Jazz and Argentina

Jazz and Argentina

Eduardo Hojman
copyright © 2001 Eduardo Hojman

Living in Argentina, it seems, is not an easy task; neither is playing jazz, as everybody knows. Perhaps that is the reason why, amidst an oppressive economical crisis, the agonized, happy, melancholic or uneasy sounds of Argentine jazz thrive tenaciously in unfertile grounds. A long time passed since the Old Guard days: beneath the wise shadow of the incommensurable pianist Enrique "Mono" Villegas, the far precedent of guitarist Oscar Aleman and the North Americanized sounds of the Gato Barbieri, jazz in Argentina had always been a secret of experts, carried on by musicians such as trumpet player Fats Fernandez or piano player Jorge Navarro, who are technically formidable but who do not have a very personal style and who do not pay much attention to composition. But today there is a group of musicians offering music of great quality, originality and the training of Marines to deal with the crisis.

The most visible representatives -- perhaps because they add tango and folklore sounds to their arrangements -- are guitarist Luis Salinas and pianist Adrian Iaies (Iaies's two-CD album, Las tardecitas de Minton's*, was nominated for a Grammy in the Latin music category). Not so well known and more interesting are the incredible pianist Ernesto Jodos, guitarists Guillermo Bazzolla and Fernando Tarres, bass player Hernan Merlo, the excellent singer Barbara Togander (who now lives in Spain) and trumpet player Enrique Norris, among others.

Some of them, such as Fernando Tarres, create their own labels. Others form collectives to lighten up the heavy tasks of promotion, publicity and venue-finding. Most make their livings by teaching, as session musicians and by playing as much as they can. The economic crisis has made the legendary Jazz Club, one of the venues which most supported musicians, close its doors, but Buenos Aires still has plenty of bars and clubs that have a key role in reuniting jazz with its audience. By generating its own circuits -- and without support from the government which happily equals the concept of zero deficit to zero culture, which would rather use its economic resources in events that have more a touristic and electoral aim than a cultural one, such as the highly questionable Seven Lakes Jazz Festival -- Argentine jazz survives by means of passion and hard work.

* The title of Iaies's two-CD album, Las tardecitas de Minton's (literally: "Afternoons at Minton's") refers not to the legendary US club but to a small and cozy record store in the Buenos Aires's neighborhood of Belgrano where jazz musicians and fans gather.

This article is a translation of one originally published September 15 in the Spanish newspaper ABC under the headline "Jazz and Argentina."

Eduardo Hojman also writes: "As a foreign member of the JJA, I would like to express my deep condolences and concern about the tragedy the U.S. people are now going through, and my deep wishes that this doesn't escalate."

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