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SASSY Award finalist Lucia Gutiérrez Rebolloso on her unique path to jazz

Lucia Gutiérrez Rebolloso
c/o the artist
Lucia Gutiérrez Rebolloso

For the last five weeks, WBGO’s Gary Walker has been interviewing the five finalists for The Sarah Vaughan International Jazz Vocal Competition: Allan Harris, Kristin Lash, Ekep Nkwelle, Lucía Gutiérrez Rebolloso and Lucy Yeghiazaryan. For the final interview this week, Gary spoke with Rebolloso, a 21-year-old vocalist, born and raised in Veracruz, Mexico. She grew up singing in the family's group, singing son jarocho, a blend of Spanish, African and indigenous Mexican influences—a style that originated on the Gulf Coast of Mexico. “It was a natural introduction to the many influences in jazz, with a strong reminder that at the center is a story to tell,” Gary says. “Lucia's life story is one that will serve her well in jazz for years to come.”

Watch their conversation here:

Lucia Gutiérrez Rebolloso with Gary Walker

Interview highlights:

Gary Walker: The world of jazz, or the world of music I should say for you, started at a very early age, didn't it?

Lucia Gutiérrez Rebolloso: Yes, I started in a very organic way because my family is a family of musicians, who play the son jarocho, which is traditional music from our region in Veracruz. I started as a child just by being there in the ambience of the music. Then it just became very natural to me. When I was two, I started singing with my parents on their shows because they took me on the road and I had to do something. So I was on the stage and singing a little bit, dancing a little bit.

Then when I turned six, I knew that music was my path and that I wanted to do it in a more organized way and actually go to school for it. I started with piano lessons and then when I was 13, I started my official jazz journey at the Universidad Veracruzana, the university from my state. They have a very good jazz program. I studied there eight years and just graduated like a month ago.

For those folks that are unfamiliar with the term son jarocho, it is a 300-year-old tradition that combines the music of that part of Mexico and also Africa, and also Spanish tradition as well.

Lucia is just 21 years old but she's already been in the movies, folks, because a couple of years ago there was a movie released called Fandango at the Wall. It was based upon a visit that the legendary Arturo O’Farrill made to your part of the world. There he encountered son jarocho and was impressed enough to do a film about it.

Exactly, yes. It was a very beautiful experience. Son jarocho is kind of like a really big family over here and they put every kind of family that's in the tradition. Like my family and some other families of musicians that have a lot of generations that are currently searching for their musical path. They [O’Farrill and his musicians] came here and we had a very nice time getting to know each other musically. It's a very special film that I'm very happy and honored to be in.

With the world of son jarocho and all the different world influences that come into play, your first exposure to music traveling with your parents, how does that kind of influence affect your interpretation as a jazz singer?

That’s an interesting question because I feel like son jarocho and jazz have a lot in common. Harmony wise it's different because son jarocho has a very simple structure in terms of chord progressions. It's only triads major, minor, maybe diminished. But rhythmically, it has a lot in common. The syncopation. It's a very rhythmic music. Also the dynamic of it is very similar. In jazz we have, for example, the jam sessions, right? Where you just get together with a group of musicians and you make music and interplay and you're open to everything that can happen and you have to react to it.

In son jarocho that happens as well. We have, I would call it, a party which is called the Fandango. That's why the name of the movie that we just mentioned is Fandango at the Wall. The Fandango is the moment where you gather, you bring food, there's a lot to drink, a lot to eat, and you just bring your instrument or your shoes for dancing and you just start to hop on into whatever they do. You have to, as It happens as well with jazz, to have to interplay. You just have to react. Maybe they play something that you don't know, but because you know the rhythm and you know the vibe to the music, you can hop in even if you don't know the tune. That also can happen in jazz, right? Like you can solo over because you have a feel to the structure and you know the swing feel or whatever you're playing. And you can just improvise. It's the moment and that's what makes it very magical. So that happens as well in son jarocho.

There are a lot of other things that I find that are similar or actually the same. When I started with jazz, at first I was confused because it was a lot of theory because I went to school for it. I know that not everybody's process with jazz is the same, but for me it started with harmony classes and I was confused. But at some point I started noticing that it was a very similar dynamic and it just started feeling a little bit more natural. I had the organic process when I started with son jarocho because it was just something that was going on in my house and in my life. It happened in a similar way with jazz and I started to feel a little bit more familiar to it at some point.

And it provides a freedom. When I hear you talking about Fandango and son jarocho, I hear you talking about the freedom. As you describe son jarocho where you grew up, you'd be right at home at a jam session or even a rent party in Harlem.

Exactly. It has a lot in common. And that's what makes me feel very close to jazz, and that's why when I sing jazz, I just feel something inside here. I cannot describe it and it's the same feeling that I get when I sing son jarocho. It's just like energy and I feel it in my body. I don't know how to describe it, but I feel like that's why those two genres are the two that are the most important to me and the ones that I plan to study for the rest of my life.

In jazz radio, great announcers are distinguished by their ability to convey the spontaneity and passion of the music. Gary Walker is such an announcer, and his enthusiasm for this music greets WBGO listeners every morning. This winner of the 1996 Gavin Magazine Jazz Radio Personality of the Year award has hosts the morning show each weekday from 6:00am -12:00pm. And, by his own admission, he's truly having a great time.