We in Denver are so lucky to have Gonzalo Teppa here. Here’s a man who had a successful career in Venezuela playing for the Symphony Orchestra of the State of Lara and for the Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra. He had a friend at University of Colorado at Boulder who pretty much nagged him into submitting some music and ended up getting him invited to attend. Being young and single, Gonzalo figured he’d give it a try. He finished the University’s requirements for a bachelor’s degree in classical music under Paul Erhard and went on to earn his Master’s Degree in Jazz Studies and Bass Performance with Professor Mark Simon. Note the dichotomy here—he’s deep into both classical and jazz.
In 2007, he returned to his homeland and resumed playing with the Simon Bolivar Orchestra, traveling to Columbia and Brazil in his time with them. During these years, he met his wife and had two children. As you may know, things got pretty tough in Venezuela and Gonzalo and his family made a painful decision to uproot and come to the United States. Well, where else would he choose but back to Colorado!?
Teppa is a musician who is inseparable from his music. His music comes from his soul. More on that later. In Venezuela, his musician father would host jam sessions in his home. Gonzalo remembers wanting to be a part of that music from toddlerhood, when he would put stones in a matchbox to shake and join the fun. His attempts at that age were not appreciated, but it didn’t take long for him to step right in. He began with singing with a choir and soloed on television in front of a band. He studied cuatro, his father’s primary instrument, then piano and organ, drums, guitar. His father also had a stand-up bass and Gonzalo, again at an early age, would sneak in, hoping not to get caught by Dad, get up on a chair, and work on the bass as well.
At some point, father pointed out to this multi-talented young man that he really should pick an instrument and stick with it for he’d never be excellent at all of them. Gonzalo picked the bass. Another choice he had to make was about his other, non-music related talent. Not many people know that Gonzalo was also a Second Degree Black Belt in Karate. He had taken first place in the combat division in the Panamerican Games in Costa Rica. Well, luckily for us he decided not to open his own karate studio but to focus on music. He feels, though, that he gained a lot of mental control from his karate which he has applied to his music.
A couple of paragraphs ago, I mentioned Teppa’s music and his soul. I want to explore that a bit more. Let’s go to 2014, when he and his wife and kids have left their lives, their extended families, their friends, and beautiful Venezuela, and he is here in Denver struggling to get a foothold in music that will pay the bills. He had to take all kinds of gigs, plenty of which were less than desirable. I asked him how he could bear this. He said he always tries to find something to love in all kinds of music. He would improvise to improve the lesser stuff. Well, today, he has the freedom to play his soul, and he certainly does!
His many Downbeat awards and a Pathways to Jazz grant give him that license. He has just released an album in which he expresses everything about his migration—the loss of hope in Venezuela, the painful decision, the fear and ambivalence going through the airport process, the loss he feels for his Venezuelan home, and more. Each tune on the album deals with a different aspect of these experiences. The title tune, Away from Home, is particularly evocative.
When Gonzalo plays his bass, he feels he becomes one with the bass, giving life to the bass and getting life back from it in return. The way he moves with the bass is almost erotic.
Teppa has recorded 6 albums, most in Venezuela. A search revealed Sinergia (2014) available on CD Baby and Amazon; CONtrabajos de Aldemaro (2008) on CD Baby, Amazon, and Spotify; Away from Home (2019) on CD Baby and Spotify.
Teppa clearly appreciates the jazz scene here in Denver. While he teaches classical at the University of Wyoming, he’s playing jazz all over the front range. He is in a group called Flex with Art Lande and Dru Heller and feels you can’t find better musicians anywhere. His own quintet, with whom he recorded Away from Home, includes Andrew Wheelock, Alex Heffron, Greg Harris, and Ike Spivak. Teppa has been asked to go to New York, where he clearly could be successful but finds everything he wants musically here in Denver!
We can love his choices: Bass above all other instruments, music above karate, Denver above Venezuela. Lucky us!
Photos by MaryLynn Gillaspie