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Grant Stewart: Our Man in Uruguay


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Last week, Grant Stewart sent along a lengthy email from Uruguay, where he was performing at the Punta Del Este International Jazz Festival. I've known Grant for five years—my first liner notes were written for his album Young at Heart (Sharp Nine). When I saw him recently and he told me he was heading down to Uruguay, I asked him to send along an email that I could share with you:

Hi Marc,

I just finished playing the 17th annual Punta Del Este International Jazz Festival tonight [January 9]. This is such a beautiful place with incredibly kind people. Really something else.

This year I played a set with Jesse Davis on alto. It was great to be with him again. It has been a while, and he's sounding better than ever. We were joined by the great David Hazeltine on piano, Nat Reeves on bass and Jason Brown on drums. 

I also played a tribute to Charlie Parker led by Paquito D'Rivera on alto, me on tenor and Jesse Davis on alto, with Terell Stafford on trumpet, Gary Smulyan on baritone, David Hazeltine on piano, Nat Reeves on bass and Jason Brown on drums. Everyone played their asses off!  

There was a trumpet tribute to Clifford Brown with three terrific players: Diego Urcola, Joe Magnarelli [pictured above] and Terell Stafford. They were accompanied by the Mike LeDonne Trio, featuring John Webber on bass and Joe Farnsworth on drums. It was really cooking.  

Magnarelli and Smulyan also did a super tribute to Pepper Adams and Gerry Mulligan, with the Mike LeDonne Trio. Paquito did a set with his quintet with trumpeter Diego Urcola, pianist Alex Brown, bassist Zach Brown and drummer Eric Doob—which was beautiful. “Jazz Meets Classical" was the concept.

Pianist Alex Brown (from New York ) and David Feldman (from Brazil) played tonight with their trios, and both sounded great. Good times after the concerts, with a dinner followed by a jam session.

The festival is put on by Francisco Yobino [pictured above, right], and Paquito D'Rivera is the musical director. It's held each year at Francisco's farm, and over the past 17 years he's had pretty much all the greats out there to play. It's truly amazing that he puts it on each year purely out of his love for jazz. It renews your faith to see people like this!

Francisco's farm is about 15 minutes inland from the stunning coast of Punta Del Este. It's set among rolling hills, forests, horses and free-range jazz saxophonists. It's hot here during the day—in the high 80's or low 90's. In the evening the temperature drops down to the 60's.

It's amazing the number of jazz fans here. I've been playing the festival for the last four years and have gotten to know quite a few of them. Fortunately I learned to speak Spanish years ago and still have it on the old mental hard drive. [Pictured above: Punta Del Este, Uruguay]

The fans in Uruguay are super enthusiastic about the music. There also were a lot of fans and musicians who came over from nearby Argentina, including the great drummer Pipi Piazzolla (grandson of Astor Piazzolla) and many other leading players. It's only a short flight or ferry ride to Buenos Aires from here.

Food-wise, this is one of my favorite places in the world. Argentina is praised for its beef, but Uruguay has fantastic meat as well. Dulce de leche is another sinfully good export. It's funny, when you eat it here in the fresh air, with nature all around you, it actually feels healthy to eat caramel. Mind over matter.

This year I didn't venture into the city of Punta Del Este, but it's considered the Riviera of South America by the jet-set crowd. When you drive by the smallish airport here, you see more private jets than a Criminal Minds marathon. Maybe too obscure a reference, but put simply, there are a lot of business jets.

The festival lasted only five days, but they were very intense days, musically, and the people at the festival here are like family. It's always sad to leave, but hopefully I'll be back soon.

If anyone's looking for a winter vacation next year  this is the place. Beautiful beaches, beautiful people and some really swinging music. Darn good food, too. 

I've got a week back in New York and then I'm off to play with the great trumpet player John Marshall in Switzerland and Austria. It should be a blast, and I'm really looking forward to it.

Gotta say, I'm really grateful that I get to do this for a living. The word “work" came up among the musicians at one point the other day, and immediately a Mark Twain quote came to mind: “What work I have done I have done because it has been play. If it had been work, I shouldn't have done it."

Well, it's 3 a.m.—time for bed. Take care and I hope to see you soon.


Jazzwax note: Here's the site of the Punta Del Este International Jazz Festival. If you want to go next year, start taking a look in the fall.

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This story appears courtesy of JazzWax by Marc Myers.
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