One of the best known big bands here in Mexico is Big Band Jazz de Mexico, which has released two albums and over a dozen songs with stream numbers in the tens and hundreds of thousands, including its most recent single, Todavia. Their music is bilingual, with some songs in English and some in Spanish. They play a mix of Mexican classics and a few American standards, all beautifully done and some with a Latin jazz beat.
Another big jazz band is the Los Amigos Big Band, based in the Lakeside area where I live, about an hour outside of Guadalajara. As I have mentioned in this space, the Lakeside area has an Expat population of as many as 10,000 depending on the time of the year. And many of the “gringos” here are retired, and they love 1940’s jazz and swing . They form a solid audience base for bands that play jazz and swing standards, particularly for the Los Amigos Big Band.
Los Amigos is a gringo-Mexican band – many of its 18 -22 musicians (depending on the event) are local Mexican musicians who have mastered not only their instruments, but the music of American big band jazz. Which is a good thing because their audiences are almost exclusively Expats who have come to hear the songs of their youth (or their parents’ youth) and dance to lively swing.
While this works well, the band and it’s the driving force, Canadian ex-military saxophonist/flautist Christine Philipson, wanted to expand the audience to include the Mexican community.
So they produced a concert in the Centro Cultura Presidencia Antigua – the old government building in the Mexican working class county seat of Chapala – an auditorium that the Mexican community is quite familiar with because that is where many of the local school pageants and graduation ceremonies are held. Although physically not far from the Los Amigos Big Band’s base at the 4toSentido high-end restaurant in the next town over, culturally it is another world.
Titled A Concert for Families, the performance was priced at a low100 pesos ($5) with children free. The proceedings were bilingual, the set list included Mexican favorites like “Azulito” by Ray Santos, “Perfidia” – by Alberto Domínguez, and “Un Mundo Raro “ by José Alfredo, as well as American jazz and swing standards, and a drawing was held awarding kids at the concert music lessons.
From what I could see, it worked. The concert was sold out with an overflow crowd listening in the courtyard. About 40% of the audience appeared to be local Mexican families with totally cute children gamboling in the aisles and skipping to the stage to receive their prizes. The audience grew after the break as families texted their friends and urged them to “come on down -this is fun” or locals walked by, heard the music and came into the courtyard.
One of the many highlights of the event was the introduction of local Mexican musicians: Daniel Real (Dani)on trumpet, Carlos López Desales and his Uncle ‘Chepe’ José Manuel López Hernández on trombone, Angel Chavarria on trombone , and Esteban Olvera on guitar, all of whom received hometown cheers.
This is just one concert in one town, but it is a sign that the foundation laid by Big Band Jazz de Mexico may reach beyond the big cites. The Mexican musicians in Los Amigos Big Band are first class – world class in some cases, and could be playing in major venues in Mexico City or Guadalajara, or Los Angeles, or Nashville or New York for that matter. And they are extraordinarily versatile, moving smoothly from swing, to crooners, to New Orleans jazz, to Mexican standards.
I expect that as the Los Amigos Big Band expands its audience, other bands, like the raucous Guadalajara – based New Orleans brass jazz band Tenampa, will further expand the genre here in Mexico. And it makes sense that they do: Mexicans love horns, dancing, and big bands (many banda and norteño bands are eight or more players and mariachis can run a dozen and up). So big band jazz fits right in. And Big Band Jazz de Mexico may soon have lots of company.
Patrick O’Heffernan, Music Sin Fronteras
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