Mexico City, Berklee-Style

Jason Camelio
May 31, 2007
A group led by Ilan Bar-lavi plays at Zinco Jazz Club.
Ilan Bar-lavi's group plays at Academia de Musica Fermatta.
Office of International Programs
Office of International Programs

The club is packed and the band on stage is burning. The musical intensity is expressed in the looks exchanged by each player in the quartet as a barrage of rhythms, notes, and chords hits the air. The place is the Zinco Jazz Club in Mexico City. This is the way Berklee student musicians like to spend their spring break.

Thanks to some strong international networking, a group led by Ilan Bar-lavi (guitar) had the opportunity to play a series of gigs in his hometown during the break in March, 2007. His sidemen included Matan Chapnizka (tenor saxophone), Victor Gould (piano), Jeff Fajardo (drum set) and New England Conservatory bass student Haggai Cohen. Co-owner, manager, trumpeter, and Zinco Jazz Club Big Band leader Eugenio Elias made the Zinco Jazz Club performance opportunities possible.

In addition to the performances at the club, Berklee facilitated an event for these students to conduct a concert and master classes at our Berklee International Network (BIN) partner school in Mexico City, Academia de Musica Fermatta. "This was a great experience. We played for about 45 minutes and then the students started to ask questions," Ilan said. "It was a lot of fun answering questions. I think it was the first time for all of us to do a kind of a master class."

The group made a strong impression on the Fermatta students. Their performance and question-and-answer session provided their audience with a dynamic view of the challenges and expectations presented to Berklee students.

"They where really impressed by the way we played," Ilan said. "They asked interesting questions about how we interact with each other, how much we practice, what we practice, what are our musical backgrounds, what is our approach to play music, and all kinds of questions. It was a really great experience and we learned a lot from it."

During the weeklong visit, the quintet had the chance to perform three concerts. "The music was great. We played my music and some standards [and] everybody sounded amazing," Ilan said. "Also, we had three guests [one] night. The first was Eugenio Elias on trumpet, the second was [Warner artist] Ximena Sarinana, and the third was Gerry Lopez—an amazing alto player, everybody in the band loved him. It was an unforgettable night."

Some of the quintet members also sat in with the Zinco Big Band. "Matan and I played a few tunes with the big band," Ilan said. "After the first set of the big band we started a jam session. We [the quintet] played a tune and after that a lot of the jazz musicians in Mexico jammed with us. The place was packed," he added. The Berklee musicians made a lot of friends there.

Even after a long evening of playing, the group, in the true spirit of musicianship, stayed for the after-hours jam session. "We decided to play a little bit," Ilan said. "It was like 4:00 a.m. and the only people in the place were me, Jeff, Victor, Haggai, and the staff of the place. So we started to play a blues, then a Mexican ranchera and boleros, and everybody was singing in Spanish—even Vic, Jeff, and Haggai. It was a lot of fun."

This collaboration of musicians from around the world is a prime example of the opportunities presented to Berklee students and faculty members on a daily basis. There is a potent dynamic of cultural and artistic exchange that is native to the act of talented musicians engaging in their expression of their craft.

"This trip was a really amazing experience for all of us, culturally and musically," Ilan said. "Zinco treated Fermatta and us great, too. The thing I liked best [about] the trip was that the most important thing for all of us, always, was the music. Every night [it] just got better and better."