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Salsa, Latin jazz ensembles to play legendary Montreux Jazz Fest

By Maria R. Gonzalez
University News Service
March 28, 2007

The jazz and salsa ensembles from Texas State University-San Marcos will perform at the prestigious Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland in July 2007.

The Salsa del Rio ensemble started in 1995 and has since been under the direction of John López.  Salsa del Rio performs each year in San Antonio, Corpus Christi, Brownsville and San Marcos. The band has also performed at the Notre Dame Jazz Festival where they received a record-setting number of awards.  Salsa del Rio’s national success is complemented by its international exposure, with concerts in Neice, France, and in the Mexican cities of Huatulco, Oaxaca, Cancun and Mexico City. The invitation to Montreux promises to be a unique experience for the ensemble, said López, who has performed in the festival and is aware of the popularity of salsa and jazz in Switzerland.

“As a player, when you’re performing, you’re performing with people who are so into what you’re doing. It’s so new to them, and you’re from another planet, from San Marcos, Texas, and they’re impressed. And you’re playing this music that they are going to love,” he said.

Set on a boardwalk next to Lake Geneva and overlooking the French Alps, the Montreux Jazz Festival is one of two of the biggest jazz festivals in Europe, along with the North Sea Jazz Festival in Holland. The Texas State jazz ensemble directed by Freddie Mendoza has performed in the North Sea festival as well as in Italy and is ready to perform in Montreux. The ensemble participated in the prestigious University of North Texas Jazz Festival and the Notre Dame Jazz Festival, where they received numerous outstanding musicianship awards.  Concerts in San Antonio and Austin clubs and Texas high schools during each semester are a method of training for live performance for the jazz ensemble students. Mendoza said performing at events of all levels bodes well for Texas State’s students and potential students.

“When I can tell incoming freshmen or potential incoming freshmen we go to Europe or Notre Dame and compete in a national level I think that’s attractive. It is a sense of waking up the country to the fact that we have an outstanding jazz and multicultural program,” he said. “We’re finally starting to get a lot of students who come here because they want to study jazz.”

Mendoza also said that the best thing about the invitation to Montreux was the opportunity it provides for students to travel overseas and learn about music and culture of many countries.

“This festival is more of a world music festival because it has music from all over the world.  Most of the students in the ensembles have never traveled to Europe. As far as the playing stand point it will be a great experience because there will be tremendous musicians there,” he said.

The Montreux Jazz Festival lasts the month of July and the Texas State ensembles will be there on the final weekend of the festival. Countries such as Ethiopia, Spain and Italy will convene to share their music and food at the foot of the French Alps. Both López and Mendoza agreed that the exposure to other cultures will be enlightening to the ensemble students.

“There is the experience of being immersed in another culture, in another way of thinking,” López said. “We want to put the word “universal” back in “university” and have this universal experience.”

Salsa del Rio’s membership includes Jessica Zentner of Cuero, vocals; Angie Garcia of San Antonio, vocals; Leo Rodriguez of Eagle Pass, vocals; Cirilo Campos of San Antonio, vocals; David Ortiz of Crystal City, trumpet; Rudy Estrada of San Antonio, trumpet; Zol Waterhouse of Austin, trombone; Justin Filor of Austin, baritone saxophone; Samiel Lopez of Austin, timbales; Rene Gonzalez of Laredo, congas; Omar Diaz of Edinburg, bongos; Laura Torres of Del Rio, drum set; Josh Lowe of San Antonio, bass; and Ben Lane of San Antonio, piano.

For more information, contact the Texas State School of Music at (512) 245-2651.