The recording also includes Simon’s Latino Soy, a three-movement piece commissioned by Chamber Music America’s New Jazz Works premiered at The Bowes Center in San Francisco, CA, in March 2022.
Beginning with his first trio album in 1994, Simon, a performer, composer, and arranger, has built his career around a distinct repertoire of original compositions and imaginative, jazz-informed instrumental arrangements of pieces from the Great Latin American Songbook.
He hears Femeninas as “a continuation” of Latin American Songbook, a 2016 trio album. “The idea behind that album was to take songs from various parts of Latin America, arrange them for piano trio and give them a jazz treatment,” he explains.” The concept here is similar, and my goals are the same: bring this music into a new light, a new perspective, to an American audience, and when I say American, I mean all the Americas. But here, the idea is that these are all compositions written by women.”
This project is an outgrowth of a week’s residency by Simon and Herrera at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, funded by a grant from the South Arts Jazz Road Creative Residencies. But what provided the impetus, the voice, and the partner for Femeninas was a collaboration with Herrera in 2017 on a tribute to the late Argentine singer Mercedes Sosa, an iconic voice in Latin American folk music. “After that concert, I was inspired to do more with songs sung and work more with Magos,” says Simon. ” So, I thought to have her as a special guest with my trio and include a percussionist to give the project a song-focused direction.”
In turn, for Herrera, Simon was “a find.” “I’ve been exploring setting my voice in different contexts, diving into chamber music and orchestral pieces,” says Herrera. “Discovering a jazz pianist of such elegance and artistry to navigate around a voice, especially with this repertoire, was a find. It was beautiful to hear and to sing with it.” When Simon called, Herrera didn’t hesitate.
“When he told me about the narrative, I said ‘Yes!’ because of the narrative and as a UN women’s spokesperson and a woman in jazz. It’s Edward’s album, but he wanted me to be part of the construction of the narrative at a deep level. So, I suggested a long list of songs and women composers, and we went from there.”
The selected program includes classics such as “Gracias a la Vida” and “La Flor de la Canela,” but also hidden jewels such as Georgina Hassan’s “Tierra Movida” or Rosa Passos’s “Dunas.” Herrera, who in Femeninas sings in Spanish, English, and Portuguese, also contributes lyrics to one of Simon’s original compositions in Latino Soy. For the trilogy, “the stars aligned in a certain way,” says Simon, “because around the time I was writing the proposal for the Creative Residencies program, I also wrote a proposal for this piece. When both were approved, we decided to join the two projects.”
The pieces in Latino Soy include “Naked Sky,” a fast bolero with English lyrics by Herrera, and “Bulería,” which, Simon notes, “addresses how much the music of Spain has been influential in the music of the Americas. It’s something that became more and more evident as I learned more about our music.” The song takes its name and basic pulse from the bulería, a palo or genre within flamenco. But the trio blurs the lines between the Spanish and American elements in the performance, fittingly anchored by the cajón, a Peruvian instrument adopted by flamenco musicians in the 1980s.
The third piece in Latino Soy, “Mujer Remolino,” began to take shape after a conversation between Simon and Herrera. “Magos told me about this famous chamana (female shaman) in Mexico named Maria Sabina,” he recalled. “We have such a strong tradition for those healers in Latin America. In Venezuela, we would seek their help – we called them brujas (witches) – to solve personal problems, health issues, and all sorts of things, so I decided to dedicate a song to Maria Sabina. One of the many names she would go by was Mujer Remolino(Whirlwind Woman). And when Magos showed me a beautiful book about Maria Sabina containing some of what she would say during her healing sessions, I decided to include some of it as the spoken words of the song.”
Each in her own way, every one of these songwriters is or has been a Mujer Remolino, muses Simon, “So, it made sense to us to connect these projects. The female energy is present throughout this whole recording for sure,” he says emphatically before breaking into a chuckle. “One way or another.”
A native of Punta Cardón, Venezuela, Edward Simon has made a name for himself over decades in America as a jazz improviser, composer-arranger and band leader, with his profile heightening in recent years as he has explored the commonalities jazz can have with the folkloric sounds of Latin America. JazzTimes summed up his impact this way: “Simon is less talked about than many other important jazz pianists from the Caribbean and South America, but he may be the most complete creative artist among them.”
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Based in the San Francisco Bay Area, as a member of the all-star SFJAZZ Collective, he has been a Guggenheim Fellow along with being awarded multiple composition grants as part of the Chamber Music America’s New Jazz Works initiative. Simon, a Yamaha artist, has recorded 16 albums as a leader or co-leader; his latest is Solo Live, released via Ridgeway Records in October 2021. This follows Simon’s 2020 album 25 Years and his 2016 album Latin American Songbook, with the four-and-a-half-star DownBeat review praising its “grand and sophisticated” sound. Latin American Songbook also won Simon an NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Jazz Album. The New York Times has praised Simon’s “light, warm touch” as a pianist, while Jazz Journal International singled out “his deep emotional statements” as a composer and improviser. Simon is a 2021 recipient of Chamber Music America’s New Jazz Works and South Arts Jazz Road Creative Residencies awards.
Femeninas: Songs of Latin American Women
“Feminina” by Joyce Moreno (Brazil)
“Décimas” by Elizabeth Morris (Chile)
“La Flor de la Canela” (The Cinnamon Flower) by Chabuca Granda (Perú)
“Gracias a la vida” (Here’s to Life) by Violeta Parra (Chile)
“Palabras” by Marta Valdés (Cuba)
“Dunas” Music by Rosa Passos (Brazil) lyrics by Fernando de Oliveira (Brazil)
“Tierra movida” by Georgina Hassan (Argentina)
“Hacia donde” by Marta Valdés (Cuba)
Latino Soy by Edward Simon
“Mujer Remolino” (dedicada a Maria Sabina)
“Naked Sky” Lyrics by Magos Herrera
Edward Simon, piano, arrangements, and composition
Adam Cruz, drums
Reuben Rogers, bass
Magos Herrera, vocals
Luis Quintero, percussion
Romero Lubambo, guitar on “Dunas” and “Feminina”
The three-movement piece Latino Soy, comprising “Naked Sky,” “Mujer Remolino,” and “Bulería,” was made possible with support from Chamber Music America’s New Jazz Works program funded through the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation.
The Edward Simon Group residency at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music was supported by a grant from the South Arts Jazz Road Creative Residencies, a national initiative of South Arts funded by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation with additional support from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.