I was truly honored to be invited by the US Embassy in Colombia to perform at the VI Mompox Jazz Festival. I’d never been to South America before, so I was truly excited, however, it was such a new experience that I was a little nervous. I do not speak any Spanish and my music is not Latin influenced, so I was not sure how the crowd would receive my band and I. All my hang-ups turned out to completely unfounded. Performing at the Mompox Jazz Festival was one of the most amazing times I’ve ever experienced on a stage.
All the festival staff were warm people and great professionals. Despite it being a rainy evening, the audience was in the thousands and all obviously enjoying themselves. After hours in planes, taxis, and buses traveling, laughing, and sharing stories with each other, the band and I were in sync and vibing. When this perfect combination of feeling supported professionally and spiritually occurs, it is freeing.
That freedom is what every musician is seeking in a live performance. I tried things vocally I would usually be scared to attempt without rehearsing them. I didn’t worry about remembering lyrics, because I knew they would come. I followed wherever the energy was taking me.
The main stage was situated in a square in front of a large church of Spanish architecture, overlooking the river Magdelena. As I walked up on stage it was raining, a consistent drizzle, but I was later told that as soon as we started playing the rain stopped. For our last song, we decided to give them a little bit of DC. We started with Duke Ellington’s classic “It Don’t Mean A Thing,” opening with a drum solo by Tyler Leak. We played through the form a couple of times, swinging, with trumpet solos and scatting; then we broke it down into Chuck Brown’s “It Don’t Mean A Thing.” The Colombian audience was feeling the GoGo, and so was I. I started dancing and got the audience to sing along, “Do wah do wah do wah do wah do wah.” Joe and I traded solos. He was blazing. I was hitting some Ella-esque sounds and lines. After we left the stage we went down into the audience, took Tequila shots, and danced Merengue in the rain while Dominican artist Sergio Vargas performed. Magic.
I’m so thankful to have had this experience. Special thank you to Leyla Moreno and Pedro Moreno, Sergio Andres, and Maria LaTorre for treating us so kindly and being amazing traveling companions. Thank you to the rest of the band for being incredible people & musicians, Zachary Cutler, Eliot Seppa, Joe Herrera, and Tyler Leak!
Performing at the Mompox Jazz Festival
Doing a Jazz History workshop for students at UniColombo
Leading a Vocal Masterclass for the Mompox Chorus