“Music builds community,” reads a side of the marquee at the Freight & Salvage Coffeehouse in Berkeley, California. That sentiment proved especially true on the afternoon, when locally based and international musicians alike gathered for Juntos por Puerto Rico.
The sold-out all-star benefit concert raised approximately $21,500 in ticket sales, with the money going towards ConPRmetidos (conprmeditos.org) and the Center for Popular Democracy (populardemocracy.org). The performance was divided into four parts, and this being the Bay Area, there were plenty of strong political statements to pair with the inspiring music and familial atmosphere.
The Freight & Salvage is a non-profit community arts organization that offers classes and presents concerts. Under the auspices of the Berkeley Society for the Preservation of Traditional Music, its 490-seat Coffeehouse in the city’s Downtown Arts District has hosted the likes of Judy Collins, George Winston and Lisa Fischer.
Conguero and San Francisco native John Santos (who booked Omar Sosa as part of his “RAICES” series at the venue on Oct. 15) was master of ceremonies for the first portion of the program.
“We all know about the level of ignorance and arrogance that we’re fighting. And we all know of the great need that’s going to be going on for a while in Puerto Rico, as well as in other places,” Santos said, with his left arm in a sling as a result of an accident. “But these kinds of acts, as well as raising money … it sends love, and it raises consciousness. It brings us together.”
Percussionists Hector Lugo, Denise Solis, Javier Navarrette and Joao Santos Salazar and vocalists Jo-Annie Seda, Sarita Shah, Zyan Jacka, Zarian Jacka, Shefali Shah, Sandra Garcia Rivera and Avelina Santos Salazar then took to the bandstand to perform a bomba.
Guitarist and vocalist José Roberto Hernandez, who hails from Mexico, joined for the next number, and Santos declared that “Mexico is another place we’re sending our love today.” Pedro Pastrana (cuatro) and Julio Pérez (percussion) also took to the bandstand, and Shefali Shah danced out front.
Pianist Marco Dias, double bassist Saul Sierra and drummer David Flores formed a rhythm section for the remainder of the initial set of music. When introducing his own “So-Called War,” Oakland-based Puerto Rican-American MC Rico Pabón shared that he “… just barely heard from my father on the way here, after three weeks. The relief is partial: I know Papi’s OK … but thinking about the rest of the island and so much pain right now—yet so much hope.”
Following topical discussions by Santos of the national anthem and the then-upcoming Columbus/Indigenous People’s Day, percussionist Louie Romero joined for the closing number, an impassioned interpretation of Pedro Flores’ “Obsesíon.”
Alto saxophonist and San Juan native Miguel Zenón, whom Santos described as “the energy behind making this happen,” took to the stage to introduce a trio of SFJAZZ High School All-Star alumni: Aneesa Strings (double bass, vocals), Courtney Knott (piano) and Ruthie Price (drums).
“I’m truly grateful that this thing came together,” Zenón said, prior to their set. “We’re really just trying to raise attention and consciousness about the situation—not only in Puerto Rico but in the Virgin Islands, St. Thomas, San Juan, St. John … and the most recent disaster in Mexico,” he continued. “We as musicians have music to give.”
While the first portion of the concert was both locally and Puerto Rico-oriented, the second had multiple ties to SFJAZZ on the other side of the Bay: Strings was a surprise—and a standout—the night before at the Christian McBride Big Band concert at the SFJAZZ Center. The musicians dedicated Jobim’s “How Insensitive” to the Commander in Chief; visited “Stormy Monday” for, presumably, reasons both meteorological and political; and closed with the unexpected selection of contemporary singer/songwriter Moses Sumney’s “Quarrel.”
Tabla master Zakir Hussain and saxophonist Joshua Redman had only played together as a duo twice before Oct. 8—both times at the SFJAZZ Center. Berkeley native and current resident Redman pointed out that although his gym is on the same block as the Freight & Salvage, he’d never performed at or even visited the venue before. (He joked that he was always too sweaty, post-workout, to be admitted in.)
For the final of three masterful numbers, Redman started an a cappella call-and-response with Hussain that turned out to be the opening salvo of Sonny Rollins’ “St. Thomas.”
Hours after Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, Zenón contacted musicians and the Freight & Salvage to organize a benefit, he explained. He thought of the well-connected Santos first, and then he looked to his own SFJAZZ Collective brethren: He and his bandmates were in town to rehearse for their performances during the 2017–’18 season, and six others were in attendance.
For the final two pieces, the late trombonist composer and Puerto Rican native Juan Tizol was honored with a one-two punch that started with his “Perdido” and concluded with his calling card, “Caravan.” Zenón was joined by tenor saxophonist (and fellow La Escuela Libre de Musica graduate) David Sánchez; trombonist Robin Eubanks; trumpeter Sean Jones (who also held the second trumpet chair the previous night in McBride’s big band); pianist Edward Simon; drummer Obed Calvaire; and, substituting for Collective member Matt Penman, double bassist Marcus Shelby.
SFJAZZ Director of Education Rebeca Mauleón took over for Simon on “Caravan,” with the septet joined by Hussain, Redman and Romero. Sánchez, Zenón, Jones, Mauleón, Hussain and Calvaire all contributed inspired solos to close out the uplifting afternoon.