jazz & blues music blog with news, reviews, concerts & more, with a Canadian focus

September 10, 2005

Venezuelan Jazz Pianist Victor Mestas

Written by
cindy mcleod

I recently had the supreme pleasure of meeting in person (after more than a decade of being pen pals!), the great jazz pianist and composer Victor Mestas, who, with his lovely wife Maria, made the trip here from Caracas.

Victor is a renowned artist in Venezuela and throughout South America (see his impressive discography at http://www.sincopa.com/jazz/artists/victor_mestas.htm ), but Canadians have never had the opportunity to hear him play until now. Courtesy of saxophonist LIncoln Frey, who arranged a gig in a little club in a small town south of Calgary, Victor captured us that glorious afternoon with his beautiful playing. He was joined by Lincoln on tenor, bassist Glen Yorga, guitarist Mel Wilson, and myself on vocal, and we performed several sets of jazz standards to an enthusiastic audience (see photo).

Victor Mestas-piano, Lincoln Frey-sax, Glen Yorga-bass, Cindy McLeod-vocal

It is a special thing that musicians have, that ability to walk into a room, pick up their instruments and play with people they’ve never met just as though they’d worked together for years. There are a number of factors involved in doing such a thing, it requires ‘ears’ to know where the music is taking you, the ‘roadmap’ or charts with a rough sketch of the music to guide everyone, and the knowlege base and facility to allow the players to musically converse. Where it goes from there is as exciting and enticing as the players make it, the ‘conversation’ can be deep, playful, exotic or erotic, dependant upon the music at hand, the ‘personalities’ of the players involved, the instrumentation, and the energy the players give to it. Perhaps the most important thing is trust, for you are completely reliant on one another to pull it off, the ultimate in team work. If one person drops his end, the rest must pick up the slack. When it comes together it flies, and with Victor, we discovered we could soar.

Many years ago Victor sent me a copy of his Secretos Por Compartir project, a beautifully crafted project of orginal composition that to this day is one of my favourite CDs. The depth and breadth of composition found on this CD is matched only by the virtuousity of the players. Somewhere between the mainstream and fusion styles, Secretos Por Compartir is a welcomed addition to any jazz lovers’ collection. When Victor sent me the CD, I was truly honoured when he asked me to write a lyric for the title cut, a langourous and spacious piano-based ballad. This track was originally recorded with vocalese done by fellow Venezuelan, vocalist Taumanova Alvarez, but Victor wanted a lyric added, and we were both thrilled to discover that somehow I’d divined his musical intention with what I’d written.

I consider it a great gift to have had the chance to share the stage with this fine musician, we shared an instant musical connection and my only regret is that we couldn’t have many more musical moments together! Thank you for visiting our beautiful country, dear Maria and Victor, your spirits have left a beautiful impression upon us, and I pray one day we’ll meet again.

JAZZ ELEMENTS INTERVIEW

VICTOR MESTAS
VENEZUELAN PIANIST/COMPOSER/RECORDING ARTIST
August, 2005

WHEN AND WHERE WERE YOU BORN?
I was born in Caracas, June 19th ’63. Cuban father / Venezuelan mother

WHO DID YOU STUDY WITH?
When I was a kid a had a teacher, Carmen de Salazar, and she was great because I learned how to read music at an early age. Later, when I was 17, I went to the Escuela Superior de Musica in Caracas, to get lessons from her daughter, Neccy Salazar, and later from our great venezuelan pianist Carmen Moleiro. By the way, I never finished the school. I did five years out of ten, but I was trying so hard to learn how to play “salsa”…

WHY DID YOU CHOOSE PIANO?
I didn’t! My mother did it for us (my sister, my brother and me). I remember clearly what she used to say: “You should practice, tomorrow you could make a living out of the piano…”

WHO ARE YOUR MAJOR INFLUENCES AS ARTISTS?
I love all music. Even things I think I won’t like, I will give them a try. Music is so, so vast… and the “business” will let you “see/listen” so little, than you better pay attention to any single music act or recording you can get… It’s unbelievable how much good music is around us just waiting… So… said this… I have so many influences. But I remember I confirmed to myself that I wanted to spent my life playing music after I heard, on ’82, a recording from Pat Metheny Group, “Offramp”. Just to mention few pianists: Chick Corea, Steve Kuhn, Lyle Mays & Bill Evans. On the latin side: Oscar Hernandez & Papo Lucca. And from Brazil, Cesar Camargo-Mariano and Egberto Gismonti. But I love a lot of non-piano players, and they were big influences on me: Kenny Wheeler, Jan Garbarek, Elis Regina (the best singer ever!) and maybe my all-time favorite musicians/band: Oregon.

WHAT ARE THE RECORDINGS YOU’VE DONE YOU’D LIKE TO MENTION?
Here in Venezuela we have a very good latin-fusion-dance band, called Guaco. I was playing with them for 5 years. Before to become a member, I played as a guest on “Amazonas”, and later as a band member on “Como era y como es” and “Equilibrio”. Also I’m featured in recordings with percussion master Orlando Poleo, and a very special project for me, Guillermo Carrasco’s “Una a la vez”.

WHO ARE YOUR FAVOURITE MUSICIANS TO WORK WITH?
There are a lot! In Venezuela: Rafael Greco (sax), Juan Castano & Adolfo Herrera (drums), Gustavo Caruci & Roberto Koch (bass), Orlando Poleo & Vladimir Quintero (percussion), Juan Angel Esquivel (guitar). All these people are freakin’ amazing players! If I can choose some “big leaguer” that will be Ralph Towner!

DO YOU TEACH?
Not really. Five years ago, or so, I got an endorsement from Yamaha Musical de Venezuela, so I did few clinics in Caracas. I’m not very good with speaking to a crowd… but I enjoyed a lot!

WHAT IS IT LIKE TO BE A JAZZ MUSICIAN IN VENEZUELA? IS IT DIFFERENT THAN WHAT YOU’VE SEEN AND HEARD IN OTHER COUNTRIES WHEN YOU’VE TRAVELED?
After I travelled extensively my country, then South, Central and North America, and some countries in Europe (I lived in Spain too, for almost 2 years, my conclusion is that the musician’s life it’s pretty similar all over the places. I mean, a session player will have to do the same here and there, or a sideman or a teacher. Of course, it’s not the same to be a session musician in L.A. than in Caracas, but the gig itself it’s the same. If you are respectful, on time, and concerned about your music, you will work everywhere… The difference comes when we talk about the “respect” you get from people surrounding you. For instance, from my father side, my family is Cuban. For them it’s a big BIG deal that I’m a musician. They are SO proud of it. Here in Venezuela, musicians don’t get that recognition, or that sense of “profession: musician”. We have that stigma of alcohol/drugs/night/and-who-knows-what-else…

WHERE DID YOU LEARN TO SPEAK SUCH GOOD ENGLISH?
Thanks for your compliments! Bit I don’t think I’m that good! My written english is a lot better than the spoken one! My pronunciation… it’s like comedy!!! We don’t have to many music books in spanish. You will get all usual music books on harmony and traditional training, but on jazz/rock/pop no way! So, people here get books from USA, in english… and a dictionary too…

WHERE DO YOU SEE YOUR CAREER IN TEN YEARS? IN TWENTY?
Sometime ago, I realized that I’d been able to make a living just playing the piano. So, I’m a very lucky person. Yes, I look ahead, specially with a family, but not that much. As far I will be involved with music, I think everything will be ok, and certainly I’ll be doing my very best.

WHEN DID YOU AND MARIA MEET AND MARRY?
We met in ’89. And we got married in ’96… I think…

I KNOW YOUR CHILDREN ARE FIVE AND THREE, WHAT ARE THEIR NAMES?
Maria and Ana Lucia. Nobody call them by their names, though. They are “JoJo” (in english would sound something like Ho-ho) and “Nanita” (Nah-nee-tah)…

IF YOU COULD HAVE ANY DREAM IN THE WORLD COME TRUE, WHAT WOULD IT BE?
Peace and respect for every human being. And acoustic pianos taking over keyboards!

Leave a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.