15th Classically Cuban Concert Fuses Danzón and Jazz

Image: 2019-classically-cuban.png

Since 1994, the Cuban Research Institute (CRI) has sponsored a concert series to celebrate the diverse musical traditions of Cuba and its diaspora, bringing a broad spectrum of the greater Miami community to FIU. Each year, the concert focuses on a different theme and includes works by Cuban and other composers. CRI has organized concerts devoted to the compositions of Ernesto Lecuona, Music for Martí, Spanish composers on Cuba, The World Sings to Cuba, the trajectory of the Cuban danzón, and Albita's salsa, among other topics.

The 2019 program, titled Lineage, featured the Cuban-American pianist and composer David Virelles, accompanied by percussionist Hilario Bell and bassist José Armando Gola. The event was held on Sunday, December 8, 2019, from 5:00 to 6:30 PM at the Wertheim Performing Arts Center on the FIU Modesto A. Maidique Campus. The cosponsors of the event were the FIU School of Music, the Kimberly Green Latin American and Caribbean Center, the FIU Libraries, CasaCuba, and the Cuban-American Studies Association. Dr. John F. Stack, Founding Dean of the Steven J. Green School of International and Public Affairs, welcomed the audience.

The concert dramatized the creative fusion between traditional Cuban music, particularly the danzón genre, and modern jazz. Among the best-known songs performed were "Tres lindas cubanas" ("Three Pretty Cuban Ladies"), composed by Antonio María Romeu; "Bodas de oro" ("Golden Weddings") and "Un granito de arena" ("A Grain of Sand"), by Electo Rossell Horrutiner (Chepín); "Mamey Colorao," by Peruchín Justiz; and "El manisero" ("The Peanut Vendor"), by Moisés Simons.

Born in Santiago de Cuba, David Virelles grew up in a musical home, his father a singer-songwriter and his mother a symphony flutist and music teacher. He was classically trained at the Esteban Salas Conservatory in Santiago de Cuba. Though the 35-year-old pianist left Cuba in 2001, the country's rich musical heritage stays at the forefront of his work, and he often returns to his birthplace of Santiago de Cuba to study with musicians there.

Since his permanent move to New York City in 2009, Virelles has appeared on live concerts and recordings with prominent jazz musicians. Virelles has released six albums as leader or coleader to critical acclaim, documenting a wide sonic range from Afro-Cuban religious traditions to contemporary jazz. His most recent album is titled The Singer's Grove (2018), including many classic danzones.

Virelles is a Shifting Foundation Fellow and a recipient of a grant from the Canada Council for the Arts, the Louis Applebaum Award, and a Jazz Gallery Commission. While a student at Humber College in Toronto, he won the Oscar Peterson Prize. DownBeat Magazine named him #1 Rising Star in the piano category in 2017. More recently, he was a recipient of the Díaz Ayala Library Travel Grant at FIU.

Hilario Bell began his musical career in his native Santiago de Cuba, where he studied at the Esteban Salas Conservatory (like Virelles). At an early age he fell in love with the musical language of jazz and fusion. He is a Grammy-nominated jazz drummer who has lived in Miami since 2003. At FIU, he played the timbal, a percussion instrument originally used in orquestas típicas.

José Armando Gola is a native of Havana, where he attended the Amadeo Roldán Conservatory. He has played bass since the age of thirteen. Gola has performed at most of the important jazz festivals of the world, appeared on two Grammy Award-winning albums, and accompanied well-known musicians such as Gonzalo Rubalcaba, Arturo Sandoval, and Alejandro Sanz. At FIU, he played the acoustic bass.

For a recent interview with David Virelles, click here.

For more information on David Virelles, click here.