Mac Writt
Jazz in the Park

Questions for CALJE

The Chicago Afro-Latin Jazz Ensemble mixes a wide range of Latin American sounds and styles.

By - Jul 30th, 2014 04:26 pm


The Chicago Afro-Latin Jazz Ensemble, or CALJE, as it prefers, is first and foremost a fusion band. Billing themselves as “genre-bending” Afro-Cuban jazz, the ensemble has experimented with such Latin American sounds as Argentinian Tango, Dominican Merengue, Puerto Rican Bomba y Plena, Spanish Flamenco and Jamaican Reggae. Composed of professional musicians, music teachers, composers, musical theater and band directors, CALJE can perform in groups as small as duos or as large as a 15 piece orchestra. Thursday night from 5 pm-9 pm CALJE performs as the 8th featured headliner for Jazz in the Park at Cathedral Square Park.

The band is the brainchild of Victor Garcia and Darwin Noguera. Garcia is a 10 year veteran of the Chicago music scene who has performed with artists such as Aretha Franklin, Arturo Sandoval, and The Temptations; today he teaches at the Music Institute of Chicago, Merit School of Music, Loyola University and Roosevelt University. Noguera is an accomplished composer and trumpeter based in New York City. He has performed with artists such as Paquito D’Rivera, Steve Turre, Brian Lynch, Paoli Mejias and Howard Levy and often collaborates with local musicians in Chicago and New York. Together, the two musicians imagined a Latin music group that would innovate, as did pioneering groups like Chucho Valdes’ Irakere, Mario Bauza & His Afro-Cubans, & the Dizzy Gillespie United Nations Orchestra.

Thursday, Garcia and Noguera will be joined by Rocky Yera on tenor saxophone, Charles Heath on drums, and Tim Seisser on bass.

How would you describe your style of music?

A fusion of jazz and funk with Latin idioms from Central and South America, particularly the Caribbean. It’s music that caters to the listener, dancer, and the soul!

How did your band meet and start playing together?

Darwin Noguera and Victor Garcia met at a salsa rehearsal in a basement at the age of 19, and thus began a long and fruitful musical relationship. 
How did the band get its start?This band was born from the collaboration of ideas brought forth by the experiences that Noguera and Garcia had in the very fertile music scene of Chicago. Our very first concert, though, ironically took place in Noguera’s previous city of residence, Miami. It wasn’t until we had the chance to open up the Jazz in Clave festival at the now defunct Hot House (in Chicago) that the name was given to the band.

How did your band’s name originate?

Our initial hope was to partner up with the Chicago Jazz Ensemble as its Latin counterpart, similar to the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra and the Lincoln Center Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra. Unfortunately, this never panned out, but it definitely has not stunted our growth and progress!

How did you become involved in Jazz in the Park and what do you like about performing there?

Garcia, having played here with a number of groups in the past, thoroughly enjoys the appreciation of the patrons of this particular festival, the atmosphere/vibe, and the sound and hospitality!

Who are your main musical influences?

The influences of the band range from Machito to Tower of Power, from Charlie Parker to Michel Camilo, from Afrocuba to Astor Piazzolla, and on and on… basically, anything good!

What do you hope the audience gets out of watching you perform?

We hope the audience, as Charles Mingus once put it, “Gits It In Their Soul!” From our individual experiences, we have found that great music has the power to lift moods, to raise consciousness and inspire happiness.

Which famous musicians are you inspired by?

Whether it be melody, harmony, or rhythm, the musicians that have inspired us the most had the common quality of pushing these elements farther along in their evolution. This, in turn, verifies our calling to the level of purpose, and not just a pastime.

How would you describe the state of music today?

Creative music will always continue to change, but because it requires some knowledge and understanding in order to truly be appreciated, it will never become popular music. Many innovators have successfully married the two, but the stuff that makes it to mainstream will, for better or worse, always tend to be on the simpler side.

How did you get your start in music?

Victor Garcia started piano and voice at 4, guitar at 8, trumpet at 15, and various instruments in between.

What is your favorite thing to see in the audience while you are on stage?

Heads bopping, hips swaying, beaming smiles, hands clapping, and every other movement that is born from good vibrations!

What are some of your most memorable experiences performing on stage?

As a band, debuting all new music to a crowd of 8,000 at Millennium Park in Chicago with guest artists Howard Levy, Brian Lynch, Paoli Mejias, and Steve Turre.

What are some of your hopes and aspirations for the band?

To tour internationally and spread the love worldwide…and pay the bills with this band exclusively, would be a dream come true!

What are your fondest musical memories?

“The hang” afterwards! It’s always about people and connections, and basking in the glow of a great performance with your best friends.

What drew you to jazz music?

All music has its beauty, of course, but the unique element of improvisation drew us to jazz and after understanding it on a deeper level day by day, convinced us to dedicate out lives to this unparalleled art.

Is there a musician dead or alive that you would love to perform with?


What do you love the most about performing live?

The risk of creating in the moment is a thrill comparable to skydiving…with considerably less chance of dying, of course.

How do you handle making mistakes during a live set?

The pros would make mistakes, and then play the same mistake (or a variation of it) again in order to give the phrase meaning and integrity, thus changing the “mistake” into a beautiful motif. Turning lemons into lemonade is basically the concept, and it is one that manifests itself beautifully in any of life’s endeavors, actually.

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