Grammy Nominee Rubén Alvarez Jazzes Up Campus
by Amanda Beaudoin on Friday, December 7th, 2012
Last week, Grammy-nominated percussionist Rubén Alvarez joined the Milton community for a few days to share his talent, his expertise, and his unforgettable smile. Mr. Alvarez is a Chicago-based drum set artist, Latin percussionist, producer, author, composer, and educator. He performs with Chévere, Chicago’s premier Latin jazz ensemble, the Chuchito Valdés Afro-Cuban Ensemble, and Guitarra Azul. In addition to teaching at Columbia College Chicago, Northwestern, and Roosevelt universities, Mr. Alvarez serves on the board of directors of the Jazz Education Network and is Vice President of the Illinois chapter of the Percussive Arts Society. He is also a member of the Latin Percussion’s educational advisory board and the Vic Firth Educational Team.
Mr. Alvarez kicked off his visit with a percussion workshop on Thursday, November 29. He focused on teaching the drummers in attendance the meticulous art of playing each drum with a good tone. Charlotte Goddu (II), a drummer in Milton’s advanced jazz program, commented, “It was great to learn how the conga, bongo, and timbale parts are supposed to fit together and work off each other.”
During the percussion workshop, Mr. Alvarez also shared some advice for performing, and his engaging performance during the upperclassmen assembly on Friday, where he played the congas, sang, and fostered audience participation, clearly displayed his natural performance ability. Jazmine Alicea (I) said enthusiastically, “He was a great performer! I like how he got the audience participating. He held our attention the whole time.”
Throughout Friday, Mr. Alvarez taught several Milton jazz classes. Drummer Eric Menna (II) admired Mr. Alvarez’s charisma and said, “He had no trouble telling you what was wrong, but always did it in a helpful way.” Tommy Goode (I), another drummer, agreed, saying, “I really enjoyed spending a class with Mr. Alvarez—he gave me a lot of incredible advice, and really helped me improve my rhythms and my style of playing. It was a humbling but incredibly educational experience.”
Drummers weren’t the only students who enjoyed and appreciated Mr. Alvarez’s visit. Guitarist Menaka Sachdev (I) said, “It was really amazing to meet him, especially since we’ve been following the Afro-Cuban theme this year.” She added that, since the advanced jazz combo is preparing for the upcoming DownBeat High School Jazz Competition, Mr. Alvarez “helped us get even further with our playing.”
That night, Mr. Sinicrope’s quartet, SoundsGlobal, performed in Strauss. The electrifying performance, featuring Rubén Alvarez with special guests Rick DiMuzio on woodwinds and Michael Sabin (IV) on the trombone, exhibited songs from around the world including the songs “Afro Blue,” “Como Hacemos,” and “Laurita,” three tunes that the Milton advanced jazz combo is also working on. Neil Chandra (II), a former jazz student, said, “It was great to see the musicians’ individual styles come together to create such meaningful and cultural music.”
After teaching a workshop at Berklee College of Music on Saturday morning with Mr. Sinicrope, Rubén Alvarez was still just as energetic when he played at a Christmas party at Charlie Blasberg’s (II) house on Sunday. Thanks to Rubén Alvarez, Mr. Sinicrope, and the students of the Milton advanced jazz program, Milton jazz raised over $2,000 for the upcoming South Africa tour this March.
Students and teachers throughout the school enjoyed Mr. Alvarez’s performances and his presence on campus. His enthusiasm for jazz was infectious and brought new life and perspective to Milton’s jazz program.
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