This year, the Jalisco Jazz Festival didn’t crank out its customary closing concert, which like last year’s would have been held in a cavernous event space on the penthouse suite of a building in the Plaza Andares mall complex in Zapopan.
As festival founder Gil Cervantes related to me the day after the non-event, a confluence of unfortunate events, including a key musician’s personal emergency, made the production an impossibility.
But as in years past, the festival’s yearly blowout didn’t signal the complete cessation of music-related activity. For instance, Cervantes told me the news of the previous evening’s cancelation in the Plaza Andares, not in the rooftop event space, but far below at the central, open air “Foro” stage during this year’s “Ruta del Jazz Andares” event.
The Foro stage sits like a boulder in the middle of a raging river of stuff: two floors of shops hawking the high-income-signifying uniforms and assorted accoutrement of Guadalajara’s wealthiest residents, who could be seen walking along the railed walkway above the Foro stage, gazing down armed with bags of booty in benign ignorance at the studious, serious-faced young jazzistas plying their trade on the raised stage – before quickly continuing on, en route to another crucial purchase.
The band who was winding down upon my arrival at the Foro around 2 p.m. was Cienfuegos, who were there participating in the “Premio Fiesta de Jazz” (Premio FJ) competition. There was a pleasing symmetry in this; I had seen the band, led by multi-reedist Chen Quintero, play in Parque Agua Azul a little over a year ago, shortly after my arrival in Guadalajara. After Quintero and company packed up their instruments and left the stage – to be followed by three more groups in the competition – I buttonholed the roguishly unshaven Cervantes, lounging in the back and looking jovial and relaxed in loose-fitting clothes, despite his organizational burden.
“Our main object is to create and build an audience for jazz,” explained Cervantes about his decision to integrate part of his festival into the artistically inhospitable Plaza Andares. “In this commercial center there a lot of people who don’t go to the centro historico or the clubs to listen to jazz. So using this space was a good opportunity [to expand our audience].”
Lurking nearby in the shadow of the second floor were three men with salt-and-pepper hair, the industrial professionals who Cervantes had picked to judge the Premio FJ. A trio of whose combined gravitas would make a marble bust of Socrates crumble in shame:, they were Jerry Rosado, owner of Intolerancia, an important independent music label; Julio Rivarola, a promotor from Argentina; and German Palomares Oviedo, director of the country’s most important jazz radio station, Mexico City’s Horizonte Radio.
Later that evening at about 9 p.m., this trinity of musical judge-jury-and-executioners would choose a sextet fronted by drummer Armando Curiel.
As luck would have it, I had interviewed the extremely affable Curiel hours earlier. His thoughtful comments served, among other things, to illustrate the tightly-knit –if not downright incestuous – nature of Guadalajara’s jazz scene. I had already noticed this scrum-like behavior, having myself dipped a toe in the scene as a bass player, but it was brought home by how many times I noticed the same musicians reoccurring in different groups playing that day in various corners of the Andares complex. In fact, Curiel himself knew all but one of the 60-odd groups who participated in the competition’s initial round. But he seemed un-impressed by his own good fortune.
“I don’t make music to compete,” said the drummer philosophically. “However, this is above all a competition and there has to be a winner.”
I then asked Curiel, as I had Cervantes, what he thought of the competition’s setting.
“I see two sides to it: the downside is people come here to shop, not to sit down and listen to music,” he reflected. “It might be better if [the concerts] took place in smaller, more intimate venues – make it more personal … but on the other hand, some little rich kid who has never heard jazz might pass by and say, ‘Cool! What is that?’”
While Plaza Andares is an uninspiring, antiseptic place ill-fit for jazz, it would be churlish to argue against, at least vocally, the idea that any attempt to bring jazz out of the ghetto of clubs and cafes filled with the already-converted is a decent thing to do.
But jazz has had more than enough time to prove whether or not it has what it takes to ingrate itself to the average listener. It doesn’t take a naysaying Eeyore to suspect that it’s unlikely to experience a popular resurgence any time soon, if ever, and even less likely thanks to the handful of noble but Quixotic souls who have organized the Jalisco Jazz Festival every year since 2006, and whose efforts to disseminate jazz at Plaza Andares inevitably lure the mind to dark, despairing observations regarding the utter insignificance of “The Arts” in the face of the Leviathan of consumerism.
May the patron saint of lost causes bless and keep them for many more years to come.