to get back in the studio?

MA: Of course, I'm already working on that. I love this country, because when you talk to professionals here, the level of accuracy and engagement is awesome. I'm already working on the pre production. I have a video company, Chitin Creative, that is not only filming, they are recording track by track. So beforehand, I will have audio material from my live concerts, and my first MAP experiences. And so, I love this way of working, because I already feel that I'm working on that, and at the same time, everybody who comes to my concerts, and comes to speak with me, are a part of it. I love it that here, everyone wants to be engaged with you. I want to be sincere with my recording, no overdubs. It's going to be like a live concert, maybe take some live tracks from my concerts, maybe a DVD, it's very open right now, but I know it's going to be called #2, with perhaps, subtitle. I need to record again now that my kids are grown up, and I have more time. It has been two years in Seattle, and six months since I launched my own band, I need to take a picture, which in music is a CD.

AAJ: You have experienced a lot of change in your life in the past few years, with the move to Seattle from Barcelona. MAP is certainly a journey, where is it leading to?

MA: It doesn't lead anywhere, I'm not going anywhere, I'm just walking, just enjoying the way, enjoying the path, and I think I would feel super anxious expecting to get somewhere, and then I couldn't really enjoy the journey. To me, what is beautiful, is like some lyrics I've written from a few years back, "I'm enjoying the path, while I'm planting the seeds that I'm leaving behind," I mean, I just keep walking, and I love planting seeds, and I know I'm leaving a garden behind me. I would be bored, just keeping the garden. I know someone is going to come after me and saying, "What a beautiful flower, what a beautiful tree, I'm going to take care of them!"

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