Saturday, February 23, 2013

Framingham's Modern Jazz Legacy

Did you know that Framingham was home to a world-famous jazz musician and composer, who is considered one of the pioneers of microtonal theory and composition? And that he had a son who grew up in town who has become a renowned jazz musician and composer as well? And finally, that a current Framingham resident is one of the leading percussionists in Latin jazz?

Joe Maneri, at left, who died in 2009, was a working musician on saxophone and clarinet since his teen years. In 1970 he began teaching at the New England Conservatory of Music, where he led one of the few microtonal composition courses offered in the United States. Over his long career he released nineteen albums, and was considered one of the jazz avant-garde, an improviser sometimes compared to Sun Ra and Ornette Coleman.

Most of his recordings were issued in the 1990s, when he began performing in public more often, after decades of focus on teaching and composition. His music received mainstream exposure when it was featured on the soundtrack of the 2003 film American Splendor.

Joe's son Mat Maneri began studying violin at age five and was playing with his father by the age of seven. He received scholarships to the Walnut Hill School in Natick and the New England Conservatory of Music, and then went on to become a professional jazz musician, specializing in violin and viola. He began releasing records as a leader in 1996 and has taught, performed, and recorded world-wide with many of the leading names in jazz, particularly in avant-garde/free jazz circles. Here's a video of him playing a stunning solo as part of quintet Audible Geometry. Mat currently lives in Brooklyn.

The third member of Framingham's modern jazz legacy is Eguie Castrillo. A master percussionist in the Latin jazz tradition, Castrillo teaches at Berkelee School of Music in Boston and leads a 17-piece big band. He tours with Arturo Sandoval's band, and has also performed with Latin legends like Tito Puente, Ruben Blades, and Paquito D'Rivera. Castrillo began playing the timbales, a type of drum with a metal casing that originated in Cuba, as a child in Puerto Rico, and later mastered other drum types, including congas, bongos, and the bata. I met Castrillo years ago when he was playing timbales with a small Latin band at a house party of a musician friend, and while his playing knocked me out, I had no idea of his fame. Check out this rousing performance in one of his tributes to the Mambo Kings, and see if you can keep yourself from moving to this deep, grooving, beat.

So the next time you want to tell a friend or family member something about Framingham they probably don't know, mention these jazz legends.