BRATTLEBORO -- Ray Vega and his Latin Jazz Quintet will perform at the Vermont Jazz Center on Saturday, Feb. 16, at 8 p.m.
Vega is one of the foremost Latin-jazz trumpeters in the world, an alumnus of the legendary ensembles of Mongo Santamaria, Mario Bauza, Ray Barretto and Tito Puente (includes three Grammy-winning recordings).
Appearing with Vega at the Vermont Jazz Center will be Zaccai Curtis on piano, Andy Eulau on bass, Diego Lopez on drums and Chembo Corniel on congas.
Now a senior lecturer in jazz studies at the University of Vermont, Vega is also in high demand as a guest artist, motivating young people in high school and college music programs. He grew up in the South Bronx where he found that having a strong musical identity gave him the self-confidence and respect to rise above the fray. He is a survivor who believes strongly in the power of faith and hard work, a communicator who knows that what has worked for him could be the missing piece for many others.
Vega has conducted master classes in trumpet performance, jazz improvisation, brass performance techniques and Afro-Caribbean jazz at many schools including the Manhattan School of Music, The Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., The Music Advancement Program at the Julliard School, The New School in NYC, Cincinnati Conservatory of Music, University of the Arts in Philadelphia, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Notre Dame University/Lebanon.
As a teen in New York City during the fertile 70s, Vega was exposed simultaneously to the evolving salsa (Latin dance music) scene and the explosive jazz scene. He studied with many masters, but two of his main trumpet teachers, Jerry Gonzalez and Mike Lawrence, represented two stylistically disparate approaches. For the Latin style he worked with Jerry Gonzalez, the mastermind of the seminal Latin Jazz group, Fort Apache.
Vega focused on jazz with Mike Lawrence, a young trumpeter discovered by Joe Henderson. Lawrence’s life was sadly cut short in his mid 30s due to cancer.
Vega’s own music demonstrates his chameleon-like ability to interpret and deliver the perfect trumpet sound and stylistic approach for each piece, In his album, "Squeeze, Squeeze," one hears a distinct jazz ballad style on McCoy Tyner’s soulful "Contemplation" and a markedly different classical tone on an original called "Sky!" He plays a straight-ahead jazz tone on the melody of Wayne Shorter’s "Black Nile" and then muscles into a brash, over-the-top lead trumpet timbre;. In fact, all the arrangements on this album (which is similar to the material he will play at the VJC’s concert) contain seamless transitions from jazz-swing to a variety of hip, Latin rhythms. This is one of the defining factors of Vega’s music: transitions that make sense and add to the complexity and interest of the music.
Vega is a veteran of some of the most illustrious bands of our time, both Latin and straight-ahead jazz. He performed with Tito Puente, Ray Barretto, Mongo Santamaria, Mario Bauza, Luis "Perico" Ortiz, Hector LaVoe, Johnny Pacheco, Larry Harlow, Pete "El Conde" Rodriguez and Louie Ramirez. He has also performed and/or recorded with Joe Henderson, Lionel Hampton, Mel Torme, Paquito D’Rivera, Arturo Sandoval, Chico O’Farrill Afro-Cuban Jazz Orchestra, The Lincoln Center Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra, Paul Simon, Yomo Toro, Eddie Palmieri, La Orquesta Sinfonica De Simon Bolivar, The Duke Ellington Orchestra, The Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, Bebo Valdez and Celia Cruz.
Vega is bringing with him his right-hand man on congas, Wilson "Chembo" Corniel who has recorded on most of Vega’s recordings as a leader. Corniel was a 2009 Grammy nominee who honed his skills at Boy’s Harbor in New York and the prestigious La Escuela Nacional de Arte in Havana, Cuba, under the direction of Chucho Valdés. Corniel has toured with Hilton Ruiz, Buddy Montgomery, Tita Puente, Machito, Toshiko Akyonshi, Jane Bunnett and Spritis of Havana, Bobby Sanabria, Chico Freeman, Chico O’Farrill and Blood, Sweat & Tears.
The drummer is Diego Lopez, who, after moving to the U.S. from Milan, Italy, found himself playing with Otis Rush, Junior Wells and Shirley Scott, among others. He moved to NYC in 2000 and immediately established himself as a serious contender in the Latin jazz and jazz worlds including performances and recordings with Hilton Ruiz, Paquito D’Rivera, Giovanni Hidalgo, Jane Bunnett, Dave Valentin, Dave Samuels, Diane Schurr and Gato Barbieri.
Bassist Andy Eulau has performed classical, blues, R&B, and jazz on four continents. He has played with Ray Barretto, Freddy Bryant, Grant Green Jr., Junior Mack, and Bobby Sanabria. His recording credits include dates with the Bill Charlap Trio and the Anthony Braxton Quartet.
Vermont Jazz Center regulars might remember the pianist who will be appearing with the group because he was a featured last September with Donald Harrison’s group. Zaccai Curtis performs with artists such as Ralph Peterson, Brian Lynch, Wallace Roney, Cindy Blackman, Jerry Gonzalez and the Fort Apache Band, Papo Vasquez, and many others. In 2001 he was commissioned to arrange Rimsky-Korsakov’s "Capriccio Espagnol" to be performed by his seven-piece Latin jazz ensemble with the Hartford Symphony Chamber Orchestra. From 2003 to 2006, he was a winner of the ASCAP Young Jazz Composer’s competition. Zaccai and his quartet were selected by the U.S. State Department to be in the Music Abroad Jazz Ambassador program and traveled to Bangladesh, Calcutta, Bangalore, Mumbai, Sri Lanka and Maldives. In 2007, Zaccai was awarded the ‘Connecticut Commission on Culture and Tourism’s Artist Fellowship’ for original composition. He currently performs his own music with his group Curtis Brothers quartet and heads his own record label, Truth Revolution Records.
Ray Vega at the Vermont Jazz Center is made possible due to the support of Julian Gerstin and Carlene Raper. The VJC also thanks the Vermont Arts Council and the National Endowment for the Arts, The Hampton Inn of Brattleboro and VPR and WFCR.
Tickets for Ray Vega’s New York Latin Jazz Quintet at VJC are $20 for general admission, and $15 for students with ID (contact VJC about educational discounts). Tickets are available at In the Moment Record Store in Brattleboro, at www.vtjazz.org or they can be reserved by calling the Vermont Jazz Center ticket line, 802-254-9088, ext. 1 or purchased at the door.