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Jalisco Jazz Festival preaches the gospel of improvised music

It’s that time of year again, folks.  What time, you ask? Ramadan? Kwanzaa? Rosh Hashanah? To all those wild guesses I say: wrong, wrong, and wrong again.

pg24aIt is, in fact, time to pensively chain smoke un-filtered cigarettes, don ray-ban sunglasses and a thin black tie and - for the truly hard-core fan - break out that well-worn tourniquet and syringe.  Yes, the Jalisco Jazz Festival (JJF) is upon us in all its month-long glory (April 25-May 19), a period of intense jubilation involving the entirety of our massive metropolis, a collective bacchanal so all-encompassing and overwhelmingly transcendent as to cause mariachi musicians – their chosen genre unseated by America’s art form as the state’s most emblematic musical form – to set fire to their guitarrónes and trumpets in a fit of jealous rage.

Or at least, that’s the scenario that might have flashed before festival co-founder and executive director Gilberto Cervantes’ eyes while he sat at a table with three other festival grandees during the event’s inaugural Plaza Andares-adjacent press conference on Monday, April 16.

The bleak reality is that jazz will never, ever be as popular as mariachi in Jalisco.  Or K-Pop in Korea.  But that doesn’t stop Quixotic souls like Cervantes (insert a wink to literature nerds here) from mounting jazz festivals around the world, scrambling to cobble together enough funding each year to keep their sputtering artistic organisms thrashing about to stay afloat in the dark waters of bankrupt oblivion.

We salute that special breed of masochism; without it cities around the world would aspire to nothing more culturally edifying than that which guarantees a handsome return on investment – the musical version of Kraft singles.    

The JJF was started by musicians Cervantes and Sara Valenzuela in 2006.  Back then, their nascent cultural happening occurred over one weekend and consisted of a handful of clinics and a few scattered concerts. The next year, the pair created non-profit outfit Fundacion Tonica, the main organizational body of the festival.  One weekend of modestly proportioned programming and educational opportunities has become in the ensuing years, what it is today, a multi-week cultural kraken.

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