At the end of its seventeenth edition, Jojazz contest is reaffirmed as a thermometer of the genre in Cuba and a prism that allows seeing the talent at music conservatories and art schools. With a dozen winners who mostly do not exceed 20 years, the event met this year its mission to draw attention on a group of guys who for sure will soon be the new promises of Cuban jazz.
” The competition is not only an important platform for the development of jazz in the country but also for the development of popular music in art education, because right now the boys enter the middle level –at 15 or 16- and are already studying to participate in the contest. This is a process that has been accelerated in recent times but previously there had other ways or it took more time because there was not a space like this, “Brenda Besada, musicologist of the National Centre for Popular Music and one of the organizers of the event, told Oncuba .
During three days of competition in the various categories: Composition and Interpretation of Minor Soloists (16 to 20 years), Senior Soloists (21-30 years) and Small Format (with a limit of 8 members between 16 and 30 years), a total of 21 contestants representing the provinces of Camaguey, Holguin, Santiago de Cuba and Havana tested their virtuosity in Avenida Hall in front of a jury made up by renowned jazz musicians from different generations such as Michel Herrera, Yasek Manzano, Enrique Pla, William Roblejo, Carlos Miyares, Yissy Garcia, Emilio Martini, Yoel Rodríguez, Juan Carlos Marin, Emir Santa Cruz, Alejandro Falcon, Rolando Luna, Ruy Lopez Nussa and Alexis Bosch.
Overall this year the turnout was lower than in previous editions, according to Besada- and there was no competitor in the category of Large Format, “due to it is very complex working for large format and also gathering a group of musicians whom the competitor does not pay as in most cases they are students “; however, the level in the other categories, especially in Minor Interpretation and Small Form-met expectations of jurors.
Like many of these musicians who are now responsible for assessing the young participants, Alejandro Falcon began his history in the jazz field with the award obtained in Jojazz 2002 and thereafter his remarkable performance as an interpreter and composer, in addition to his stylistic versatility, place him currently among the indispensable pianists in Cuban musical scene. Others a little bit older and with more road traveled, as the case of saxophonist Carlos Miyares- never presented his work to the contest, but the possibility of debuting accompanying other musicians served him as vehicle to be known.
“In 1998 I accompanied David Virelles and then the Vistel Brothers quintet. There I had the opportunity to see Norberto Rodriguez, the Indio (trumpeter) and many outstanding musicians of our country, so that’s one of the major successes of the contest: to facilitate meetings between musicians from different regions. And then, although I did not participate as a contestant, it was at a Jojazz where Bobby and Roberto Carcasses saw me and decided that I should stay here in Havana to begin working with them, later I did it with Alexis Bosch, and I’ve even played with Chucho Valdés, ” Miyares says.
Precisely for the matter of having gone through the same halls as a competitor, it is interesting to hear the impressions of these musicians on this year’s contestants.
“We really liked the category of minors as it is always attended by young performers and composers with very good quality, the level was quite high, but unfortunately the senior category was not what we expected, there was not much rigor,” Carlos Miyares noted.
Regarding the evaluation mode, the founder of Cubadentro project explains that there are many aspects to consider because there is a variety of instruments and the jury always seeks to balance and, above all, maintain the rigor of all editions, “we have tried awarding prizes to anyone who really deserves it even if it means leaving some areas without prizes, “Falcon said.
In composition area , where participants submit in advance the scores of two works of their authorship that a jury reviews and then evaluates during the competition according to the contestant interpretive capacity – this year it also surprised the level of the works submitted by their quality.
The young Rolando Benitez, Amadeo Roldan Conservatory fourth year saxophonist student , repeated this year the experience of participating at Jojazz, but not as accompanist, but as leader of a group and presented two songs of his own: “Influencias de” and “Descanse en el,” works that earned him the second prize in the category of composition and a second award in Small format for his project ¨Jazz tu sabes. ¨
“This contest is a test for all jazz musicians because the music level is very high and represented a challenge for me by the fact of composing the songs; I’m also studying for entering the Higher Institute of Arts and then taking time for this, the rehearsals… it is something that will form me as a musician, in addition to the pressure that represents playing in front of a jury and an audience, “Benitez states.
Prelude of the Jazz Plaza
Over time, Jojazz has helped to catapult many new artists on the national and international scene, so to the winners of each edition, the insertion into the jazz community is the largest gain of the competition. Moreover, from a legal point of view and on business issues in the field of music, Besada explains, the Jojazz awards have certain advantages, so the competition is perhaps a way to encourage them to continue their careers, “We provided them help if wanting to create their own project or getting inserted in some companies.”
On the other hand, the possibility of recording an album in this and any other sector of Cuban music, it involves traveling through a winding road that not always leads to some part; however, Colibri record label is one of the sponsors of the contest and in some editions the first prizes in the senior category, or a compilation of the best things submitted have resulted in an album: “But this does not happen in all editions and depends on the winners, their works and if the record company is interested in this material, “Besada said.
As a prelude to Jazz Plaza Festival – which celebrates its 30th anniversary next December- JoJazz emerged precisely as an auxiliary event, to make room for all the young talents that were appearing on the national scene and has already become reserve of the Jazz Plaza Festival.
When drawing a map for future editions, the main challenge of the competition would be to achieve a higher level of call, “since I am part of the event there are categories that have not had contestants, such large-format – and that obviously speaks of the level of the competition, “the musicologist says and adds,” I think we should be more demanding on the matter of repertoire, perhaps we should pre-select certain works or authors to guide the boys a bit and for not to happen what happened to us sometimes that we have found songs that do not have the required technical level. “
As for the design of the event and spectacle of each day, the artistic director Juan Carlos Delgado expects the young musicians to take a greater role in the contest: “I would like the night galas to be with the best contestants presented, because so far competitions have been during the day and then the galas are planned with renowned jazz musicians, so participants can only show their work during competition, where they act under the pressure of being evaluated “.
Several years organizing the most important young Cuban jazz event, allow Delgado to recount the contest in its latest editions, “There was a time when the level began to fall but now it came back up, and comparing with last year, this edition had better competitors, so art schools promise great musicians to Cuba. I think the reserve is guaranteed for the Jazz Plaza and Cuban music. “