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Yosvany Terry: Growth from Tradition

Tomas Pena By

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I wake up everyday trying to learn more about the tradition in order to grow as a musician
Saxophonist, composer, arranger Yosvany Terry received his early musical training from his father, Eladio "Don Pancho Terry. He is a graduate of the National School of Art and Amadeo Roldan Conservatory in Cuba. He has performed with Chucho Valdes, Sylvio Rodriguez, Jesus Alemany y Cubanismo, Jane Bunnett and the Spirits of Havana, Dafnis Pietro, Avishai Cohen, the International Vamp Band, Eric Revis, Steve Coleman, Los Terry and Columna B.

Since his arrival in New York in 1999, Terry has been absorbing American jazz traditions and combining them with his Afro-Cuban roots to produce compositions and solo work that flow from "sweet sounding lyricism to wild-eyed avant-garde. He is part of a new generation of musicians who is redefining the way jazz is perceived. Metamorphosis (Kindred Spirits Records) is Yosvany Terry's first album as a leader.

All About Jazz: Congratulations on Metamorphosis, your debut recording as a leader. The title refers to your ongoing journey as a musician...

Yosvany Terry: Yes. The title represents the transformation I experienced when I moved to New York [from Cuba]. It also refers to the vast amount of information that suddenly became available to me from so many cultures. New York is such a special city and there are so many things happening. I wanted [the title] to capture the spirit and the moment.

AAJ: Did you compose all of the material?

YT: Yes, all but one tune. "The Crying was composed by my brother, Yunior. The interesting thing is that I recorded an album that most people [in the states] don't know about. It was recorded in Spain on a small record label.

AAJ: You wouldn't be referring to Colomna B, would you?

YT: Yes, En Clave! All the tunes were composed by members of the band. It's not like I started composing when I moved here. I was already composing when I was in school [in Cuba]. At that time there was a whole new generation of musicians, many of whom are now living in different countries. We were part of that moment that was happening in Cuba. The music I am composing and performing now is an extension of that. The difference between now and then is the exposure to other cultures.

AAJ: While we are on the subject of Colomna B, is there any possibility that the band might reunite someday?

YT: Right now we don't have any intentions of doing that. What I mean is, we are not thinking about it, but that does not mean it can't happen.

AAJ: Some time ago I witnessed a Colomna B reunion, of sorts. The event took place at [New York's] Babacu. It was the closing party for the Havana Film Festival. You performed with [pianist] Roberto Caracals and [drummer] Dafnis Prieto. The missing link was the original bassist but John Benitez filled in beautifully. Maraca Valle and his band also performed that evening.

YT: Yes, John Benitez sat in on bass.

AAJ: You started out playing the violin [at a very early age], then switched to the saxophone. Why the switch?

YT: I started out playing the violin when I was five years old but when I went to school I ran into some problems. In Cuba students generally start school at the age of five or six. I started when I was seven. Because of the system [in Cuba] they wouldn't allow me to attend school. My father urged me not to get frustrated and suggested that I switch to another instrument. At the time there was an ad on TV that had an influence on me. It featured the saxophonist from Araucaria. Even though I started out playing classical music I always wanted to play popular music.

AAJ: Much like your father, Don Pancho Terry, you are a master Cachoeira player. Was your father your main influence?

YT: My father recently celebrated fifty years in the music business. He also plays the violin. Yes, definitely, my father is my main influence.

AAJ: Metamorphosis is a retrospective of the people, places, events and things that you have encountered from the beginning of your career to present day. Could you recount some of the more significant people, places or events that brought you to where you are today?

YT: There are quite a few. One of those special moments was when I moved to Havana from Cambegei. There, I was exposed to people from all over the country, which was well because I started getting together with the best musicians in school and formed a band. Another great thing that happened to me was getting together with the guys from Colomna B. It was great because it was an opportunity to experiment. We were four different characters and each one of us brought something interesting to the table. It helped us grow as musicians. We experimented with a lot of different concepts.

The other thing that happened to me was when I started working with Silvio Rodriguez. I toured with him when I was 22 or 23 years old. It opened my eyes to the music of Latin America. I played with Silvio for about a year and half. Then I started playing with [pianist] Carlos Masa and I was exposed to Europe. It was an incredible opportunity to experience the European festivals, etc.


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