Friday, September 7, 2018

John Daversa Big Band: American Dreamers (Voices of Hope, Music of Freedom) BFM Jazz September 28, 2018


“The history of music in America is inseparable from the story of immigrants in America.  Our brave young Dreamers embody this proud legacy, adding their vision and patriotism to make America more American.”
U.S. House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi 

AMERICAN DREAMERS: VOICES OF HOPE, MUSIC OF FREEDOM, the new CD spearheaded by multi-Grammy-nominee JOHN DAVERSA, is a deeply personal, emotional, and timely project. It’s a musical cri de coeur that gives voice to young undocumented people known as “Dreamers” who, through no fault of their own, were brought to this country as children. They grew up here and were instilled with American culture and values.  

But Dreamers now find themselves in a heated immigration debate in which they and their families face great uncertainty. In 2012, Dreamers were afforded temporary status with the Deferred Action for Childhood Early Arrivals (DACA) policy, but it was rescinded in 2017. There are approximately 800,000 DACA recipients, and 90 percent of them are in school or have a job. Many of them are also musicians, who have come together to create this production, which has received bipartisan support from both Democratic and Republican Senators.  

Daversa is a trumpet and electronic valve instrument (EVI) master as well as a composer, arranger, and bandleader. He’s also the Chair of the Studio Music and Jazz Department at the University of Miami’s Frost School of Music. As an educator and father, he has a strong affinity for young people. And like many Americans, he cherishes the immigrant roots of his ancestors, as his grandparents came from Italy to work in canneries (and play music on the side) in California. 

That’s why the plight of the Dreamers had a visceral effect on him. “I wanted to provide an opportunity for Dreamers to share their stories through music,” says Daversa. “You don’t need polemics or a bullhorn to make yourself heard. The young people I worked with are just amazing, and I want this project to reach a wide audience, so that others could be touched, as I have, by their abundant courage and hope.” 

Daversa and his production team, led by Kabir Sehgal and Doug Davis, worked with several non-profit immigrant organizations to scour the country to find Dreamers who could play musical instruments and would be willing to participate in the project. They found 53 Dreamers in 17 states who fit the bill. The Dreamers originally come from 17 different countries all across the world, including Belize, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Honduras, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, Peru, Philippines, Senegal, Singapore, South Korea, Sweden, and Venezuela. Daversa and the team also selected professional musicians based in Miami, Los Angeles and New York to serve as the big band on this record. They chose both well-known songs, like “Living in America” and lesser-known ones like ‘Deportee (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos).” 

Daversa is a top-notch arranger who writes intricate and demanding big band charts. Finding music students and nonprofessional musicians who could play his arrangements was one of the biggest challenges of the project. The team started discussions about the CD in November of 2017, and by the time the first recording sessions at the Frost School began in March 2018, they had found fourteen Dreamers who played a range of instruments, from the violin and flute to piano and percussion. The Dreamers’ contributions are woven throughout this recording. They performed featured solos, instrumental accompaniments, spoken word poetry, string swells, multi-layered percussion grooves, lead vocals, shout choruses, and electrifying raps. Their musical performances are rich and diverse. Each of the tunes begins with a narration by a Dreamer. 

They found their first Dreamer through a story in the New York Times. The CD opens with a personal reflection by SALVADOR, a clarinetist majoring in music at Indiana University, and then launches into “Living In America.” Salvador joined Daversa’s big band in laying down each track for the CD. The piece culminates with an Afro-Caribbean groove in which Dreamers sing “I live in America” in English, Spanish, Haitian Creole, and Urdu with JULIE, a Dreamer in Los Angeles, riffing in Korean. The next tune, “Don’t Fence Me In,” opens with a narrative by SABA, a singer, pianist, who speaks five languages and is PhD candidate in mathematical biology at Texas Tech University. She was brought to America at age eleven from Pakistan. Japanese-Americans, who were sent to internment camps in the 1940s, sang this song to provoke their American captors. In a nod to the historical use of the tune, the Dreamers sing in Japanese “Don’t take away our dreams.”  

CALIPH, a Dreamer who came here at the age of seven from Senegal, earned a university scholarship but couldn’t attend because of his immigration status. His spoken improvisations on “Immigrant Song” get increasingly more pointed. At the beginning of “Deportee,” DAISY relates that she came to this country with her family when she was just 9 years old to seek medical help for her sister. The song is a heart-wrenching testament about the plane crash in California in 1948 that was carrying migrant workers. DENZEL, a trombonist who was brought to this country from Singapore at age 5, relates that he wanted to join the US armed services, but he couldn’t because of his immigration status. He introduces us to “Stars and Stripes Forever.”  

JUAN CARLOS is a Dreamer from Mexico who came here at age eight. He is a self-taught organ player and his story introduces “America the Beautiful.” ALICIA, a young Dreamer from Venezuela, speaks about how drumming has been an anodyne for the anxiety she experiences because of her immigration status. Her story introduces “America” from West Side Story. It is an all-percussion track on which over a dozen Dreamers worked with professional musician MURPH AUCAMP to generate the many layers of rhythm. 

MARIA loves the flute and jazz. You can hear the joy in her voice as she introduces the original composition “All is One.” It’s a feel-good, hopeful track that features a soaring solo on the Electronic Valve Instrument by Daversa. EDSON is a poet who was brought here from Mexico when he was eight years old. His gripping spoken word poem opens the piece “Red, White, and Remixed,” which is a creation of JAMES, a Dreamer who mashed together several tracks on the album. As the final track on this record, it presents a hopeful glimmer of the future: America’s music and people will increasingly come together.  

Jazz is perhaps the greatest, intrinsically American art form and one of America's most important cultural exports. Jazz has been the music of freedom and protest, so it is eminently fitting as a vehicle for Dreamers to express their predicament. Putting aside the politics and partisanship of the current debate, all of us can enjoy the songs of our nation. Perhaps this album can inspire us to focus more on what unites rather than divides us.