Building the Latin Jazz Project

Band members want to add horns, bring in people to teach classes and artists to work on special shows

Posted: Friday, July 25, 2003

The first night of the Juneau Latin Jazz Project - July 19 at Mike's Place restaurant in Douglas - came off better than co-organizer Turiya Mareya expected.

"We went and made a flier and put them up in just a few days, and the show was packed," said Mareya, who is also the group's pianist, flutist and bass clarinetist. "Everybody had a ball."

The next two nights of the Project's run at Mike's - Saturday, July 26, and Saturday, Aug. 2 - promise to be even better.

Mareya hopes to recruit a bass player to join herself, percussionist Antonio Diaz and conga player Eric Ocasio. Diaz and Ocasio play in Juneau's Salsa Borealis. The Latin Jazz Project performs original and classic Latin jazz based on Afro-Cuban and Afro-Peruvian styles.

Both Saturday shows begin at 8 p.m. Admission is free, but donations are accepted.

"I'd like to bring in some horn players and see this develop," Mareya said. "That's why we called it the Latin Jazz Project, as opposed to a group. We want this to be something that grows."

Mareya, a jazz instrumentalist and composer, has been playing Latin jazz and straight jazz for the past 30 years. She's played with such jazz greats as Jane Bunnet, Skip Howlett, David Murray, Eddie Palmierei, Poncho Sanchez and Arturo Sandoval. She's lived in San Francisco; New York; Mexico City; Vera Cruz, Mexico; and most recently, San Diego.

Last year, the Women's Coalition of San Diego gave Mareya a grant to write a piece of music. She decided to visit friends in Juneau and compose the piece in town. Mareya arrived last November and decided to stay a while.

"I've been trying to get to Alaska for a million years," she said. "It was always my dream. When the plane was going over Sitka, I was looking out the window and I burst into tears."

Mareya's composition, "People of the Tides," is a two-hour work written for a six-person Latin ensemble of horns, drums and bass. She's performed it in San Diego, but not in Juneau.

"It's Alaska-Latin," Mareya said. "It's based on seeing Alaska for the first time and trying to envision what the Native world was like before."

Soon after arriving in Juneau, Mareya put up fliers seeking people who were interested in Latin jazz. Antonio Diaz put up his own fliers, looking for people who wanted to learn Afro-Peruvian music. They met and had an instant musical connection.

"I've really been blessed my whole career to work with some extraordinary drummers," Mareya said. "Antonio has that thing. He has that energy, that fire."

Mareya will leave Juneau on Aug. 5 for San Diego. She will play solo shows in San Diego on Aug. 12 and 22, guest-star at the Idyllwild Jazz Festival on Aug. 23 and 24 in Southern California and then make her first trip to Europe in the fall. She will play in Barcelona, Madrid and Lisbon.

Mareya will return to Juneau in November, at which point she hopes the Latin Jazz Project can grow.

"Hopefully, when I get back we can expand to have more of an educational component where we actually bring people to teach classes and bring in artists to do special shows," Mareya said. "This is just such a dynamic music scene. We'd like to build it up so there's a real flow of artists into Juneau from Seattle."

Korry Keeker can be reached at>

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