Thursday, October 4, 2018

A jazz project with important messages [updated]

Miami-based trumpeter and educator John Daversa's newest recording project is important on many levels that stretch far beyond jazz - or music.

American Dreamers: Voices of Hope, Music of Freedom (BFM Jazz) was recorded by the John Daversa Big Band supplemented by 53 so-called "Dreamers" - undocumented young people who were brought to the U.S. as children and have grown up with American culture and values.

Daversa and his production team worked with nonprofit immigrant organizations to find Dreamers who could share their stories through music. The young singers, rappers and instrumentalists who signed on for the project live in 17 states - and had roots in 17 different countries around the globe. Those homelands are Belize, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Honduras, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, Peru, the Philippines, Senegal, Singapore, South Korea, Sweden and Venezuela.

Daversa, who chairs the Studio Music and Jazz Department at the University of Miami's Frost School of Music, drafted professional musicians from Miami, Los Angeles and New York for his big band.

The Dreamers performed solos, instrumental accompaniments, spoken word poetry, percussion grooves, lead vocals, choruses and some raps. Each of the nine tunes on the CD is preceded by a Dreamer's narration of his or her individual story.

The featured music includes "Living in America," "Don't Fence Me In," Led Zeppelin's "Immigrant Song," Woody Guthrie's "Deportee" (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos), two patriotic classics - John Philip Sousa's "Stars and Stripes Forever" and Katharine Lee Bates and Samuel Ward's "America the Beautiful," "America" from West Side Story, and two Daversa originals - the hopeful and optimistic "All is One" and "Red White and Remixed."

The project's treatment of "America" from West Side Story - is unusual and stunning. It's an all-percussion version, on which big band member Murph Aucamp brought together more than a dozen Dreamers who add multiple layers of exotic rhythm.

Many of the stories will make you pause and think about the challenges these talented young people have endured and continue face.Six years ago, the so-called Dreamers received temporary statues through the Deferred Action for Childhood Early Arrivals policy. It was rescinded last year, creating a limbo of sorts for 800,000 DACA recipients, 90 percent of whom are in school or have jobs.

Juan Carlos Alarcon Moscoso, who performs here on pipe organ, piano and percussion, talked about his challenges as a student musician and a Dreamer. "I don't think unity comes from everybody being the same, but respecting people's differences. I think that's the real unity of America."

Another Dreamer musician, trombonist Denzel Mendoza from Oregon, who came to the U.S. at age 5 with his family from Singapore, says the project "opened my eyes on how far I could take my musical career."

This project is a balm of sorts amid the challenges and rage going on across the US about immigration in general - both legal and illegal. That tragic situation is not what America is deep down inside.

The project endorsements include warm and positive words from both US House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-CA,  and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-SC. It's a shame that Congress and the White House have been unable to solve the Dreamers' legal quandary - and take a more welcoming stance for other people who come here seeking to better their lives and contribute to its multi-cultured fabric. 

In December, John Daversa’s American Dreamers recording received three Grammy Award nominations – for Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album, Best Jazz Solo ("Don't Fence Me In") and Best Arrangement ("Stars and Stripes Forever").

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