by Isabel Vazquez, age 8
Originally from California, composer/drummer ROLAND VAZQUEZ decided to become a musician at a performance by the Mongo Santamaria Band in 1963. Soon after high school, he began working as a drummer with R&B and rock bands in and around L.A. He began the study of music at Pasadena City College and, while working mostly with touring R&B bands, he eventually completed his Bachelor of Music at Westminster College in Utah ( 75). Back in LA, he began composing for his first jazz fusion band - eventually forming the "Urban Ensemble" ( 76). As a member of Clare Fischer's all-star band "Salsa Picante" ( 78-81), he played on that group s Grammy winning "Salsa Picante 2+2."
After receiving an NEA Jazz Performance Grant in 1977, he decided it was time to record; his first international release, "Urban Ensemble: The Music of Roland Vazquez" (Arista/GRP 79) was called "a decade ahead of its time" by Billboard Magazine. After moving to NYC in 1981, he continued to develop his "funky-salsa-bebop" style with unique compositions for octet, quintet, and big band. Many of these works are featured on his subsequent recordings "Feel Your Dream" ('82); "The Tides of Time" ('88); and "No Separate Love" ('91). These albums, as well as "Best of the L.A. Jazz Ensemble" ( 94) - a compilation from 1977 "Urban Ensemble" sessions - collectively feature performances by a veritable "who's who" of East and West Coast contemporary jazz artists.
While living and working in NYC, he was invited to attend Manhattan School of Music on a merit scholarship and received his Master of Music in 85. Later, as a member of the Manhattan School of Music Jazz Faculty ( 88- 98), he taught Jazz Combos - and initiated a Latin Jazz Big Band in 97. Vazquez' '97 Quintet CD, "Further Dance" was possibly the first audiophile 20 bit "live to 2-track" Jazz CD; recorded by Todd Whitelock (Sony Classical) and co-produced with Shirley Walker (film-composer). "Further Dance" was called "a brilliant document" by jazz-writer Bill Milkowski (Audio).
Roland 's compositions began to evolve away from commercial/jazz fusion formats and more towards chamber music during the early 90 s; most notably his "Piano Analogies"; and then "Further Dance" & "The Blue Field" (commissioned by Christopher Lamb/ Principal percussionist of the NY Phil.). In 1999, The Illinois Philharmonic (Carmon De Leone, conductor) commissioned and premiered (2000) his "Ghost in the Mountain" (for string quartet & orchestra): a symphonic reflection on the life of Emiliano Zapata, peasant hero of the Mexican Revolution of 1910.
In Fall of 2000, he and his wife (composer/performer/educator Susan Botti) accepted positions at the University of Michigan. While a Lecturer there ('00-'05), Roland taught Jazz Composition; established the first University of Michigan Latin Jazz Ensemble; and developed a new course for the American Culture wing of Ethnic Studies: "Intro to Latin Music"- a historical perspective of the music of the Afro Latin diaspora. In early 2003, he received a "Creative Artist" Grant from Michigan Council for the Arts to write & perform his Afro Latin Jazz suite "Music for Percussion Quartet & 3 Jazz Players."
During '05-'06, Roland and his family lived at the American Academy in Rome. Susan had won the Rome Prize in Music Composition - and Roland was in residence at the Academy as a Visiting Artist. During that year, he composed nine new works for Quintet & Sextet, toured with Roman composer/pianist Riccardo Fassi, and also performed with visiting US artists.
In 2007, Roland' s family moved back to New York. He released "Quintet Live" - a compilation of '97 concert performances by his "Further Dance" Quintet. Roland (as percussion soloist) & Susan performed her "Jabberwocky" at the Disney Center in Los Angeles as part of the LA Philharmonic' s "Green Umbrella" series.
In '08 & '09, the new Roland Vazquez Quintet (featuring Joel Frahm (saxes), Luis Perdomo (piano), Samuel Torres (percussion), & Hans Glawischnig (bass guitar)) appeared in concert around NY & premiered his recent compositions. Roland was also featured during that period as clinician/performer in residencies at the Eastman School of Music, Berklee School of Music, Ohio University, Montclair State, and University of Cincinnati Conservatory.
In July '09, Roland received a Recording Grant from the Aaron Copland Fund for Music, Inc - to record six of his original scores & "Guarabe" by his inspirational mentor, Clare Fischer. That album "The Visitor" (RVD7007) was released June 29, 2010 - and is receiving very positive response from media.