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Speaking Jazz

David Virelles photos. Credit: Vincent Oshen
David Virelles photos. Credit: Vincent Oshin

Many people erroneously think they don’t understand jazz, unaware that jazz isn’t meant to be understood. It is meant to be “felt”, if we can only get ourselves to listen.

German writer Martin Walser said once, that “it is easier to judge a man based on what he leaves unsaid, rather than on what he talks about”. When I meet a nascent star of the modern New York jazz scene, David Virelles, even the simplest things that he tells me seem engrossing, as every word fills up with an abyss of meanings. It was in those innuendos that it became clear: he was squeezing his world into jazz.

Raised in a musical family on the island of Cuba, where everything breathes with rhythm, David Virelles was already sketching his future musical career and life in New York, where everything breathes with jazz. An early passion for an old piano at his home in Cuba inspired him to embark on the journey of self-exploration. Having first moved to Toronto and then to New York, David still preserved his roots in the inimitable rhythm of his music. Integrating the loud colors of Havana, he reinvented jazz.

Having recently released his new album “Antenna”, Virelles is now on a tour in Europe. We meet at Yaroslavl Jazz Festival during his first visit to Russia, the land whose cultural tradition, whether it’s the ballet, music or visual arts, has influenced him a lot. Brought up in the house where his aunt would tell him stories of the years she spent studying at the Moscow Conservatory, Virelles grew up with a great respect for it, dreaming that one day he’d walk the corridors of the Conservatory himself.

Remembering the greatest Russians who influenced him most, he names Scriabin, Rachmaninov and Shostakovich. In this trio, it was Scriabin, from the earlier to the later period, that has left the deepest impact on him. Vladimir Horowitz’s interpretations of Scriabin are particularly dear to him. This Russian is the pianist Virelles appreciates most and aspires to become one day, although he himself never had it in him to be a classical pianist who, like a machine, slaves away polishing every note.

Free-spirited just like his music, David Virelles prefers spontaneous composition that is created in real life. That would also explain why, when I throw out an idea of him composing an album to address the problem of the growing tensions between Russia and the West, he smiles at me and says he cannot see himself writing music on request. Speaking the language of jazz, that from the 1920s was the language of freedom, Virelles insists that the language he’d like to spread is that of the freedom from negativity.

Young and admirably ambitious, he feels he still hasn’t reached an artistic fulfillment. There have been steps and landmarks, but nothing worth calling an achievement yet. “The future is hard to know”, he tells me, reassuring that he will keep growing as a person and a musician for the sake of all his listeners, hungry to see what he is capable of.

As jazz is constantly evolving, assuming new cultures, new genres in itself, Virelles is hoping to colour it with more nuances and accents that he absorbs in his travels. Everything influences and inspires the music he is making; external circumstances of life contribute to the formation of his own unique style. But in this cacophony one thing remains the same: music is the universal language to all the people, and David Virelles has a universal message to everyone who comes to his concerts and buys his CDs – and that is: the world needs more love and happiness. “I hope to bring more positivity in the life of others. My music is not just for a group of people, it’s for everyone”.

Tired of the cacophony of words, Goethe would say “Let us draw, instead of talk”. Now, after I heard him live, I’d say, “Let him play and let us listen”. That’s where the magic lives: not in the obvious words, but in those innuendos between our heartbeats and the unsolvable enigma of his music.

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