All About Jazz

Home » Articles » Back Roads Beat

1,237

The 2007 Riviera Maya Jazz Festival: Almost Free For You Today

Mark Sabbatini By

Sign in to view read count
A free trip to a jazz festival near Cancun, complete with luxury trappings. All I'm expected to do in return is write something about it.

What could possibly go wrong, aside from a few meddlesome skeptics questioning my objectivity?

To them here's my assessment of the 2007 Riviera Maya Jazz Festival: Greatest. Festival. Ever.

Just kidding. A three-day, six-concert festival featuring headline shows by commercial stalwarts Marcus Miller, Tower of Power and George Benson doesn't get that honor unless the junket includes first-class plane tickets. Also, with Mexico's population historically indifferent or hostile toward jazz, the Americanized fusion played by the three regional bands was hardly ideal for capturing the country's underestimated role in the genre's development. Finally, while the rest of the media on the public relations tour mostly raved about the all-inclusive resort and daytime tour activities, I was a magnet for a comedy of mishaps confirming I'm as suited for such places as a milk bucket under a bull.

So this isn't the unabashed puffery our truly hype-worthy hosts are hoping for, but the Riviera Maya festival is a pretty good experience in a pretty good winter destination. In fact, my recommendation for people interested in unveiling the obscurity of Mexican jazz is to stay longer and go beyond the cushion of familiar luxury, something that may be aided by a longer festival in future years.

It all started with an e-mail in my spam box, alongside the impotence and weight loss ads, inviting me to the festival from November 29 to December 1.

"The Riviera Maya is emerging as one of the premiere jazz music events in the Americas. Hosted by the Riviera Maya Tourism Promotion Board, press trip participants will have the opportunity to experience a first-rate line-up for one of the most important musical events. Headlining the Festival will be legendary jazz artist George Benson along with Tower of Power, a group known for their combination of R&B, soul and jazz."

"This fully-hosted trip includes airfare from your nearest gateway city, hotel, stay, all meals and entry fees to attractions in accordance with the itinerary." The festival location, it added, was "named a Top Destination in Mexico two years in a row by Travel Weekly...and is also one of the fastest growing destinations in Mexico."

I've gotten similar pitches before. Last year an invitation to a festival in Cuba turned out to be a chance to pay my way there (and probably get arrested, thanks to U.S. restrictions) like any other visitor. But the Mexico invite was intriguing enough to invest three minutes on an e-mail, since my global tour of unusual jazz spots generally avoids tropical beach areas, which I don't particularly like. I got a response almost immediately from Stephanie Worth of the New York PR firm Adams Unlimited, and a couple of days and a few messages later I was booked for four days near some town called Playa del Carmen.

A little Web research reveals Playa del Carmen was a small fishing village that's now a tourist mecca of about 100,000 about an hour's drive from even more party-hearty Cancun. Featured attractions for the booming number of cruise ship and resort visitors include a lengthy pedestrian mall, lively nightlife scene and, of course, vast turquoise-water beaches.

The jazz festival is on one of the more popular beaches and organizers estimated more than 10,000 people a night might attend the free performances. Each night featured an opening concert by a regional band, none known to me, but one of which has been among the country's premier groups for more than two decades.

"Riviera Maya" refers to a 40-mile tourism district along the main highway from Playa del Carmen to Tulum pueblo, consisting largely of vast all-inclusive resorts, villa rentals, and recreational facilities offering things like scuba diving and jungle ATV riding.

"The resorts are generally secluded, and prevent one from experiencing the sights, sounds, and tastes of the city, and to some extent Mexican culture as well, since you will be surrounded by Western tourists and amenities," Wikipedia's travel guide notes.

No matter, I figured. I was told the city had a jazz club or two, and I figured I could scope out the local scene and learn about jazz in Mexico in general by wandering the less touristy streets during the day, which would also be the perfect opportunity to savor brain tacos and other cheap street food.

But, to quote the ominous forbearing of the awesome $7,000 action flick El Mariachi, I was completely wrong.

'Jazz Is Music For And Made By Savages'

Mexico's first jazz musicians were exiled with one-way tickets to New Orleans, setting the stage for more than a century of local hostility and global indifference toward subsequent players.

Tags

comments powered by Disqus

Related Articles

Read The World's Northernmost Jazz Festival: Polarjazz 2008 in Longyearbyen, Norway Back Roads Beat
The World's Northernmost Jazz Festival: Polarjazz 2008...
by Mark Sabbatini
Published: March 19, 2008
Read Refugees find harmony on Norway's northern edge at Varangerfestivalen 2007 Back Roads Beat
Refugees find harmony on Norway's northern edge at...
by Mark Sabbatini
Published: February 5, 2008
Read The 2007 Riviera Maya Jazz Festival: Almost Free For You Today Back Roads Beat
The 2007 Riviera Maya Jazz Festival: Almost Free For You...
by Mark Sabbatini
Published: January 30, 2008
Read Tragicomic Tones in Turkmenistan Back Roads Beat
Tragicomic Tones in Turkmenistan
by Mark Sabbatini
Published: August 13, 2007
Read 2007 North Sea Jazz Cruise Days 9-12: Land-ho! Causing Waves At The Festival Back Roads Beat
2007 North Sea Jazz Cruise Days 9-12: Land-ho! Causing...
by Mark Sabbatini
Published: July 30, 2007
Read 2007 North Sea Jazz Cruise Day 8: School Daze With McCoy Tyner, Amateurs And A 'Ship Pianist' Back Roads Beat
2007 North Sea Jazz Cruise Day 8: School Daze With McCoy...
by Mark Sabbatini
Published: July 26, 2007
Read "2017 New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival" In Pictures 2017 New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival
by Mark Robbins
Published: July 16, 2017
Read "Swinging with Sartre: Jazz Is Like Bananas" Philosophisticated Lady Swinging with Sartre: Jazz Is Like Bananas
by Marithe Van der Aa
Published: May 29, 2017
Read "Bob Dorough: 1923-2018" Profiles Bob Dorough: 1923-2018
by C. Michael Bailey
Published: April 26, 2018
Read "Dawn Clement: Here In The Moment" Interviews Dawn Clement: Here In The Moment
by Paul Rauch
Published: January 23, 2018
Read "Take Five with Francisco Quintero" Take Five With... Take Five with Francisco Quintero
by Francisco Quintero
Published: May 19, 2018
Read "Gilly’s Remembered" Profiles Gilly’s Remembered
by Michael J. Williams
Published: November 30, 2017