By Stephen Vargha
The Cuenca Symphony Orchestra ends an eight-month Covid-19 lockdown with two live concerts Thursday and Friday at the Casa de la Cultura theater at Luis Cordero and Presidente Córdova. Both concerts are at 7 p.m. and are free to the public.
Seating will be limited in accordance with social distancing health protocols.
Maestro Michael Meissner came up with the idea to kick off the symphony’s public performances with a program that blends classical and jazz music. He approached pianist Lucas Bravo, leader of the local jazz band, Jazz De Barro (Mud Jazz) with the the plan, which was quickly accepted.
According to Jazz De Barro clarinetist, Su Terry, the group is using the music from their album “Festejo De Capishca” in the performances, rearranged for symphony. Capishca is a musical genre of Andean dance music popular in Ecuador, especially in the provinces of Chimborazo and Azuay. The word “capishca” comes from the Quichua, capina, which means “to squeeze.”
Terry is a native of Wilton, Connecticut where she grew up with Dave Brubeck and his sons. Jazz De Barro plays traditional jazz, and it is ironic that Brubeck once said, “Jazz stands for freedom. It’s supposed to be the voice of freedom: Get out there and improvise, and take chances, and don’t be a perfectionist — leave that to the classical musicians.”
Terry is an internationally acclaimed saxophonist and clarinetist. The 61-year-old began her professional career at the age of sixteen, playing for church performances and musical theater. She began playing jazz gigs while attending the Hartt School, a well-known music conservatory in Hartford, Connecticut. Under the late jazz legend Jackie McLean, Terry blossomed and began her storied career.
She has played and recorded with a variety of notable jazz artists, and has also performed with jazz greats such as Wynton Marsalis and Jon Faddis. Many will remember Faddis in “Blues Brothers” as part of the movie’s band, The Louisiana Gator Boys.
Terry has been a jazz soloist with the National Symphony Orchestra, the Brooklyn Philharmonic, and the New York Pops, and has performed worldwide at numerous venues. In the U.S. she has played at the Kennedy Center and the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts.
Her journeys ended up in Ecuador due to Walt Szymanski. He served for a season as Maestro of the Nacional Sinfonica in Quito, and in 2011 began a two-year tenure as professor of jazz studies at Universidad San Francisco de Quito’s College of Music. Terry and Szymanski met at a café in Brooklyn and she asked her friend, “Well, tell me about Ecuador!”
That’s all it took and she began spending part of the year in Cuenca before moving here permanently in 2016. She performed extensively with the Jazz Society of Ecuador and in 2017 met Cuenca native Bravo and fellow band members Christian Torres (Double Bass/Electric Bass) and Pedro Ortiz (Drums).
“We’ve done a lot of gigs. We focus on our original concept,” Terry explained. “I am thrilled to be working with this group as all are musicians as well as composers.” Having everyone in the band being composers, Terry stated, is rather unusual for any musical group.
Jazz De Barro’s original music is modern and contemporary jazz. Terry says there’s a difference in the types of jazz. “Smooth jazz is commercial. What we do is more artistic. Traditional Jazz is not designed for commercial appeal but it is composed to be appealing,” the clarinetist declared.
The group’s music is a perfect fit for this week’s symphony concerts. Meissner loves jazz, and Bravo arranged his band’s music for the orchestra to perform.
After Monday’s rehearsal with the jazz band and symphony, Terry proclaimed, “They seemed to like it! They seemed to be enjoying themselves,” adding, “It is a nice opportunity for them. It is challenging, but interesting.”
After the rehearsal, Terry spent about fifteen minutes with one of the symphony’s flutists.
Terry says, “Classical musicians are not used to playing jazz so I have to give the musicians tips to understand the phrasing.” Musical phrasing is the way a musician shapes a sequence of notes in a passage of music to allow expression, much like when speaking English, a phrase may be written identically but may be spoken differently. It is named for the interpretation of small units of time known as phrases.
This is the first time that jazz and classical music will be melded together by the Cuenca Symphony Orchestra and Terry is excited about the upcoming performances. “It is rare in the world. I hope for more here and beyond,” she exclaimed.
Her hope and desires are for this city to appreciate and support the arts and culture that are abundant. “I want people to know the artistic value in Cuenca. Don’t wait for just the free concerts; go to the ones with a cover charge,” Terry said emphatically. “Artists love it here; Cuenca is a very appealing city.”
The appeal of combining jazz and classical music will most likely have the orchestra and Jazz De Barro performing together quite often. As Dave Brubeck once stated, “Do you think Duke Ellington didn’t listen to Debussy? Louis Armstrong loved opera, did you know that? Name me a jazz pianist who wasn’t influenced by European music!”
Photos by Stephen Vargha