Jazzing up the spirit on stage
PANAMA. The jazz scene in Panama ranges from sporadic musical visitors to those rare and special moments where both musicians and audie...
PANAMA. The jazz scene in Panama ranges from sporadic musical visitors to those rare and special moments where both musicians and audience alight with true jazz.
Saxophonist Carlos Garnett is one of the shining lights.
Echoing what Ruben Blades (another bright flame) sings in “Todos Vuelven”, Garnett is one of the many Panamanian expats returning from the US to their native soil.
“As a youngster I was always singing and beating the dinner table, my father always said that I was a musician in another life. You could say that I was born with music in my blood” said Garnet as he sat sipping an innocent looking milky drink.
He suggested we meet at the Magnolia Bar (San Miguel Calle 27), a popular hang out for men like Garnett, who have lived their lives in the US and have come back to rediscover Panama Turned out the milk was just the mixer in his Caballito (gin) drink.
“Who are you?” I asked.
“I am a spiritual man, dear. I am of West Indian heritage, my grand parents came from Jamaica. I was born in Red Tank Canal zone, and grew up in Paraiso.
Tall, dark and mild mannered, he closes his eyes while remembering his music beginnings.
“I discovered Jazz when we went to the movie theater in Paraiso, the projector manager always played jazz music before the movies started. I love jazz music because it allows you to create and improvise while using your imagination.”
Trying to catch up with his rapid new yorker speech I ordered myself the “caballito con leche” concoction.
“Why the sax?” I asked.
“I fell in love with the saxophone over 50 years now and counting. I had seen a movie with a great saxophonist/singer name Louis Jordan and when I heard him playing the saxophone the love affair began, and the love led me to head for the US in 1962 to seek my fortune in jazz music and to play with the greats.
“Freddie Hubbard gave me my first big break, and my first jazz recording, Pharaoh Sanders. In time I played and recorded with many legends of jazz such as Miles Davis with whom I recorded 4 albums and worked with for 2 years; Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers and another two albums, and Charles Mingus,”
Garnett went on to explain how his music evolved with a tangible difference from his early recordings to the feelings he now reveals on stage.
“In 1982 I had a spiritual awakening and laid down my horn for 9 years and studied the Holy Scriptures fervently. In 1991, I picked up my horn and started playing again and four years later recorded my first CD titled 'Resurgence', next came 'Fuego En Mi Alma', next was 'Under Nubian Skies', the 'Moon Shadow'.
So why did he return to Panama from such a vibrant life?
“I got tired of the hustle and bustle of America with the stress and pressures, so I came back to pass on my experience and knowledge to the young Panamanian musicians who were and still are hungry for knowledge about jazz music. I also told my mother when I was leaving for the US, that I will be coming back to live. When I came back I was able to record with one of Panama's great musicians and a legend, Mr. Victor Boa. The title of the album is called 'Tambo Jazz'.
“But unfortunately, there's not many outlets for the jazz music here. I've been blessed with playing at four of Danilo Perez's International Jazz Festivals. I play once a month at the only jazz club in Panama, 'La Platea' and get a few gigs here and there. That is one the things I missed from the States, is not getting enough gigs.”
But the lack of gigs has benefited young musicians who sought him to study and he found time to create the Carlos Garnett Academy of Music with measurable results.
“Six of my former students received scholarships from the Danilo Perez Foundation. Some are at Berkeley School of music, others at the New England Conservatory of music and at the Puerto Rico Conservatory of music. There are two more who won scholarships in January and will be going to one those schools to further their studies. I am very proud of them.
“It's unfortunate that there are no clubs available for the young musicians to sharpen their craft. The Panamanian government and business impresarios do not see profit in jazz clubs. The government and INAC could be doing more.”
The animation at the Magnolia seemed to flutter around Mr Garnett charisma and before the guys could pull him to the domino table I asked him about his current state of mind.
“I am at peace with myself and striving for perfection, my motto for this year is Seek the kingdom of Yahweh first”.
Mr Garnett will be on stage on July 30 at Platea bar in Casco Viejo, for more information call 228-4011.