Jazz Ensemble brings Cuban rhythms to BU students

Renowned Cuban drummer Ignacio Berroa will perform with the Baylor Jazz Ensemble Tuesday. (Courtesy Photo)

Renowned Cuban drummer Ignacio Berroa will perform with the Baylor Jazz Ensemble Tuesday. (Courtesy Photo)
Renowned Cuban drummer Ignacio Berroa will perform with the Baylor Jazz Ensemble Tuesday. (Courtesy Photo)
By Connor Yearsley

World-renowned drummer Ignacio Berroa will bring the rhythms of his native Cuba to Baylor today. He will join the Baylor Jazz Ensemble for its last concert of the year.

The concert will begin at 7:30 p.m. in Jones Concert Hall in the Glennis McCrary Music Building. There will also be a clinic with Berroa from 11 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. today in 118 Glennis McCrary Music Building. The concert is free and open to the public.

“Ignacio Berroa is one of the living legends of jazz drumming and it’s an incredible opportunity to work with him, be coached by him and hear him play live,” said Fredericksburg senior Mark Utley, drummer in the ensemble.

Berroa played with legendary trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie for nearly the last 10 years of Gillespie’s life. He has also played with jazz legends Chick Corea, Wynton Marsalis, Freddie Hubbard, Clark Terry, Slide Hampton and Tito Puente, to name a few. In addition, Berroa is a Grammy nominee and author of some instructional books on drumming.

Alex Parker, director of jazz studies, said he is very excited about his students having the opportunity to learn from Berroa, hear his stories and perform with him.

“It’s going to be a great concert,” Parker said.

Parker said Berroa is a master of Latin jazz drumming and is equally comfortable and proficient at other jazz styles such as swing.

Utley said Berroa has a unique style. “It’s both incredibly inventive and creative, but he also gets a great deal of power and intensity, without sacrificing artistry,” Utley said.

Parker said musicians like Berroa don’t come to Waco often.

The Jazz Ensemble will play three pieces without Berroa to begin the concert. First, they will perform John Clayton’s “Easy Money,” which Parker said is a straight-ahead swing piece, will be performed. Then, the ensemble will play “Captain Jon” by Geoffrey Keezer, which Parker said is a more modern jazz tune.

Then, Parker said Gillespie’s great arrangement of “Night in Tunisia” will be an appropriate way to lead into Berroa’s introduction.

Parker said Berroa will choose which pieces he will perform with the band. They will be selected from “Aja Bibi” by Felix Reina, “San Juan Shuffle” by Bob Mintzer, “El Bodeguero” by Richard Egues, “Mr. Fonebone” by Mintzer, “A Brazilian Affair” by Mintzer, “Splanky” by Neil Hefti, “Laura’s Waltz” by Berroa and “Nasty Blues” by Pete McGuinness.

Parker said the ensemble will get one rehearsal with Berroa before the concert and that the character of the pieces might change with his arrival, since the drummer is such an important part of the ensemble.

Parker also said the program will really help the ensemble learn and become comfortable playing different styles of Latin jazz because the different styles — such as Afro-Cuban styles like mambo, rumba and cha-cha, and Brazilian styles like samba and bossa nova — are all so different.

Utley said the program is challenging for the band members because it puts them a little out of their element, but they’re quickly trying to adapt and make it their element.

“It’s a huge learning experience for us,” Utley said.

Parker said he tries to bring in musicians who are great teachers and great performers so that his students can learn as much as possible while they’re here. He said the process for booking the guests usually takes about a year.

He also said he tries to have a rotation. For example, if the last guest was a trumpeter, he will try to bring in a saxophonist or drummer the next time. He said it made sense to invite a drummer this time since the two drummers in the band, Utley and Fort Worth senior Jordan Neumann, are graduating this year.

Utley said he and Neumann will be playing hand drums and timbales while Berroa plays drumset. The concert will also feature some of the other seniors in the band who will be playing in their last concert with the ensemble.

“There’s definitely a level of sentimentality behind it,” Utley said.

Parker said he hopes people will come to the concert and that there will be a wide range of entertaining music. He said most of the music is a variety of dance. He also said they made sure to raise enough funds so people could hear Berroa for free.

“It’s going to be fun,” Parker said. “He’s a funny guy, very entertaining.”

Utley said he thinks Berroa’s presence is enough to encourage fans of music to come.