Five Points Jazz Festival Returns
The Five Points neighborhood is going to have way more than five points of interest on Saturday, May 19, when the Five Points Jazz Festival travels back to its musical roots. If you’ve never been, this is the year to check it out.
Practically overnight, the blocks from 25th Street to 28th Street between California and Glenarm are transformed. The streets are closed to traffic, and ten stages are set up, surrounded by vendors and hordes of dancers. Last year, there were nearly 50,000 people in attendance.
Basically, it’s a party.
You get off the bus mid-morning, and you follow your ears toward the stuttering of the snares coming from a few blocks away. As you get closer, you hear the cheering get louder. You arrive at 26th and Welton to find the parade underway. As you approach, a saxophone player struts by and you join in the crowd singing along to the jazz standard “So what!… So what!”
Later, you find yourself moving back with the rest of the crowd to make room for a swing dancing flash mob performing a choreographed routine. When they’re done, the crowd enthusiastically (if not quite as skillfully) follows suit, stealing some moves from the dancers and making some up as they go along.
Then you wind your way through, a giant cup of lemonade in your hand. You find yourself in a dimly-lit restaurant-made-jazz-club just feet away from a septet of musicians who look so at home with their instruments that just watching them makes you feel comfortable and safe. You wonder how long these same seven people have been playing together. How many times has he picked up those drum sticks, that guitar?
Well, Miguel Espinoza started playing his guitar when he was four years old and found role models in his mother’s flamenco dancer friends. Espinoza—dubbed “El Maestro” in honor of his hard-earned expertise by the Spanish gypsy community—is the leading man in one of the acts scheduled to perform at Coffee at the Point on the 19th.
His flamenco jazz ensemble, featuring Andy Skellenger on tabla and Randy Hoepker on fretless jazz bass, is marked explicitly by their Gypsy jazz influences, but that only grazes the surface of their musical influences and roots.
Espinoza recorded one of his recent albums, Curandero, with banjo player Bela Fleck, and it exhibits an extension of both Espinoza’s flamenco roots as well as Fleck’s bluegrass roots to convene at the jazzy crossroads. Curandero was also recorded with Ty Burhoe on the tabla, an Indian drum, melding yet another ancient style of music into the mix so smoothly that you could make pancakes with it. Espinoza has a deep respect for Indian music.
“I keep Indian styles of music close to me. It’s one of the most advanced musics we have—melodically, rhythmically, and spiritually,” he said.
Spirituality plays an important role in Espinoza’s music, and it’s this universal view of music, so void of possession, that enables him to seamlessly combine musical styles.
“Music is an expression of the heart and the soul, and it doesn’t matter what culture [it comes from]. When I play guitar, I pray, and it’s not about me. I’m a servant to the music; the music is not a servant to me. I learned early on to take my ego out of it.”
Espinoza’s spiritual connection to music is tied to his original home in the Five Points neighborhood, where he grew up around gospel music. He was raised going to Southern Baptist church services and still returns to the Potter’s House Church sometimes “just to cry listening to the choir.” He is deeply moved by the spiritual and emotional heft of gospel music and all the historic weight it carries.
Another of Espinoza’s childhood influences from the Five Points neighborhood is funk music. Espinoza said most of his friends growing up were into the musical style and that there were always students jamming away to funk music in his middle school music room. It formed the basis of his social life, and it still affects his compositional style today.
Music has been a fundamental part of the Five Points neighborhood, and Espinoza is only one of the many people who was instilled with the value of music through growing up there. In fact, Five Points’ music culture took off back in the 1920s, and since then, the neighborhood has hosted such jazz greats as Miles Davis, Duke Ellington, and Thelonious Monk.
It makes sense that there is a reverence to the Five Points music scene that can’t be ignored. The attendees and performers alike are honored to be there, experiencing the confluence of artists sharing their love of music.
On May 19, 2018, you’ll have the chance to see swing, Latin, and New Orleans styles of jazz, along with Espinoza’s and many more styles, all sharing the four blocks dedicated to celebrating the great Five Points jazz culture.