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Donald Vega to release “Spiritual Nature”



Donald Vega arrived in the U.S. from Nicaragua at the age of 14.  He spoke no English (except two words: “Bud Powell”) but quickly won the attention of Henry Mancini and jazz critic Leonard Feather by winning the prestigious Los Angeles Spotlight Awards competition.  He has since graduated from The Juilliard School where he studied with piano great Kenny Barron, and has collaborated  with masters in jazz such as Billy Higgins, Francisco Aguabella, Justo Almario, Milt Jackson, Bennie Wallace, Diana Krall, Lewis Nash, Al McKibbon and Alex Acuña. His first album as a leader, Tomorrows, was released in 2008 to rave reviews.  Recent awards include the Downbeat Jazz Soloist Award in 2008 and winner of the 2010 Great American Jazz Piano Competition.  Vega currently resides in New York City where he is working on the release of his second album, “Spiritual Nature,” to be released on Resonance Records next August 14, 2012.

“It’s a dream come true,” says Donald Vega of the opportunity to record with bassist Christian McBride and drummer Lewis Nash. “Spiritually, this is my dream trio.”

Whether functioning as a straight-up trio or a rhythm section, they function like an equilateral triangle throughout the 12-tune, 72-minute recital, chock-a-block with beautiful melodies and intoxicating grooves, all illuminated by Vega’s fluid phrasing and elegant touch. Throughout the proceedings, the 37-year-old pianist who composed four of the pieces and arranged all but one refracts into his own argot the lexicons of such personal heroes as Oscar Peterson, Thelonious Monk, Duke Ellington, Monty Alexander, Ahmad Jamal, Hank Jones, Herbie Hancock, McCoy Tyner, Kenny Barron, and Mulgrew Miller, and draws upon those influences, while developing his own sound. In the process, he establishes his pride of place in any informed conversation about the upper echelons of pianistic jazz expression.

Vega’s fluent discourse in their various dialects masks his origins in Sandinista-era Nicaragua, where he spent the first fourteen years of his journey. The scion of a musical family, he’s been playing since he learned to speak, nourished on an admixture of the European canon and various flavors of the Spanish diaspora. Following early formal lessons with his uncle and grandfather, he entered conservatory as a pre-teen. Rather than risk impressment in Nicaragua’s military, his mother brought him to Los Angeles at age 14. Vega spoke no English and didn’t have a piano, but put his solfegge training to use, keeping his fingers limber on a cardboard facsimile. Enrolled at Crenshaw High School, he also attended the Colburn School of Performing Arts, and soaked up knowledge from drum icon Billy Higgins at the World Stage. Two years later, he earned first prize in the jazz instrumental music portion of the Spotlight Competition. Doors opened: he subsequently earned a B.A. at the University of Southern California with John Clayton; had several surgeries to correct a congenital cleft palate, thereby preserving his hearing; was granted political asylum; and became one of the busier pianist-keyboardists on L.A.’s jazz and Latin scenes.

Higgins nurtured Vega’s will to swing, to play jazz without a “Latin accent.” “I played with him, but also he gave me tapes of Bud Powell or Charlie Parker without telling me who they were,” Vega says. “I didn’t know he was a star who had recorded with everyone, only that this nice man was taking me under his wing. He brought everybody to the World Stage I heard people like Cedar Walton, Freddie Hubbard, and Charles Lloyd. Latin music is inside me, but what attracted me most was the element of two-and-four, the language of Louis Armstrong, so I made a conscious decision to go deeper.”

At a World Stage benefit for Higgins during the latter ’90s, bassist Al McKibbon, known for his work with Dizzy Gillespie, heard the youngster play with Charles McPherson, and brought him into his trio, offering invaluable schooling in the idiomatic particulars of bebop expression, and also sage advice. He’d say, “You’ve got to go to New York; I’m going to call Ron Carter and Christian McBride right now.” Vega recalls, noting that he first encountered Lewis Nash on a McKibbon gig. “I felt I wasn’t ready. My surgeries pushed back my musical goals. But once that ended, I decided I’d move if I could attend school there.”

A scholarship to Manhattan School of Music in hand, Vega took the leap in 2005. During his two years at MSM, where he received a Masters and for a subsequent two years at Juilliard he studied with Kenny Barron, whose influence can be heard on Tomorrows, Vega’s inspired, self-released 2008 trio date with Nash. But on Spiritual Nature, Vega, a new father, and, as of February 2012, Mulgrew Miller’s successor in the Ron Carter Trio is entirely his own man, completely in command of his material.

Without boring the reader with a blow-by-blow, note Vega’s sense of proportion, his control of dynamics, of ebb-and-flow, his control of pulse at all tempi, his transitions from crisp to loose feels. Note, too, how his interactive, creative solos flow synchronously with his grandmaster partners, the deft setups he conjures for solo flights by Christian Howes on violin, Bob Sheppard on tenor sax, and Anthony Wilson an old friend and early employer on guitar. Each tune evokes a mood, tells a story: Vega makes his intentions absolutely clear while allowing everyone ample room for self-expression.

Latin Jazz Network is a project dedicated to the advancement of Latin jazz and its creators. Since 2000 LJN has been spreading the word about this wonderful music known under the umbrella term: LATIN JAZZ.

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New Releases

Bobby Sanabria MULTIVERSE Big Band to release new recording: “Vox Humana”



Drummer, percussionist, composer, arranger, bandleader, educator, Bobby Sanabria
Drummer, percussionist, composer, arranger, bandleader, educator, Bobby Sanabria

Celebrating 25 years! The multi-Grammy nominated Bobby Sanabria MULTIVERSE Big Band is set to release their new recording: “Vox Humana” featuring vocalists Janis Siegel, Antoinette Montague, Jennifer Jade Ledesna.

Recorded Live at Dizzy’s Club Cola in NYC
Release Date: Spring 2023
Record Label: Jazzheads

New York – January 18th – On the heels of their Grammy nominated and 2019 Jazz Journalists Association Album of the Year Award winning critically acclaimed masterwork, West Side Story Reimagined, and in celebration of their 25th anniversary – drummer, percussionist, composer, arranger, bandleader, educator, Bobby Sanabria and his Multiverse Big Band return with their most ambitious work to date, VOX HUMANA.

Bobby states, “Over the course of our many Grammy nominated albums we’ve occasionally featured tracks with vocals. But I’ve always envisioned doing an entire vocal album framed by the Multiverse Big Band. Now with three of today’s greatest contemporary singing talents – multi-Grammy award winner Janis Siegel from the Manhattan Transfer, blues and jazz Queen Antoinette Montague, and the multilingual powerhouse, Jennifer Jade Ledesna, today that vision has finally become a reality.

The individually distinct voices that Janis, Antoinette, and Jennifer possess make them each unique. But the X factor they all have is they are all masterful improvisors in the best sense of the jazz tradition. Added to the mix is our great conguero, Oreste Abrantes, who also sings lead on two tracks. Having that multi- dimensional vocal talent framed by the power, nuance, and tonal variety that only a big band can provide, combined with the repertoire I’ve chosen to showcase them and the band and the incredible variety of Afro- Latin, straight ahead swing, funk, R&B, and rock rhythmic vocabulary that we are masters of and readily have at our disposal in the Multiverse, I believe VOX HUMANA will prove to be our greatest achievement. 

Bobby Sanabria MULTIVERSE Big Band: "Vox Humana"
Bobby Sanabria MULTIVERSE Big Band: “Vox Humana”

That repertoire has a personal meaning to me as I see VOX HUMANA as a biographical work. I’m a product of my environment. I’m a Nuyorican, a person of Puerto Rican descent growing up in New York City. In my case the South Bronx during a time period when pop, jazz, R&B, rock, funk, and Latin music of all kinds all co-existed as equals. It was the last era when the big bands of masters like Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Buddy Rich, Machito, Tito Puente, Tito Rodriguez, Don Ellis, and more were in the public eye, and they became my heroes. Vocalists who could deliver a message with subtlety, nuance, and when needed, power, were called upon to deliver poetry crafted by genius song writers. You’ll hear all that and more through the soaring vocals and improv talents of Janis, Antoinette, and Jennifer, along with Oreste, as well as the incredible jazz-oriented arrangements and exciting Pan Afro-Latin rhythms played by a big band that literally takes no prisoners when it hits the stage.”

The repertoire Bobby speaks of includes 1 original and 12 unique re-workings of pop hits like Spooky, Christine Aguilera’s Genie In a Bottle, and Steely Dan’s Do It Again; NEA Jazz Master Eddie Palmieri’s, Mi Congo and Puerto Rico along with the island’s greatest composer, Rafael Hernandez’s, Capullito De Aleli; the classic Joe Cuba R&B bolero, To Be With You; Brazilian standards Partido Alto and Amazonas; and from the world of Broadway theater, I Love You Porgy, and the iconic jump blues, Let The Good Times Roll. The CD also includes an original message bearing piece, Who Taught You That, as well as what may possibly be the most exciting interpretation of the Ellington associated classic, Caravan, and that has ever been recorded. 

Adding to the excitement of the performance, VOX HUMANA was recorded in front of a live audience. Bobby states, “As with our previous work, we recorded VOX HUMANA live at NYC’s Dizzy’s Club Coca – Cola. My musicians represent NYC’s finest. That means they’re the greatest in the world. The added level of excitement created by the audience inspired us in the MULTIVERSE Big Band to a heightened new level of performance virtuosity that listeners will hear explode out of the speakers just as the audience at Dizzy’s experienced in person.”

The history of the Bobby Sanabria MULTIVERSE Big Band is indeed one based on his rich multi-cultural heritage as a Nuyorican growing up in New York City’s South Bronx. His concept of having a big band that has no genre boundaries with limitless possibilities was forged 25 years ago back in 1998. It has yielded a series of groundbreaking, critically acclaimed albums that have all been Grammy-nominated with the band thrilling audiences worldwide at venues like the Kennedy Center, Lincoln Center, The Ravinia Festival, Verona Jazz Festival in Europe, and more.

Content Source: Two for the Show Media

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