#SJZSummerFest: Etienne Charles – World Premiere of The San Jose Suite

Etienne Charles - World Premiere of The San Jose Suite at #SJZSummerFest
Etienne Charles – World Premiere of The San Jose Suite – Photo: Tomas Peña
San Jose Jazz Summer Fest 2015 – Live Report by Tomas Peña

A highlight of the San Jose Jazz Summer Fest was the World Premiere of The San Jose Suite at the historic California Theatre.

Commissioned by Chamber Music America and composed by trumpeter Etienne Charles, the nine-part suite celebrates three cities that share the same name: San José, Costa Rica, St. Joseph in Trinidad, which was founded in 1592 as San Jose Oruna and San Jose, California.

The research entailed visits to each locale, where Charles met with townspeople, local historians, storytellers, medicine men and shamans among others. He also observed and participated in rituals and jammed with local musicians. Often, discovering more similarities than differences between the cultures.

Etienne Charles
Etienne Charles – Photo: Tomas Peña

Etienne Charles is an articulate speaker. Prior to playing a note and between tunes he engaged the audience with historical context and fascinating facts and stories that brought the subject matter to life.

The band opened the set with Karinya, a tune that depicts the burning down of San Jose, Trinidad in 1637, followed by Revolt, which draws from a West Indian slave uprising. Other notable tunes included Juego de Los Diablitos, where the Borucas Indians of Costa Rica employ the figure of a bull to represent the aggression of the Spanish conquerors and re-enact the battle to their advantage. One of the more fascinating tunes was Gold Rush 2.0, where Charles equates the California Gold Rush of 1849 with present day San Jose, the epicenter of Silicon Valley. Despite the suffering inherent in the stories, Charles composes tunes that speak of hope, resistance and community and sees jazz as a vehicle for spreading hope in the face of adversity.

California Theatre
California Theatre – Photo: terragalleria.com

In the same location, on the upper mezzanine the Villalobos Brothers held court at the KCSM Music Lounge. The brothers masterfully blend elements of jazz, rock, and classical and Mexican folk music to deliver a message of love, brotherhood, and social justice.

For a taste of Etienne Charles at his best, check out his most recent recording, Creole Soul, where he explores his musical roots and draws from Haitian creole chants, blues, bebop, R&B and Rocksteady, Reggae, Belair, Kongo and Calypso.

The California Theatre is one of the best-preserved examples of the late 1920s motion picture houses in the United States and is the home of the renowned Opera San Jose and Symphony Silicon Valley. Originally, known as the Fox Theatre, the newly restored California Theatre has been refurbished and expanded to present fuller and richer productions.

The event was one of the most memorable evenings of my stay in San Jose.

The Players: Etienne Charles (trumpet, percussion), Brian Hogan (saxophone), Alex Wintz (guitar), Victor Gould (piano), Ben Williams (bass) and John Davis (drums).

Visit: www.etiennecharles.com

Photos: Tomas Peña (click on thumbnails to enlarge)

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Tomás Peña
Tomás Peña
A graduate of Empire State College with a dual major in journalism and Latin American studies, Tomas Peña has spent years applying his knowledge and writing skills to the promotion of great musicians. A specialist in the crossroads between jazz and Latin music, Peña has written extensively on the subject.

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