LOST VOICES and SMILES
This past week I read a tribute to the life of one of Cuba’s great jazz artists. Chocolate Armenteros was a Latin jazz and salsa pioneer whose talent was matched by his zest for life. He was 87 years old and the photo in his obituary stopped me in my tracks. I thought that I have seen the spirited smile before. I first thought they were using a picture of Detroit’s great horn player, Marcus Belgrade. Then I thought about someone who introduced me to jazz, Louis Armstrong.
They all played the trumpet. These were three talented, mostly self taught, successful musicians. Louis’ phrasing changed music. Chocolate, like Louis, was also known for phrasing like a singer. Marcus’ tone and creativeness inspired a generation of young musicians and all those who were fortunate to have played with him. They were bright stars whose light will live on.
In my opinion their common brilliance was in their infectious demeanor. They glowed. You felt they were having a good time when they were working, and we were allowed to join them. They didn’t have easy lives and you sensed that they understood the stories in the songs they played. The blues were never far away. Louis explained a lot of life to me when I was growing up. He also made jazz music fun and accessible for everyone.
It was their smiles.
Unquestionably these guys left one lasting memory after their performances and that was that they loved what they did. They gave us a gift, the idea that maybe we all should smile more.
“JAZZ IS PLAYED FROM THE HEART- YOU CAN LIVE BY IT. ALWAYS LOVE IT.”
DETROIT’S OWN MARCUS BELGRAVE
“He’s a treasure, producing a golden tone and lyric bursts of spidery ideas that coalesce in gorgeous paragraphs of melody.”
Mark Stryker, Free Press music critic – November 29, 2008
Detroit is still reeling from the loss of one of the most loved men in the jazz community. Marcus gave his time to young musicians throughout his life. Those who played along side Marcus knew that this unselfish artist always gave all of himself up to the music.
He gave his smile to all of us.
who is often called the “Cuban Louis Armstrong,”
Chocolate said “I want to be remembered as the trumpet player who played the longest and who had the best time doing it,”
By all accounts, Armenteros had a zest for life. A tireless performer and one of the most sought after sidemen in Latin music, he played in over 76 countries over a career that spanned more than 60 years. At age 85, he was quoted saying he still felt like a kid.
His best friend was his silver trumpet. It is hard to find photos of Louis, Marcus or Chocolate without their horn in their hand.
“For me, a solo is like a letter,” he told the musicologist Isabelle Leymarie. “In a letter there is the date, the name of the person it’s being sent to, the usual greetings, the content and the ending. There has to be a complete structure.”
CATCHING UP WITH CUBAN JAZZ
Chocolate Armenteros is not a household name in the USA even though he played with familiar artists like Nat King Cole, Tito Puente, and Wynton Marsalis, among many others. Cuban jazz has thrived out of our sight for many decades during the post revolution period and stalwarts like Chocolate have only recently been acknowledged. His music hasn’t gone unacknowledged.
I had a chance to visit Cuba a number of years ago and found the Island alive with music. The musics complex rhythms reflect the rich cultural currents from west Africa and Spain mixed with American jazz, pop and blues. There was music coming out of doorways on almost every block in Havana.
Cuban music is often considered one of the richest and most influential regional musics of the world. The son merges an adapted Spanish guitar, melody, harmony, and lyrical traditions with Afro-Cuban percussion and rhythms. Cuban music has been hugely popular and influential throughout the world. It has been perhaps the most popular form of regional music in Europe and south of our border..
This week at the Dirty Dog Jazz Café we will have a chance to hear the joyful big Latin sounds of the the band Aguanko.
Bring your smile, and be prepared to move.