Over the past five weeks, WBGO’s Gary Walker has interviewed the five finalists of the Sarah Vaughan International Jazz Vocal Competition: Allan Harris, Kristin Lash, Ekep Nkwelle, Lucía Gutiérrez Rebolloso and Lucy Yeghiazaryan. For the final interview this week, Gary sat down with Rebolloso, a 21-year-old singer born and raised in Veracruz, Mexico. She grew up singing in the family band, singing son jarocho, a mix of Spanish, African and indigenous Mexican influences, a style that originated on the Gulf Coast of Mexico. “It was a natural introduction to the many influences of jazz, with a strong reminder that at the center is a story to tell,” says Gary. “Lucia’s life story is one that will serve her well in jazz for years to come.”
Watch their conversation here:
Lucia Gutierrez Rebolloso with Gary Walker
Gary Walker: The jazz world, or the music world should I say for you, started very early, didn’t it?
Lucia Gutierrez Rebolloso: Yes, I started very organically because my family is a family of musicians, who play the son jarocho, which is the traditional music of our region of Veracruz. I started as a kid just being there in the mood for the music. Then it became very natural for me. When I was two, I started singing with my parents on their shows because they were taking me on the road and I had to do something. So I was on stage and I sang a little, danced a little.
Then when I was six I knew music was my path and I wanted to do it in a more organized way and go to school for it. I started with piano lessons, then at 13, I started my official jazz course at Universidad Veracruzana, the university in my state. They have a very good jazz program. I studied there for eight years and just graduated about a month ago.
For those unfamiliar with the term son jarochoit is a 300-year-old tradition that combines music from this part of Mexico and also from Africa, as well as the Spanish tradition.
Lucia is only 21 years old, but she has already been to the cinema, friends, because a few years ago a film called fandango on the wall. It was based on a visit that the legendary Arturo O’Farrill made to your part of the world. There he met son jarocho and was impressed enough to make a movie out of it.
Exactly, yes. It was a very nice experience. son jarocho It’s kind of like a very big family here and they put all types of families into the tradition. Like my family and a few other families of musicians who have many generations who are currently looking for their musical path. They [O’Farrill and his musicians] came here and we had a great time getting to know each other musically. It is a very special film in which I am very happy and honored to be.
with the world of son jarocho and all the different worldly influences that come into play, your first exposure to music traveling with your parents, how does that kind of influence affect your interpretation as a jazz singer?
It’s an interesting question because I feel son jarocho and jazz have a lot in common. As far as harmony is concerned, it is different because son jarocho has a very simple structure in terms of chord progressions. These are just major, minor, perhaps diminished triads. But rhythmically, it has a lot in common. Syncope. It is a very rhythmic music. Also the dynamics of this one is very similar. In jazz, we have, for example, jam sessions, right? Where you just get together with a group of musicians and you make music and interaction and you’re open to anything that can happen and you have to react to it.
In son jarocho it happens too. We have, I would call it, a party called Fandango. That’s why the name of the movie we just mentioned is Fandango at the Wall. Fandango is when you get together, you bring food, there’s plenty to drink, plenty to eat, and you just bring your instrument or your dancing shoes and you just start jumping into whatever they make. It is necessary, as it also happens with jazz, to have to interact. You just have to react. Maybe they’re playing something you don’t know, but because you know the rhythm and mood of the music, you can chime in even if you don’t know the melody. It can also happen in jazz, can’t it? For example, you can play solo because you have a feel for the structure and know the swing feel or whatever you’re playing. And you can just improvise. This is the moment and this is what makes it very magical. So it also happens in Jarocho son.
There are many other things I find that are similar or in fact the same. When I started jazz, at first I was confused because it was a lot of theory because I went to school for it. I know not everyone’s process with jazz is the same, but for me it started with harmony lessons and I was confused. But at some point I started to notice that it was a very similar dynamic and it just started to feel a bit more natural. I had the organic process when I started with son jarocho because it was just something that was happening in my house and in my life. It happened the same way with jazz and I started to feel a little more familiar with it at some point.
And that offers freedom. When I hear you talk about Fandango and son jarocho, I hear you talking about freedom. As you describe son jarocho where you grew up, you’d be right at home at a jam session or even a rental party in Harlem.
Exactly. He has a lot in common. And that’s what makes me feel very close to jazz, and that’s why when I sing jazz, I just feel something inside here. I can’t describe it and it’s the same feeling I get when I sing son jarocho. It’s like energy and I feel it in my body. I don’t know how to describe it, but I feel like that’s why these two genres are the two that are most important to me and the ones that I intend to study for the rest of my life.