Mexico's Jazz scene: a history that expands
Trying to indentify something so liquid and ever changing as the jazz scene in Mexico is daunting. Because of lack of space and thorough study on the matter, I would like to make the reader aware of the Mexican “shape of jazz to come,” with a few glimpses of what I believe have been the forces that have ignited a thriving and creative music scene, both from Mexican artists living in Mexico and abroad.
The idea of a Mexican jazz does not resonate with the impetus and vigor that I believe it should among the international jazz community. Given the increasing volume of artists, recordings, and concerts, as well as the ever-growing audience, that Mexico has amassed in the past two decades, the seriousness of jazz coming from Mexico, its history, and its artists should become more celebrated by jazz connoisseurs and the public at large world-wide.
Where is Mexican jazz going? Should people appreciate it because it is Mexican, or can the Mexicanity of jazz be relegated to a secondary position, for people to appreciate exclusively the music, without any disclaimers of denomination of origin? Mexican jazz is now approaching a moment where the music performed and written by Mexicans, which has been percolating for so many years, is coming to fruition and beginning to gain the recognition it deserves
As Latin-American artists, we are still in the process of understanding how to promote our own work. We are not as adept as, for example jazz artists from the United States, who have many decades of experience publicizing their music. Therefore, many Mexican jazz artists, are challenged by getting their names out to the international music scene. The few Mexican artists who have gained world recognition are part of not a movement of artists coming from Mexico, but rather solo efforts that have exposed in many cases the absence of other Mexicans performing in top-level venues worldwide. A case in point is amazing drummer Antonio Sanchez, whose presence in the “major leagues of jazz” for close to two decades, has been nothing less than brilliant. His notably successful career includes performing and recording with the likes of Chick Corea, Danilo Perez, Pat Metheny, and his own quartet.
A big part of the growth of jazz in Mexico has to do with the inclusion of a jazz program within the Escuela Superior de Música (INBA), which has been an important part of the development of jazz for more than twenty years. Additionally, the emergence of a handful of private and public contemporary music schools that include jazz in their programs have functioned as great magnets for young jazz and pop music enthusiasts to pursue their artistic efforts in a more regulated and organized environment. This has provided Mexico with a new generation of students of jazz that are blossoming into potentially important jazz artists.
In the last ten years, there has been an eruption of jazz venues in Mexico City along with Guadalajara, Monterrey, Merida, Tijuana, Jalapa, San Luis Potosi and other cities. A special mention should be made to New Orleans Jazz Bar, Blue Monk, and El Convite in Mexico City for enduring with notable consistency and specializing in promoting jazz for many years.
Role models in Mexican jazz have been a decisive factor for the growing scene in Mexico nowadays. Paramount actors of the jazz scene in Mexico, like bassists Roberto Aymes and Agustin Bernal, pianist Hector Infanzon, drummer Rodrigo Villanueva, saxophonist Juan Alzate, and guitarist Eduardo Piastro not only have the capacity to garner large turnouts at their own concerts, but also promote jazz education with a great degree of commitment.
Communicators and radio personalities like German Palomares, Erik Montenegro, Oscar Adaad, and Yonathan Amador, have radio shows about jazz. Writers and columnists Antonio Malacara, Alan Derbez, and Xavier Quirarte to name a few, have been talking about jazz for quite some years, initiating a conversation between the jazz community that was long overdue.
The resurgence of big bands in the Mexican jazz scene, primarily in the Mexico City area, has been received with enthusiastic approval by audiences thirsty for different sounds. Two large ensembles that stand out are the Tlaxcaltecatl Latin Jazz Band, and The Big Band Jazz de Mexico. These ensembles have increased the jazz repertoire by fusing many elements of the popular Mexican folkloric songbook repertoire with jazz orchestrations. Moreover, this movement has invigorated the relationship between composer/arrangers and ensembles. Composers/arrangers like Rosino Serrano, Mario Santos, and the late Eugenio Toussaint, are examples of artists who have chartered new territories in the genre of jazz with large ensemble.
A very brief list of Mexican performers of note within the Mexican jazz world include bassists Arturo Baez, Arturo Luna and Israel Cupich; saxophonists Remi Alvarez, Javier Vergara, Adrian Terrazas, Gerry Lopez and Otis Ganceda; pianists Alejandro Mercado, Roberto Verastegui, Enrique Haneine, Enrique Neri, Javier Resendiz and Mark Aanderud; Guitarists Francisco Lelo, Hugo Fernandez, and Alberto Medina; drummers Israel Varela, Gustavo Nandayapa and Moises Natenzon; vocalist Iraida Noriega and Dannah Garay, as well as bands like Sacbe, Los Dorados, El Quinto Elemento, Craneo de Jade, and Muna Azul. Lastly, a special mention should be made to vocalist Magos Herrera, who may be the most internationally well-known jazz artist to come out of Mexico in the last ten years.
The question then, is not: How is the jazz scene in Mexico? Rather, the question should be: Do the Mexican jazz scene, and the body of work of Mexican jazz artists, have the potential to transcend into a globally accepted art form, and should we aim for that? I believe our music does have the potential, and we are already on the path to tackling that goal. Mexico’s jazz is alive and well. Increasing numbers of Mexicans are performing, composing, attending shows, and writing about jazz. There are also combined efforts between artists of diverse nationalities with Mexican artists. What is taking place in Mexico is a multi-generational, plural and diverse effort that has never occurred before in these formations and quantities.