|Los Angeles Times January 22, 1999
A Really Out-There Music Festival
Jazz - The unique Punta del Este event attracts world-class performers to remote area of Uruguay.
By Sebastian Rotella / Times Staff Writer
Here's an unlikely setting for a jazz festival: among cows and tractors on a dairy farm in Uruguay, one of the smallest and most remote nations of South America.
Despite the unusual locale, the Punta del Este Jazz Festival has emerged as one of Latin America's hottest jazz events. The festival's fourth season took place earlier this mounth and attracted a roster of legends -McCoy Tyner, Kenny Barron, James Moody- as well as acclaimed Panamanian pisnist Danilo Pérez and other luminaries of Latin Jazz.
The heart and soul of it all was musical director Paquito D'Rivera, armed with saxophone, clarinet and restless, effervescent personality that serves as a bridge between cultures and musical styles. The Grammy-winning D'Rivera, who plays and composes jazz and classical music, has built an event that is a rarity in Latin America, region lacking in world-class jazz festivals despite the contributions of Afro-Cuban and Brazilian artists. D'Rivera multi faceted skills have commanded respect ever since he defected from cuba in 1981 and hooked up with his idol and admired, Dizzy Gillepie. But when D'Rivera asumed the helm here, it took work to coax major U.S. artists-especially no-Spanish speakers- down to a fledgling venue at the bottom of hemisphere.
"Some guys were dubious, " D'Rivera recalled. "They said, "We're going to play where? On a milk farm? in Uruguay? And I said, "Trust me, it's a wonderful place." Europe is a paradise for jazz, but there's a new taste for Latin jazz, and that's attracting people in Latin American to jazz."
The seal of approval this year came from Tyner, the top attraction, who made his mark four decades ago with John Coltrane.
"Sometimes you don't know with these new festivals, but I was pleasantly surprised." Tyner said. "Its's lasted four year so they must be doing something right. And Paquito's my brother, you know? Somos hermanos".
Tyner's heavy global touring schedule alternates between a Latin-oriented band and a straight-ahead group. His proficiency in the genre defined rather fuzzily as "Latin jazz" reflects the limitations of labeling. Just as artists such as Pérez are influenced by the likes of Thelonious Monk, non-Latino players owe a debt to the Brazilian and Afro-Cuban sounds that fascinated Gillespie, among others.
The most notable jazz festivals south of the border can be found in the Caribbean and Brazil. but they are few and far between, and sometimes diluted by the presence of pop music performers. Uruguay turns out to be good place to extend musical bridges. It has one of Latin America's most literate and culturees populations; Uruguayans and their Argentine neighbors are fervent fans. Consider Francisco Yobino, the festival´s founder. After a career in the export-import business in Buenos Aires. Yobino established the El Sosiego Dairy farm as a producer of chice dairy goods and an agro-tourism attraction, with a jazz-filled restaurant and children's activities.
But the lifelong aficionado dreamer about seeing big-name jazz down on the farm. He made pilgrimages to music conventions in New York and enlisted argentinie pianist Jorge Navarro, who played in the U.S. for years, to assemble the first program in 1996. D'Rivera performed that year and subsequently became musical director.
The location helped. Punta del Este is an exclusvive resort that draws the elites of Brazil and Argentina and a sprinkling of European and U.S. tourists. The town also features its shares of jet-set excess and paparazzi-swarmed parties, however. So Yobino offers a bona fide cultural alternative in 700-seat amphitheater decorates by wooden windmills. "I'm glad we've brought real culture to Punta del Este", said Tobino, a dignified, white-haired out-doorsman. "What predominates in the town is frivolity,parties where people put on a big front. This is a different proposition." The artists seem to enjoy it. Yobino describes how Ron Carter, the mellow bassist, took long walks in the woods wearing a green soccer jersey emblazoned with the name of Ronaldo, the Brazilian soccer star. And trough drummer Chico Hamilton, a Los Angeles native, was wary of thflies ("I think they bite"), he was glad to have made his first visit. "In Mexico I played in a bullring. I'll play in a men's room, the important thing si to play," said Hamilton, 77, squiting across a sunlit terrace at a cow pen. "It's my first time in South America. it remainds me a bit of Italy. The people are warm, they're for real."
Hamilton, who has a n autobiography and screenplay underway about the raffish Central Avenue scene of the 1930s, put on a stirring show with saxophonist Eric Person and two other youthful sideman whom he has "practically raised". The mix of generations recurred when 75-year-old saxophonist Moody, a spry and exuberant veteran of Gillespie ensembles, feattured up-and-coming San Francisco trombonist Steve Turre with his trio. The festival "is getting stronger", said Moody, who lives in San Diego and was honored at the White House last year. "The thing with traveling to different places, different cultures, is that I find out we're all the same." The weather sounded a rare sour note. January, supposedly the balmiest period of South America's summer, opened with an assault of cold and rain that gave local fans a chance to show their mettle. When a fierce deluge erupted during Pérez's Friday night set, hundreds of listeners broke for the covered stage instead of their cars. They crowded around Pérez's clearly delighted trio, who kept playing. The storm canceled Tyner's performance, so he gamely showed up for a makeup gig at the uncivilized hour of 10.30 a.m. the next day. The audiance, well aware that the venerable pianist had come a long way to an unlikel destination, turned out in force.
(foto de Paquito D'Rivera)