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Cuban Roots – Conversation With Mark Weinstein

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Cuban Roots - Mark WeinsteinTP: For the benefit of the reader, who is not familiar with the jargon or the significance of playing “toques de santo” in a secular (commercial) setting, could you explain?

MW: These are the songs that are played for the Orishas in the Santeria religion. When I first brought the project to Tommy López, and he heard I was playing the melody for Changó, he packed up his drums and left. But Julito was a santero, and when he said it was OK, Tommy was thrilled to get the chance to play with him. But they played on dance band drums, not the drums that were used for religious purposes.

TP: Given the fact that there was “very little mixing or concern for the sound,” how did the recording turn out?

MW: The album is incredibly raw; the sound bordered on ugly, but the playing is incredible. I don’t know how much influence the record had, but Chick Corea was playing in a style unheard of at the time, although I hear a lot of that freedom in the generation of piano players that came up in the 80s. When I listen to early Paquito D’ Rivera and the way sax player’s play today, I can only say that Arnie Lawrence did it in 1967. I’m not sure how much of an influence I had on trombone players, but to this day whenever I meet a Latin trombonist I get a lot of respect. The drums were and are a unique powerhouse. The swing is enormous; no trap drums, no timbales, no cymbals, just the real deal.

TP: Before Cuban Roots, none of the musicians who participated in the recording had played jazz with folkloric rhythms.

MW: No one to my knowledge had ever done that before except for some short sections on Machito records. When Herbie Mann died, I saw in his discography that he made an early record with African drums, but I didn’t know about it at the time. Chick had never even heard drumming like that and Bobby was a salsero, unfamiliar with rumba. That gave them the freedom to respond outside the box and not interfere with the complex counterpoint of the drums. Arnie, like myself, considered himself a free jazz player and so, to us, having all of that power and complexity to play was sheer pleasure. Although I played free, I did know the tradition and tried to play like a sonero. I was also influenced by the Cuban trumpet player, La Florecita, who was famous for his playing with drum ensembles in the Carnaval in Havana.

TP: I understand that only five hundred copies were printed.

MW: I believe that was the number. I never received a royalty statement, although I got paid for the date as a leader and arranger. Those were the days!

TP: How was the recording received?

MW: The album received almost no airplay. Billy Taylor played a few cuts on the radio, but worse, the musicians who I respected the most seemed unimpressed. That was a big part of my leaving the business and becoming a college professor. In 1976, Larry Harlow asked me if I had a sealed copy and it became the basis for the Artol Records release, which, was the version that most musicians heard. Sadly, the master has a skip right at the beginning of Chick’s solo.

TP: Did you ever think you would return to the music scene?

MW: I stopped playing from 1971 to 1974. I tried to get back on the scene with Orisha Suite in 1977. I’m proud of the music, and I’m glad that it is available on the CD of Cuban Roots (1976), but I had a lot to learn as a flute player.

I scuffled as an academic for ten years, teaching part-time and doing consulting work because full-time college teaching jobs in New York are hard to get, and I wasn’t about to leave town.

I did a lot of playing with street bands in the 80s and jammed a lot with guitar players. I love playing in the street and parks. When I finally got a tenure-track job at Montclair State University, I started self-producing records, and I did a lot of small gigs in New Jersey and around town. Algo Más is my eighth CD on flute. Teaching and publishing takes a lot of time and energy, and since I don’t have to make a living at music, I play much less than I’d like to. I’m a lot like the Maytag man, the loneliest guy in town, but I know I’ll be back when the gigs start happening.

TP: I understand Barry Rogers was an invited guest but he didn’t participate in the sessions.

MW: I initially wanted two bones and an alto. I played some of the basic harmonic sketches for Barry, and he said that it was my baby. It would have been a very different album with Barry. He would never have put up the awful recording conditions or the unconcern for the sound. I was not even invited to the mix. But then Musicor might have killed the whole thing. I would have loved to make a record with Barry. I think he is one of the few people who would have understood what I was doing with (the album) Algo Más.

TP: Aside from the “bootleg” (Artol) version, Cuban Roots was not available for twenty-five years.

MW: The person who controls the master refused to release it or license it to me. He did license one track for a Masters of Latin Jazz compilation on Rhino Records. That blows me away. Here are these Latin jazz classics by legends who, recorded hundreds of hit albums and sold hundreds of thousands and in the middle is Mark Weinstein and a record that sold a few hundred copies at most. A benefactor arranged for a limited CD run of a re-mastered version of Cuban Roots on the best available vinyl. The CD is available through my website: jazzfluteweinstein.com

My copy includes the Orisha Suite.

MW: When I heard about the possibility of a CD version of Cuban Roots I asked that it included a never-released recording I made in 1977 when I had just begun to play the flute. This is a very different approach to the material. It is a suite of two toques sung by Olympia Alfara, backed by batá and chorus and multi-tracked keyboards played by Edy Martínez. There is an unusual instrumentation with flute, classical guitar, three cellos and me playing a bass line on the marimba. A long interlude, which is a free composition for flute and classical guitar with four French horns and an instrumental coda with me playing three layers of marimba locked in with the batá drums and three tracks of flute, two playing very fast and a free and lyrical flute solo on top. Ah, to be young again!

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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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Interviews

In Conversation with “Drum Poet” Pazcual Villaronga

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Pazcual Villaronga

PAZCUAL VILLARONGA was born and raised in Spanish Harlem, New York. He attended Haaren High School and New York City Community College and graduated from Hunter College, earning a degree in Communications and a Master’s Degree in Bilingual Education. 

Known as the “Drum Poet,” Pazcual recites poetry while accompanying himself on the congas (often joined by other musicians), creating an innovative fusion of poetry and discussion that takes his verses to a new level. 

Pazcual is the recipient of the Golden and Silver Poet Awards in California and placed third in La Canción Bilingüe – The Bilingual Song Competition in Washington, D.C. He has read poetry at Columbia University, Teachers College, Hunter College, Hostos Community College, Manhattan Community College, and Connecticut’s Housatonic Community College. 

His published works include the highly successful “Caracol” (Poems For The Children), “By The Music Inspired,” “Poet,” “Fire From Hell,” “Compendium,” and “Stereotypes and Cycles.” His most recent collection of poems and CD is titled “On Whatever Day Saturday Happens To Fall.” Pazcual’s work has also appeared in “Around the Mulberry Bush – An Anthology,” “Windfall – An Anthology,” and “Fahari.”

Now retired after over three decades of teaching, Pazcual is preparing several collections of poetry and a children’s book and performs with The Lehman College Latin Jazz Ensemble, directed by Victor Rendón. 

Pazcual Villaronga and the New Drum Poets: On Whatever Day Saturday Happens to Fall
Pazcual Villaronga and the New Drum Poets: On Whatever Day Saturday Happens to Fall

TOMÁS PEÑA: Welcome, Pazcual! Tell me about the project. 

PAZCUAL VILLARONGA:  “On Whatever Day Saturday Happens to Fall” is my salute to the musicians and their creative souls. Also, to the percussive rhythms and melodies, they share with us each and every time they perform. Also, it is my way of sharing with the world, through poetry, how they inspire me and the power and beauty of their musical creations.

TP: Thank you for sharing an advance copy of the book and CD with me and for taking me on a fascinating bilingual literary and aural journey. Before we delve into the project, I’m curious to know what drew you to poetry and the spoken word.

PV: Growing up, I was shy and introverted. Poetry was my way of expressing myself. When I was in high school, my friend Jose showed my writings to a teacher (Dr. Richstone) and the teacher replied, “There are better things you could do with your time.” Undaunted, my friend showed my writings to another teacher (Mary Lamboss), and she said, “You are the Poet Laureate of Harren High School!” Later, I formed the “Drum Poets” and began reciting poetry with percussion and music.

TP: How did the project come about, and why did you choose this title?

PV: It began with Víctor Rendón’s “Fiesta Percusiva” (2008), where I recited the poems “Soy Chicano” and “In the Pocket.” Shortly after, Victor appeared on José “Joe” Massó’s “Con Salsa!,” who played selections from the album on the air. He encouraged me to “make more music like this.” Shortly after, Víctor asked if I was interested in pursuing the project, and I immediately said, “Yes!” Victor Rendón agreed to produce the record with the following conditions: Trust him implicitly and don’t breathe a word about it to anyone until the project is completed. The rest is history!

The title, “On Whatever Day Saturday Happens to Fall,” is inspired by trumpeter John Walsh, who composed the song “On Whatever Day of the Week Saturday Happens to Fall” (the tune appears on Chris Washburne and the Syotos Band’s “Paradise in Trouble”) and whose philosophy is, “On Whatever Day of the Week Saturday Happens to Fall, musicians must answer the call and give their all.” Walsh’s philosophy resonates with me because it applies to poets and creative souls who must be in the moment when the muse appears.

The New Drum Poets: Paz Villaronga, Yasuyo Kimura, Louis Bauzó, Victor Rendón and Wilson "Chembo" Corniel
The New Drum Poets: Pazcual Villaronga, Yasuyo Kimura, Louis Bauzó, Victor Rendón and Wilson “Chembo” Corniel

TP: The recording contains a collection of your poems set to music: Afro-Caribbean and Afro-Puerto Rican rhythms, Jazz, and Latin Jazz and features an impressive lineup: Víctor Rendón, Wilson “Chembo” Corniel, Louis Bauzo, Yasuya Kimura, Mike Viñas, Amy Quint Millan and José Luis Armengot. Additional guests include Andrea Brachfeld, Henry Brun, Ariel De La Portilla, and Roman Diaz (see below for specifics). Tell me about the poem, “Right Pocket/Left Pocket.”

PV: My mother was concerned about my dad, who drank excessively and played pool at a local social club. She asked me to check on him and bring him home. When I arrived, my father was intoxicated and staggering. Shortly after, a neighborhood hustler and “aprovechao” (exploiter) named Chano challenged my father to a game of pool. My father immediately asked me, “How much money do you have?” And demanded I give it to him. Then, miraculously, he took a breath and straightened up. After that, it was “right pocket, left pocket!” Long story short, my father and I left the social club fifty dollars richer! When Victor and I arranged the tune, he had just acquired a set of “timbalitos” (9-1/4 and 10-and 1/4 timbales), which have a very distinct sound. If you listen closely, you will hear Victor mimic the sound of the cue ball striking the billiards.

TP: Your words conjure up images. I felt like a fly on the wall! I also enjoyed the poem, “El Chembito,” where percussionist Wilson “Chembo” Corniel masterfully accompanies you. 

PV: The poem was born while listening to Chembo’s solo on the tune “Lagos” which appears on Victor Rendon & the Bronx Conexion Latin Jazz Big Band’s “True Flight” (2016). I realized that in Chembo’s hands and in the hands of the masters, you feel and hear the connections between past and present and are privy to a glimpse of the future. Chembo has a way of taking you along for the ride as he time travels between rhythms, feelings, and emotions! His hands never falter, and his ideas are always fresh!

TP: The poem, “I Saw You (Tribute 4 Miles)” talks about a unique experience you shared with trumpeter José Luis Armengot onstage.

PV: Yes, Jose was standing to my right, and he was soloing on the tune “Fragile.” I turned to Jose; he was wearing dark glasses and leaning back like Miles used to, and I saw Miles! At the time, I was not aware that Jose idolized Miles. Later, I read the poem to Jose and I said, “You are Miles!”

TP: Tell me about the poem, “In the Pocket.”

PV: The poem is inspired by Omar Castaños, who said, “Some musicians express themselves and don’t say a lot. But every once in a while, you will find an artist who sits in the pocket, and everything is pushed away. I saw it happen when the masterful Luis Bauzo took a solo at “Gonzalez y Gonzalez” (NYC) in front of a packed house and stopped the room. The poem was born at that moment!

TP: The poems mentioned earlier are examples of what listeners and readers can expect. There is much more to savor! The CD and book will be released on December 1, 2022. Is there a CD Release Party or a live performance in the works? 

PV: We have yet to set a specific date, but, yes, it is in the works. 

TP: “On Whatever Day Saturday Happens to Fall” will be available at: http://amazon.com via https://cdbaby.com, and all the major digital streaming, and download sites (iTunes, Spotify, etc.). Also, readers can listen to and download the CD on Pazcual Villaronga’s Website: http://conceptovillapaz.com.

TP: Closing thoughts?

PV: If I have touched you with one word, phrase, or poem, I have done my job as a poet!

TP: Indeed, you have! “On Whatever Day Saturday Happens to Fall” recalls the writings of the Nuyorican poet and playwright Pedro Pietri, playwright Tato Laviera, activist, journalist, media personality Felipe Luciano, and Latina poet Sandra Maria Estevez, among others. Rarely has the spoken word, Afro-Caribbean and Afro-Puerto Rican rhythms, and Latin Jazz come together as organically and beautifully as it does on this exciting and innovative project. Highly recommended!

The Original Drum Poets: Jorge Alicea, Davis Alicea, Roxanna Rodriguez, Pazcual Villaronga, Ray Alicea, and Omar A. Castaños
The Original Drum Poets: Jorge Alicea, Davis Alicea, Roxanna Rodriguez, Pazcual Villaronga, Ray Alicea, and Omar A. Castaños
TRACKS

1. Drummers Prayer
2. By the Music Inspired
3. In the Pocket
4. What Do You Do?
5. El Chembito
6. How Many of Us Listen?
7. Bongo Habla Otra Vez
8. Que No Se Te Olvides
9. Right Pocket/Left Pocket
10. On Whatever Day Saturday Happens to Fall
11. I Saw You (Tribute 4 Miles)
12. Alma Jibarita
13. Puerto Rican Trilogy
14. Puerto Rican Trilogy
15. Puerto Rican Trilogy
16. Speak Easy
17. Soul Riffs
18. Entendian Voz
19. Another Night in Tunisia
20. En Las Manos de Los Maestros
21. Afro, Is That You?
22. Now and Then

THE NEW DRUM POETS

Pazcual Villaronga – Executive Producer, Poetic Voz, Conga and Shekeré
Víctor Rendón – Producer, Drum Set, Timbales, Pailitas, Shekeré, Batá (Okonkolo), Coro
Wilson “Chembo” Corniel – Congas, Batá (Itótele), Guataca, Coro
Louis Bauzo – Bongos, Congas, Barril (Primo), Batá (Iyá), Bonkó Enchemiyá, Güícharo Puertorriqueño, Coro
Yasuya Kimura – Congas, Bongos, 1st and 2nd Cajón, Maraca, Coro

SPECIAL GUESTS

Michael Viñas– Bass
Amy Quint Millan – Piano, Coro
José Luis Armengot – Trumpet

ADDITIONAL GUESTS
  • Andrea Brachfeld – Flute
  • Henry Brun – Conga, Shaker
  • Ariel de la Portilla Acoustic Bass
  • Roman Diaz (Batá and Various Percussion)
  • Diego Lopez (Batá and Various Percussion)
  • Allan Molnar First Marimba
  • Yumi Suehiro Second Marimba
FEATURED PHOTO

LEFT TO RIGHT: Pazcual Villaronga, Yasuyo Kimura, Louis Bauzo, Víctor Rendón, Wilson “Chembo” Corniel.

POETRY BY PAZCUAL VILLARONGA
  • COMPENDIUM (1991)
  • POETRY (1995)
  • BY THE MUSIC INSPIRED (2002)
  • FIRE FROM HELL (2004)
  • CARACOL – P0EMS FOR CHILDREN (2009)
  • ON WHATEVER DAY SATURDAY HAPPENS TO FALL (2022)
ARTIST WEBSITE
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