It might be pie-in-the-sky optimism for Beto De Leon to think he can unite cultures through music and perhaps make a little money on the side with this weekend’s inaugural Corazon Concerts. But you sure can’t blame the guy for trying. After all, it’s been a long-standing dream.
De Leon, who moved to town just a few years ago, cites music as his lifelong passion, dating back to not long after he was born some 50 years ago in Uruguay.“
Even when I was in the cradle, my mother played me Ella Fitzgerald, and Louis Armstrong,” says De Leon. “So music for me was love. And later it was always a refuge for me, a place to learn. I understood immediately that it’s basically about communication.” After playing in a few bands during his teenage years, e Leon opened a record shop that he ran for nearly 30 years.
“I promoted the kind of music that most record stores don’t stock, the kind of music most radio stations won’t play,” he says. “And I would stock the whole complete catalogue of each artist, not just their hits. Because for me it’s always been about the music and the person behind it, not the stars.”
De Leon – who says he learned English by listening to American singers – had hoped to bring the musicians he loved – American jazz, blues and roots artists – to Uruguay for concerts, but most promoters there wouldn’t take a chance on any but the biggest names.
So he came here instead, first arriving in Austin, Texas to serve as the South American manager for the onetime underground, roots-heavy Southby- Southwest Music Festival in Austin in the mid-1990s while still running the record store. A few years ago, he brought his family to Santa Barbara.
“When you move to another country, you don’t have your ground anymore, but here it immediately felt like home,” he recalls. “We’re by the sea, and there are hills and the architecture brought me back to my own culture. We’re not so far away, if you know what I mean.”
Unable to land a job in the music industry, De Leon has been working in the furniture business at several locations downtown. Meanwhile, he’s met California musicians and has planted the seed for the Corazon Concerts festival.
“People seemed to like the vision I have for this project, to link cultures and continents through music,” he says. “I have a lot of experience passing on the music person-to-person, and I think that works.” He booked acts with whom he felt a kindred spirit or at least a shared vision, secured a small grant from the Santa Barbara County Arts Commission, and created the festival.
“I know I’m taking a risk,” he says. “But I feel like I have to do this. This music has value and I want to expand what people listen to, and to bring roots music to the younger generation. My best friend when I was a kid, who helped me to understand art and creativity, was my grandfather. He showed me that I could fly without lifting my feet from the ground. I want to pass that along.”
La gira de Calvin Keys por América del Sur ofrece dos focos de interés inmediatos. Por un lado es un buen comienzo para que De León establezca contactos en esta parte del mundo y genere una corriente de visitas de jazzistas extranjeros hacia nuestro país. Y por otro, permitirá apreciar a un músico bien conocido en la Costa Oeste de Estados Unidos y que merecería una mayor difusión a escala internacional.
Su nombre es omitido en casi todas las enciclopedias de jazz, a pesar de que tiene 66 años y que ha tocado con gente importante como Joe Henderson, Lonnie Smith, Taj Mahal, John Handy, Bobby Hutcherson, Pharoah Sanders, Sonny Stitt, el cantante Tony Bennett y durante siete años el pianista Ahmad Jamal. Nacido en Omaha, Nebraska, en 1943, Calvin estudió en forma autodidacta con la guitarra Gibson de su tío. Este quedó tan impresionado del talento de su sobrino que, de inmediato, le enseñó los rudimentos de armonía y teoría musical, al tiempo que le hizo escuchar a los grandes intérpretes de blues. Calvin tocó luego con una banda de jóvenes dedicados al rhythm and blues y al rock and roll. Más tarde se incorporó al combo de Eddie "Cleanhead" Vinson. A los 18 años se fue a Kansas City, donde tuvo actuaciones con organistas como Jimmy Smith, Jack McDuff, Richard "Groove" Holmes y Jimmy McGriff.
En 1972, radicado en Los Angeles, ingresó en la Big Band de Ray Charles y con ella realizó una gira por Europa.
Al regreso inició su carrera discográfica como líder en el sello Black Jazz. "Shawn Neeq" (1973) y "Proceed with caution" (1974) fueron sus primeros álbumes. Luego siguieron, entre otros, "Full court press" (1983), "Maria's first" (1987) y "Touch" (2000), para Olive Branch Records, "Calvinesque" (2005) y "Hand made portrait" (2006) para Silverado Records.
Este último disco fue muy elogiado por Jeff Miers, de la revista "Guitar player", que apreció en Calvin las influencias de Wes Montgomery con sus octavas y sus ricos acordes, las de Tal Farlow con su veloz y percusivo fraseo y las de Grant Green por su habilidad para discurrir entre baladas, blues y standards.
"Sin duda, Calvin Keys es un veterano artista que merece un más amplio reconocimiento", escribió el crítico Josef Woodard después de un concierto del trío del guitarrista en el Marjorie Luke Theatre de Santa Bárbara. "Tiene mucho para decir con su guitarra y sabe cómo decirlo con un estilo muy personal. Sus solos pueden ser fragorosos, excitantes e innovadores al mismo tiempo".
"Calvin es uno de mis músicos preferidos", ha dicho Ahmad Jamal. "Ha sido uno de mis seguros apoyos por muchos años. Tiene un tremendo entusiasmo, gran facilidad técnica y toma su trabajo con mucha responsabilidad".
MUSIC REVIEW: Corazon festival small, but mighty
A new minifestival snuck into town last weekend, with little promotion but a lot of heart. The handiwork of Beto de Leon, a Uruguayan producer and promoter who has moved to Santa Barbara and is bringing fresh impresario energy to the area, the polystylistic Corazon Concerts Music Festival had its first fling in the Marjorie Luke Theatre.
On the basis of opening night, the jazz-flavored component of the three-night event, what it lacked in attendance -- an extra-lean showing -- it gained in musical worth. In different ways, the music of pianist-singer Ben Sidran and guitarist Calvin Keys, both accompanied by strong side musicians, demonstrated the truism that jazz is a world teeming with artists beneath the household-name echelon who are well worth checking out.
While probably not an intentional thematic connection, this was a night of bold and personalized jazz by musicians from the Midwest. Sidran is from, and remains in, Wisconsin, and Keys was born in Nebraska, though he now hails from the Bay Area.
Sidran has had one of the more multitiered careers in jazz during the past 40 years. Aside from sideman work which included playing in Steve Miller's band, Sidran is a solo artist who had a moment in the sun during the '70s, and has also worked as a producer, radio and television personality, and writer.
His variety of talents can make his live shows cerebral variety hours, as well as fuzzy-focused affairs. After starting the set with a swinging twist on the tune "Four," Sidran set up a rhythmic vamp and fell into one of his trademarked rambling philosophical rants. It was a rhetorical groove leading up to the life-affirming conclusion that "as long as you're on this side of the dirt, you're ahead of the game." True enough.
Sidran's strong and necessarily flexible quartet featured Los Angeles-based saxophonist Bob Sheppard as the key soloist, a wise choice given that Sheppard is one of the finer and more interesting tenor players on the West Coast.
Sidran himself generally operates in a musical world akin to one of his heroes, Mose Allison, whose classic "You Can't Judge a Book" fell easily into the set.
Less easy in the translation was his treatment of Bob Dylan tunes into jazz and soul-styled arrangements. Sidran's take on Dylan is still clearly a work in progress: The band members scrambled to find the changes and Sidran admitted he had forgotten verses.
By that point in the set, the earlier strength of the performance was fading. Things picked up a bit with a snippet from his project setting poems of Spanish legend of words Federico Garcia Lorca.
Perhaps surprisingly, Keys' set was the stronger one of the night, overall. That's partly because Keys is a veteran artist clearly deserving wider recognition. While known for his sideman work, including with Ray Charles and Ahmad Jamal, Keys' leader role is less known.
He is a guitar stylist with something to say and a personal way to say it -- a mainstream guitarist with a secret life as an adventurer, whose solos can be rough, exciting and innovative at the same time.
Opening with the standard "All the Things You Are," Keys' trio ran through a nice, long set including a lustrous version of the ballad "Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most" and a hip redo of Jobim's "Wave," switching bossa for medium swing.
Keys put forth intriguing and anti-clichéd ideas on his instrument throughout the set, including a nod to late guitar master Wes Montgomery with "West Coast Blues," and a lovely offbeat Horace Silver ballad, "Satchmo's Song."
Keys was in stellar company, between the solid bassist Marc Williams and the highly musical young drummer Lorca Hart (son of the great drummer Billy Hart). Young Hart kept the heat coming, in a supportive way, for much of the set, and then stepped forward for a final tasty fling of a solo on the final tune, a spirited version of Bronislaw Kaper's sensuous "Invitation."
Those lucky to be in the house seemed to feel like a privileged few, applauding with extra vigor in appreciation. They should also have felt extra blessed to witness how beautifully the intimate demands of jazz suit this great hall. More, please.
"Displayed with permission from the Santa Barbara News-Press."
Festivals on the Fringes
Published April 12, 2007
FESTIVAL CONVERGENCE: For all its busy cultural machinations and ambitions, Santa Barbara hasn’t played host to many official festivals, apart from the obvious success story of the film festival. Suddenly, this week, there are two festival items on the calendar, one new (Corazon Concerts Music Festival), and one passing its five-year milestone (UCSB’s Primavera Festival). Both are plugged into fringe cultural areas, although each appeals to a very different demographic — apart from the rare breed of hopeless eclectics, for whom jazz, roots rock, Latino culture, and contemporary art music are all fair game.
Corazon Concerts Music Festival settles into the Marjorie Luke Theatre
Friday through Sunday nights, bringing a triple-header of jazz, roots rock, and
Latin/world musical flavors. The festival is the handiwork of a new promoter in
town, Beto de Leon,
who brought jazz vocalist Dwight Trible to SOhO in February.
The festival’s jazz component features Ben Sidran, the versatile jazz
pianist and singer who is also a radio and television personality, a writer,
and a raconteur, along with Bay Area jazz guitarist Calvin Keys.
In and Out in L.A.
Originally published 12:00 p.m., March 1, 2007
Surfing the Waves Between Notes
Originally published 03:48 p.m., February 13, 2007