Plaza del Pescador’s second annual San Jose Jazz Weekend was the place to be in San José for Valentine’s Day weekend. With nightly crowds numbering a thousand or more, and tourists and locals thrilled by the top-notch performances, the event proved even more successful than last year.
After a brief opening ceremony with Fonatur’s Raoúl Chollet, Secture’s Ruben Reachi, Los Cabos Hotel Association’s Renato Mendonca, Municipal Culture’s Blanca Hernandez and Plaza del Pescador’s Mario Gadsden and Astrid Castañeda, the Memo Ruiz Trio hit the stage at 6 p.m. with Jorge “Tito” Rodriguez on bass, Javier Cantú on drums and Memo with his traditional jazz vocals and guitar.
The next set saw Javier “Kukin” Carmona on guitar, with Tito Rodriguez and Javier Cantú, playing dazzling instrumental Jazz Pop. This was definitely a hot set that I enjoyed the most. It got to the point where the music hooked me like a thriller movie. The suspense, speed, accuracy and the beauty of the intricate notes coming out of these gentlemen’s instruments took me by surprise. I expected some laid back, Dave Brubeck kind of rhythm and I caught myself staring at the stage. When you’re not a musician, there’s always a moment when you wonder how their hands can possibly move that fast, hitting every note flawlessly and – insert childhood frustration of not being able to learn to play guitar – effortlessly. I just love when that happens.
By 8 p.m. it was SRO throughout the plaza with the food booths buzzing and the restaurants packed. Good news, considering the event was conceived in part to benefit local nonprofit Ayudando a Mama A.C. (AYUMA), a Montessori daycare center benefiting children of single moms. MC’s Roberto Angles, Sabrina Lear and Cristian Mendoza kept the audience engaged during set changes by auctioning hotel stays and encouraging the audience to visit the AYUMA booth.
New to many in the audience was Grupo 3Funk with Leopoldo Ladrón de Guevara (or just Polo) on lead guitar, Marco Tulio López on bass, Leonardo Ladrón de Guevara (Polo’s son) on drums, Alejandro Garcia on keyboard and Laura Díaz on vocals. Very impressive, with Polo’s lead guitar and Flamenco jazz twists and turns. They play the Grand Mayan lobby bar Thu-Sat from 6 to 8 p.m. so be sure to check them out.
The air was electric when Arturo Ramírez (violin and keyboards) hit the stage with Tito and Javier Cantú, playing a mesmerizing fusion set full of muscle and grace. Another high point in a weekend of many.
Friday’s final set was R&B jazz fusion with Carolina Vargas’ smooth vocal stylings accompanied by Tito’s virtuoso bass, Kukin Carmona’s insanely hot guitar, Cantú’s hypnotic drum work and Arturo Ramírez wowing all on the keyboard and violin. What a way to end a fabulous night. Rarely are we treated to such formidable talent in one place.
Saturday night saw the Sheraton’s Monique Mendoca & Daryl Currie perform the opening (and closing) set with smooth jazz and contemporary tunes. Nice to hear them out in public for a change! Memo Ruiz followed, backed by Sergio Hesting on drums, Sebastian Dimarco on acoustic bass and Howie Clifton on alto sax. A first rate quartet playing some very interesting, very hot Bolero Jazz.
Tito Rodriguez, Kukin Carmona and Javier Cantú reprised their Friday magic with another awesome set of Jazz Pop. I just can’t get enough of these three together.
The fourth set was none other than Daline Jones – with Diego Ramírez, Arturo Ramírez and Joaquín González – who never fails to draw the crowds with her charisma, sunny energy and gorgeous voice. With their fresh CD “organic jazz” just out, Daline sang a few new tunes and the set was hot, hot, hot. The Ramírez brothers upped the ante with Diego on sax (and a drum solo!) and Arturo on violin, and both alternating on keyboards. Lots of good buzz and their 45-minutes on stage seemed way longer… in a very good way.
Up next was Grupo Pa’ax – Tito Rodriguez, Diego Ramírez and Joaquín González on drums. Another epic set from three superb musicians at the top of their game with original compositions from Tito and Diego. It was a reunion for the sizzling trio who first got together over a decade ago.
If luck be a lady it surely was Carolina Vargas on stage, surrounded by Tito, Kukin, Cantú, Diego and Arturo for a rousing nightcap. Closing San Jose Jazz Weekend 2014, Daryl Currie gave us some soulful steel guitar while playing with the winsome Monique Mendoca.
San Jose Jazz Weekend has proved to be a commendable success. Created by the Gadsden family, this year’s event was made possible with the support of Plaza del Pescador’s merchants, local hotels and businesses, sponsors, restaurants, Tito Rodriguez and participating musicians; with set production by The Twins (Omar and Hermes Martínez). We look forward to 2015!