During this week, people’s ears are tuned into the sounds surrounding Cinco de Mayo. Since KUVO has information on all of that, I thought I’d tell a little story connected to the holiday, local music, and a well-known, area-based musician. Sometime before Covid-19 madness hit the world, I brought friends who were visiting Casa Bonita. While strolling through the restaurant, I passed by the Mariachi band and noticed, to my surprise that holding down the trumpet chair was Greg Gisbert.

I write a lot about the impressive list of trumpet/cornet players connected to modern-day Colorado, with Gisbert (who grew here despite being born in Alabama) at its core. In 1990, Gisbert finished third in the Thelonious Monk Institute’s International Trumpet competition that became the Herbie Hancock competition in 2020.  Twenty-two years later, drummer Colin Stranahan would be the second person with a tie to Denver to finish in the competition’s third spot.

Also, I would spend time in the summer taking college students around Washington, DC and I would run into Greg whether he was playing with the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra or the Mingus Epitaph Orchestra. More recently, you can find him with the Maria Schneider Orchestra, the Dizzy Gillespie All-Star group, the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, and Denver-based groups such as Convergence.

Given all of this, I couldn’t help wonder about Gisbert: Playing with a Mariachi band in a restaurant/wonderland like Casa Bonita? The trumpeter’s answer was more than interesting. He spoke of what he learned from playing the music. It was more than playing a simple excursion into pop sounds, Mexican style. Instead, it was an enjoyable cultural learning experience.

It certainly made me think. And since that time, I have run into other superb jazz players who have expressed a similar sentiment and, in the process, have reminded me that jazz players, at their best, play not only with skill in their tradition but with ears open to what lies beyond the boundaries they know so well.

Jazz Notes 5-5-2021
Norman Provizer

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