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Cuenca’s ‘Jazz Man’ tells why there is only one jazz club in Ecuador

Editor’s note: CuencaHighLife recently sat down with Jim Gala, founder and director of Cuenca’s Jazz Society Cafe and the Jazz Society of Ecuador and asked him about his decision to settle in Cuenca and to relaunch his jazz career in Ecuador.

CHL: What brought you to Cuenca?

Jim Gala: I visited Cuenca in 2010 at the invitation of the late George Evans, who owned California Kitchen.  I stayed for 10 days and was impressed with the city.  I decided to move to Cuenca in 2012 and founded The Jazz Society of Ecuador, its performance venue, the Jazz Society Café, and The Jazz Society of Ecuador School of Improvisation for Ecuadorian music students who want to learn to play jazz.

CHL: Why did you choose to live in Cuenca?

Jim Gala on the keyboard at the Jazz Society Cafe.

JG: I feel little “culture shock” here.  To me Cuenca seems similar to a relatively safe, clean, medium-size city in the U.S. with the addition of its extraordinary natural beauty and many cultural assets. The UNESCO historic district, El Centro, seemed almost like of a South American version of Greenwich Village, and I wanted to add jazz to those assets.

CHL. What do you like about jazz?

JG:  Leo Tolstoy said, “Music is the language of the emotions.” Of course musical tastes are personal, but in my opinion “rock” expresses the emotions of youth, which is fine when you’re a teenager, but lacks the emotional maturity that life experience brings as we age. To me jazz is music for adults. It goes beyond the basic chords and rhythms of rock, and even beyond the challenges of classical music in that it requires the same high degree of technique while requiring instantaneous composition (improvisation) from every musician in the band. Jazz is perhaps the most personal form of musical expression, and as such expresses the full range of emotions we experience as adults. Jazz is a musical language, and while some of it can be joyous and danceable, some of it can also be profound and possess real emotional depth.

CHL: Why is the Jazz Society Café the only full-time jazz club in Ecuador?

J.G. There’s an old joke, “If you want to make a million dollars owning a jazz club, start with 3 million.” Because of the consolidation of the entertainment media by a few large corporations catering to the youth market, jazz and classical music almost disappeared from the airwaves in the late 60’s. Two generations of people (“Boomers” and “Generation X-ers”) grew up listening almost exclusively to rock and pop music; it’s all they’ve ever heard. As a result, many people have never been to a real jazz club. The good news is that those who do are surprised by how accessible, enjoyable, and deeply moving jazz can be.  Over the past seven years thousands of people have attended our jazz concerts; some make reservations before they even come to Ecuador. The positive response to our jazz concerts and the contributions of our Charter Members help sustain us.

CHL: Where is the Jazz Society Café located?

JG: The Jazz Society Café is on the corner of Luis Cordero and Juan Jaramillo in the “el centro” district of Cuenca, two blocks south of Parque Calderon. It’s located on the 2nd floor of the Italian restaurant, La Viña. We’re open Wednesdays through Saturdays.  Food and beverage service starts at 6:30 p.m. and the live jazz concerts go from 7:30 p.m. to 10 p.m.

Note: Reservations are recommended, but not required.  Write: jazzsocietyofecuador@gmail.com