August 2013 Convention
New Orleans, LA

Maraca Shakes It Up

Had I not seen all the name badges and flute cases, I could have imagined I’d stepped into a salsa club. On stage was the rhythm section (Mark Levine on piano, John Wiitala on bass, and Akira Tana on drums). Nearby, sat a man in distressed jeans and embroidered blue shirt. This was Orlando “Maraca” Valle. With his trusty sideman, Ernesto Fernandez, acting as translator, Maraca showed the enthusiastic audience how to “cubanize” jazz. He traded phrases with each of the three masterclass students, making distinctions between the more harmonic emphasis of swing as contrasted with the more rhythmic emphasis of la rítmica latina; a well-furnished toolkit of flute techniques was on display. Popping articulations, multiphonics, flutter tonguing, singing while playing, dramatic timbre changes—all of these helped with the goal of a spicier sound. He sometimes harmonized with the student so they could keep playing while matching his style and tone color, or flitted in quickly between their phrases, splashing hot virtuosity everywhere.

Maraca (second from right) playing with masterclass participants

Maraca showed great respect for classical music and many of the elements of classical study—etudes (some of which peeped out of his solos), listening to great musicians on your instrument and other instruments as well, and playing close attention to the rhythms and harmony of the musicians surrounding you. The rhythm section on stage laid down spicy rhythms for Dizzy Gillespie’s jazz classic “A Night in Tunisia,” Clare Fischer’s “Morning,” and Mario Bauzá’s “Mambo Inn.” Periodically, the audience joined in, clapping standard clave rhythms.

This masterclass shows a strong healthy future for the NFA, reaching beyond classical music, but it also represents the suitability of this year’s theme: A master teacher from Cuba, translated by a flutist from Miami, working with students with English (Warner), French (Gagné), and Lithuanian (Kažukauskas) surnames playing an iconic American music born of African and European influences flavored with a más latina sound. Confluence of cultures indeed. ¡Saludos!

—Yvonne Kendall

photo by Yvonne Kendall