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Monday, August 09, 2004

Portland Tribune > To Bill Summers, it makes perfect sense that African-American musicians would tour the world offering a tutorial on Latin music

All that jazz
Reflecting trends, 23rd annual Gresham festival goes global
By ERIC BARTELS Issue date: Fri, Aug 6, 2004
The Tribune
To Bill Summers, it makes perfect sense that African-American musicians would tour the world offering a tutorial on Latin music. After all, he says, Latin music is from Africa.
“I was an altar boy in the ’50s and ’60s,” says Summers, the percussionist and driving force behind Los Hombres Calientes. “I know what Latin is.
“All of these instruments — guitars, woodwinds, horns — they all originated in Africa. Every last one of them. It puzzles me. Why don’t they call it African music?”
Summers, who brings his open-ended musical question to the Mt. Hood Jazz Festival this weekend, says Los Hombres’ visit represents a shift in the promotion of jazz music.
“The jazz festivals nowadays have more than just jazz,” he says. “Most jazz festivals are more like world music festivals. They cover the gamut.”
Festival coordinator Steve Reischman, who says the pool of traditional jazz talent is shrinking, doesn’t disagree.
“There is a trend of world music in the jazz world,” he says. “You try to open people’s senses and eyes to a new kind of music.” Besides, he says, “there’s always been a very heavy Latin component in jazz.”
Summers, 55, says the newest thing in Latin music is the history you don’t know: “It’s not that people don’t want to give credit where credit is due. They don’t know what’s going on. I play black Cuban music because it’s not Cuban, it’s African.
“You can actually trace the history by looking at drums that were created in Central Africa.”
Along with the instruments and styles imported to the New World came terms like bongo, babalu and cha cha cha, he adds.

A city of music

Latin music has a long history in Los Hombres’ New Orleans home base. “New Orleans had 12 Spanish governors,” Summers says. “The archdiocese for New Orleans was in Havana. There’s a great connection between Cuba and music in New Orleans.
“Musicians from New Orleans, they’re very well-schooled. They put the other areas of the country to shame when it comes to education in the arts.”
To be sure, Los Hombres feature an improvisational feel that places them in the jazz neighborhood. But the band is a stylistic kaleidoscope. Trumpets that screech and cry atop driving salsa rhythms turn to silk over a lilting samba backdrop a moment later. Then, without warning, brassy horn salvos conjure the muscular ’70s R & B sound of an Earth, Wind and Fire.
“I’ve played with Ice T, Ice Cube, Tupac,” Summers says. “I’ve played with people in R & B: Barry White, Stevie Wonder. I’ve recorded with Sting. I love hip-hop. I love R & B. I love country. I don’t have this hang-up that jazz is better.
“I don’t consider myself a jazz musician, and I don’t consider Los Hombres Calientes a jazz band. It is the quintessential world music band. We play music from Brazil, Haiti, the Dominican Republic. Our goal is to show the interrelation between the music of the world. Our approach is a worldwide approach.”

Eclectic lineup

The festival’s Reischman has taken a similar tack. Headlining Saturday will be the Heath Brothers, an act Reischman says “preceded the Marsalis family as the first family of jazz.” Also performing at the two-day event are vocalist Abbey Lincoln, guitarist Charlie Hunter, the James Carter organ trio and Madeleine Peyroux, whom Reischman likens to Billie Holiday.
“There’s a little something for everybody,” he says.
Los Hombres Calientes will not be joined by trumpet-playing frontman Irvin Mayfield, who has a scheduling conflict. Motown veteran Marcus Belgrave, like Summers a Detroit native, will replace him.
Summers says he and the 26-year-old Mayfield have formed a productive musical partnership. The duo’s most important discoveries often require a determined sense of adventure: “He and I together, going into the jungles and the rain forests and the backwoods.”
When a trip to Haiti put them in a luxurious Port-au-Prince hotel, they inquired about which of the capital’s poverty-stricken neighborhoods to avoid.
“That’s where we spent the next three or four days,” Summers says.
“This is a cool band doing cool things,” Reischman says. “My hope is that once people go through the gates, they’re gonna go, ‘Wow! I’ve seen something I didn’t anticipate.’
“You’ve got an evolving jazz idiom out there. Maybe it’s not dying.”

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