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Edsel Gomez
Edsel Gomez

Today, we have the privilege of speaking with jazz pianist and composer Edsel Gomez, whose remarkable career seamlessly weaves together his Puerto Rican heritage with global influences. From his salsa roots in Puerto Rico to his formal training at Berklee College of Music, Gomez’s journey is a testament to his insatiable curiosity and dedication to his craft.

Gomez’s musical evolution led him to a transformative decade in Sao Paulo, Brazil, infusing his style with captivating Latin rhythms. Settling in New York City for over two decades, he has thrived in its vibrant arts scene, collaborating with icons like Dee Dee Bridgewater, Don Byron, and more, both as a solo artist and with his ensemble, the Edsel Gomez Triumvirate.

Notably, Gomez’s Grammy nomination for “Cubist Music” and contributions to Grammy-winning albums showcase his profound impact on the industry. His compositions are a tapestry woven from cultures around the world, drawing inspiration from places like Brazil, India, and Mali, reflecting his belief in music’s power to bridge divides.

Gomez’s journey extends beyond the stage, as he is deeply committed to music education and service. His insights into the evolving jazz landscape and his philosophy of unity through music promise to provide a captivating and enlightening conversation. Stay tuned as we explore the life and melodies that define Edsel Gomez.

Charles Carlini: Your music often reflects a unique blend of jazz and Latin elements. How did your cultural background and experiences shape this distinctive musical fusion?

Edsel Gomez: My music and life are deeply molded by my cultural roots. These roots have played an influential role in both my conscious and subconscious decisions, as life’s encounters become internalized. Growing up in Puerto Rico, where I was born and raised, and beginning my musical journey at a young age with salsa bands featuring renowned figures like Marvin Santiago and Roberto Rohena, I was fully immersed in that vibrant world during my early years on the island.

Upon completing high school, I embarked on a transformative journey, moving to Boston at the age of 17 with only rudimentary English skills. This marked a significant shift, as the cultural foundation I had established in Puerto Rico started to blend with novel learning experiences. The process continued after college when I relocated to Brazil, allowing my cultural repertoire to further evolve.

This confluence of diverse influences marked the genesis of my identity, shaping me into the inquisitive musician I am today. Throughout the years, I’ve maintained an unwavering commitment to musical exploration, continually seeking new avenues for growth and understanding. This journey remains ongoing, as I strive to learn and absorb as much as possible, always with a genuine dedication to serving the art of music.

CC: Collaboration has been a cornerstone of your career, having worked with artists across various genres. How do these collaborations influence your artistic evolution, and could you share a particularly memorable musical partnership?

EG: To me, it’s a blessing! Living in a perpetual state of gratitude for the myriad of musical opportunities. I’ve been fortunate to encounter, connecting with countless remarkable souls through the universal language of music. Each collaborative musical endeavor holds a special place in my heart, etched in my memory. The lengthier collaborations, naturally, have left the deepest impact. Take, for instance, the transformative experience of working alongside Dee Dee Bridgewater. Together, we embarked on an extraordinary journey that bore fruit in the Grammy-winning album Eleanor Fagan, To Billy with Love, an achievement that stands out. Yet, it’s the Grammy-nominated masterpiece Red Earth, A Malian Journey that has indelibly marked my artistic trajectory through our collaborations.

This project, recorded in Bamako, Mali, and Paris, spanned over three years of globetrotting after its creation. The remarkable souls who contributed to this endeavor transcended mere collaborators; they became my extended family. When I faced the loss of my father while on tour, they rallied around me during my time of need, underscoring the profound bonds we had forged. This ensemble of African musicians, with whom language was initially a barrier, spurred me to master French for effective communication. In a symbolic gesture, they bestowed upon me the name Sidiki Kouyate, where “Sidiki” signifies “warrior” and “Kouyate” pays homage to the esteemed lineage responsible for safeguarding history, music, and crafting musical instruments—the Griots. This bestowed honor resonated deeply with me. The venerable Malian figure Sheik Tidiene Seck is the one who christened me with this name. Another respected Griot, Kaabine Kouyate, named me Djeli Sory Kouyate.

This artistic odyssey forged unbreakable bonds with my brothers-in-music—Baba Sissoko, Moussa Sissoko, Lansine Kouyate, Mamani Keita, Fatoumata Diawara, Ira Coleman, and Minino Garay—culminating in a sense of familial unity that extended beyond borders. Alongside Dee Dee and me, we became a close-knit family. Notable collaborations with luminaries like Jack DeJohnette and Don Byron also left an indelible imprint on my creative path. And not to be overlooked are my numerous collaborative endeavors in Brazil, featuring talents like Arismar do Espírito Santo and Raul de Souza, among a myriad of others—each leaving an indelible mark on my artistic journey.

So much to be grateful for!

CC: Jazz has evolved significantly over the years while preserving its core essence. How do you perceive the current state of jazz, and what directions do you foresee it taking in the future?

EG: I don’t hold a fixed perception of the “current state of Jazz.” I am focused on developing my music, delving inward to seek enhancement in all aspects of my life. This mindset operates without a predetermined ceiling. As for the future of Jazz, it unfolds in the present moment, unscripted and unforeseeable.

CC: Your compositions seem to carry a certain depth and emotion. Can you walk us through your creative process? How do you translate your feelings or concepts into musical pieces?

EG: Music is a language of communication, very much like verbal communication. The deeper my understanding of this, the more effectively I can convey my ideas. I believe that emotions can organically find expression through music. This implies that both composition and improvisation serve as vehicles for authentic emotional communication.

My creative process is, in its essence, a form of creativity. Inspiration springs from various sources, encompassing the fluctuations of everyday life. Every sound and sentiment can potentially become a wellspring of inspiration, as they contribute to my sense of gratitude and perception.

In all aspects of my life, faith plays a pivotal role, exerting a significant influence.

CC: The world has faced unprecedented challenges recently, with music playing a role in healing and connecting people. How do you believe the role of a musician has transformed, and what do you hope listeners take away from your performances in these trying times?

EG: In essence, I believe that the musician’s role is rooted in the modest artistry of crafting music as a gift to humanity. It’s about forging connections, celebrating joy and love, and expressing all emotions in a spirit of gratitude—ultimately, to bring happiness, elevate spirits, and provide solace.

This fundamental role remains constant, much like the unwavering function of the heart, tirelessly pumping life through our veins despite any adversities we confront. When I perform, I do so from the depths of my heart, with the intention of conveying authenticity in my role as a musician. My aspiration is for people to sense this honesty and to absorb the energy radiated by the music.

CC: You have an upcoming performance at Zinc on Tuesday, August 8. How do you prepare for live performances, and what can the audience expect from this particular show?

EG: I am always preparing, always searching to learn, and always ready for my service as a musician.

This upcoming performance holds profound significance as it coincides with the eve of my birthday, my wife’s birthday, and our wedding anniversary. It promises to be an extraordinary musical celebration, featuring a collaboration with my ensemble, the Triumvirate. This trio is a fusion of talents, uniting two icons of Afro-Caribbean Jazz and mainstream Latin music—Bassist Ruben Rodriguez and Drummer Robby Ammen. Together, we delve into my compositions and arrangements, which encompass a rich array of influences spanning from Puerto Rico to Brazil, India to Mali, Korea to the Philippines, and Cuba, among countless others.

Anticipate the presence of surprise guest performers, and perhaps even my wife, singer/dancer Eileen Sison-Gomez, gracing us with a song or two. The audience should prepare to be engulfed in a wave of infectious joy and happiness, while also having the chance to cross paths with unexpected luminaries.

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Edsel Gomez, your insights into the fusion of jazz and Latin music, the dynamics of collaboration, the evolving jazz landscape, your creative journey, and the transformative power of music in our lives have been truly inspiring. We thank you for sharing your time and wisdom, and we eagerly anticipate experiencing more of your soul-stirring compositions in the future. Your contributions to the world of music are immeasurable, and we look forward to witnessing your continued musical journey with great anticipation.

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