WCSU Jazz Fest to feature Dafnis Prieto, Danilo Perez trios in concert
Internationally acclaimed artists join WestConn musicians for April 30-May 2 festival

DANBURY, CONN. — Two of the world’s most influential and innovative jazz artists today — Panamanian pianist/composer Danilo Perez and Cuban drummer/composer Dafnis Prieto — will bring their trios to Western Connecticut State University as featured performers in the 15th Annual WCSU Jazz Fest from Thursday, April 30, through Saturday, May 2.

The Dafnis Prieto Trio will perform with the WCSU Jazz Orchestra under the direction of Assistant Professor of Music Jamie Begian at 7 p.m. on Friday, May 1, in Ives Concert Hall in White Hall on the university’s Midtown campus, 181 White St. in Danbury. The Danilo Perez Trio will be featured in concert at 7 p.m. on Saturday, May 2, in Ives Concert Hall.

Ticket prices for each concert are $15 for adults, and $10 for senior citizens and students; WestConn students with valid identification and student participants in the festival will be admitted free. Reservation information is available online at www.wcsu.edu/tickets, or by calling (203) 837-8499.

Faculty and student performers from the WestConn music department will present two free concerts in Ives Concert Hall, both open to the public, to kick off the festival on Thursday, April 30. A matinee concert at 2 p.m. will feature a seven-member WCSU Jazz Faculty Band playing with a select group of eight WestConn music students. Performances by the WCSU Jazz Sextet, Jazz Ensemble and Jazz Faculty Band will showcase faculty and student artists in an evening concert starting at 7 p.m.

Critically acclaimed for his pioneering recordings and live performances of his unique blend of pan-American jazz, Perez has led his own jazz groups since the early 1990s, earning Grammy nominations for his “Motherland” and “Central Avenue” albums. He continues to perform with award-winning artists including the Wayne Shorter Quartet, recipient of a Grammy Award in 2006 and Best Small Ensemble of the Year honors from the Jazz Journalists Association in 2002 and 2004. Perez also received association nominations in 2001 and 2002 for Pianist of the Year.

“Danilo Perez has all the attributes of a performer, conductor, impresario and purveyor of musical expression, so greatly needed in these uncertain times,” observed the legendary jazz saxophonist and bandleader Wayne Shorter. “His effort to bring to the world a beacon of hope and inspiration … is a prime example of confidence in a future laden with cornucopian gifts for all humanity.”

Perez, who also serves as a good will ambassador for Unicef and cultural ambassador for his native Panama, leads a trio that also includes bassist Ben Street and drummer Adam Cruz. “Trust and deep knowing are the foundation for the spirited and soulful interplay among the musicians in this trio,” the biographical summary on Perez’s Web site noted.

“I know them very well, and we all try to practice brotherhood, love, equality and freedom in our personal lives and in our music,” Perez said. “All of us have become a family, and there is a feeling of celebration, of transcending communication when we play that is very magical to me.”

Prieto, a native of Cuba who emigrated to the United States in 1999, has made a dramatic impact on the New York and international music scenes over the past decade as a groundbreaking performer and composer in the Afro-Cuban, Latin and jazz genres. His three recordings to date — “About the Monks,” “Absolute Quintet” and “Taking the Soul for a Walk” — have earned widespread critical acclaim, with “Quintet” receiving a Grammy nomination for Best Latin Jazz Album and Prieto winning the 2006 Up and Coming Musician of the Year prize from the Jazz Journalists Association.

“In a remarkably fertile period for Latin-infused jazz in New York, the drummer Dafnis Prieto stands out for his energy, his creativity and, perhaps most of all, his borderless musical worldview,” wrote Nate Chinen in The New York Times. Noting his collaborations with leading contemporary jazz innovators such as Henry Threadgill, Chinen cited Prieto’s “forceful yet flexible sense of groove, derived from traditions of Afro-Caribbean hand percussion, but also informed by polyrhythmic post-bop. Prieto mines the same territory as a composer, with impressive results: He has written sweeping arrangements for the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra as well as compact missives for his own small groups.”

Reviewing “Taking the Soul for a Walk,” Larry Blumenfeld wrote in The Wall Street Journal that Prieto “has transformed Afro-Cuban rhythms to the trap set with a light touch and a gracefully deceptive manner of speeding up and slowing down tempos. These pieces are emotionally charged and stylistically diverse, carried along not just by rhythm but also through lovely harmonized passages and powerfully conjured moods.”

Since 1995, the WCSU Jazz Fest has brought leading jazz artists to Danbury each spring for a three-day program that combines concert performances with a series of music clinics offering master-class instruction and critiques for music students at WestConn and at schools in the Greater Danbury area. Prieto and Perez will join professional jazz artists who hold full-time and adjunct faculty positions in the WCSU music department to conduct performance clinics each day of the festival.

“Having these great guest artists and outstanding clinicians ‘up close and personal’ provides our students an invaluable insight into the expectations of what a professional musician is and does,” Begian said. “The energy level leading up to the festival is sky-high, and I’m always proud of how our students rise to the occasion and demonstrate the quality of the program here at WestConn.”

The WCSU Jazz Orchestra performance on May 1 with the Dafnis Prieto Trio will feature three Prieto-composed works with arrangements by WestConn jazz studies students and alumni: “Trio Absolute,” arranged by senior Darren Litzie, of Milford; “Tumba Francesca,” arranged by alumnus Dan Brandl, of Meriden; and “Una Vez Mas,” arranged by alumnus Chris Johnson, of Wilton.

The matinee concert on April 30 will present a WCSU Jazz Faculty band including adjunct professors Andrew Beals on alto saxophone, Dave Scott on trumpet, Deborah Weisz on trombone, Christopher Morrison on guitar, Peter Tomlinson on piano, David Ruffels on bass, and Jeff Siegel on drums. WestConn students featured in the 2 p.m. performance include Dan Pacuk, of Brookfield; Willie Bruno, of Darien; Ian Tait, of Monroe; Eric Laursen, of Colchester; Jennifer Caraluzzi, of Bethel; Ted Morcaldi, of North Haven; Ryan McAdams, of Fairfield; and Jake Habegger, of Watertown.

The April 30 evening concert will open with a performance by the WCSU Jazz Sextet, coached by Tomlinson and featuring music students Ian and Andy Tait, both of Monroe; Collin Wade, of Colchester; Mike Johnston, of Milford; Carl Stoodt, of Uncasville; and Willie Bruno, of Darien. WestConnn adjunct faculty members Weisz and Beals will appear as guest artists with the 18-member WCSU Jazz Ensemble. The concert will conclude with the WCSU Jazz Faculty Band in performance with eight WestConn students, including Litzie; Wade; Johnston; Andy Tait; Nick Impionbato, of Plantsville; Matt Smith, of Bristol; Jason Fitch, of Wallingford; and Marc Shamasian, of Manchester.

Begian noted the May 1 WCSU Jazz Orchestra performance with the Dafnis Prieto Trio has challenged the student artists to master the intricacies of traditional and contemporary Latin jazz.

“We’ve put a lot of time into getting his music right!” Begian observed. “What this shows our students is the vast amount of music there is to learn, and how challenges will hone your craft to the highest degree possible.”

This year’s Jazz Fest is sponsored by the WCSU Foundation, the WCSU Student Government Association, the WCSU Jazz Club, and the Connecticut State University System Activities in the Arts Program. For more information, contact Begian at (203) 837-8637 or begianj@wcsu.edu, or the Office of University Relations at (203) 837-8486.

Western Connecticut State University offers outstanding faculty in a range of quality academic programs. Our diverse university community provides students an enriching and supportive environment that takes advantage of the unique cultural offerings of Western Connecticut and New York. Our vision: To be an affordable public university with the characteristics of New England’s best small private universities.



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