Arts & Entertainment

Press Pass: Roberto Fonseca

Robert Fonseca (Photo: Carlos Pericas)
Robert Fonseca (Photo: Carlos Pericas)

Latin jazz pianist Roberto Fonseca was surrounded by music from an early age. His father was a drummer, his mother is a professional singer and his two older brothers are also musicians who are internationally known.

Fonseca, who has been playing the piano since he was eight years old, studied classical music at the prestigious Instituto Superior de Arte in his native Cuba. But his classically-trained, technically-sound musical background doesn’t really matter to him when he’s playing live. “The point for me is not to try to show the skills. I mean, all musicians have skills,” Fonseca said.

“But that doesn’t matter – how much skill you have…I went to the classical music school in Cuba and there I was playing all those classical composers and that was the time that I showed my skill. Now is the time to make mistakes and enjoy jamming with the musicians, jamming with the people. That’s very important. We’re kind of losing that today.”

While speaking with the News-Press, Fonseca was in his hotel room in Chicago ahead of his Wednesday night show at Mayne Stage. It was the first date of his eight-city tour of the United States. He’ll be playing at Blues Alley in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday, Oct. 28, at 8 and 10 p.m.

“I’m really excited. It’s really important for musicians to come to American to play,” Fonseca said.

“Latin jazz is difficult to reach people today because there are many different styles of music that people want to go to. But I’m really excited, really happy to play here because I was dreaming of coming here with my own band and my own music…it’s a dream come true.”

When asked why he thinks jazz has a hard time reaching the people he said it’s partially because of the state of the music industry in general where record companies don’t have money to support new projects. But he said that some of the blame is on jazz musicians, too.

“It’s the musicians’ fault, too. We try to philosophize a lot and we forgot to enjoy the music with people,” Fonseca said. “That’s why people don’t want to go to a concert to see a trumpet or piano player play difficult songs because we are in a really bad moment right now. Everybody has problems – the world is crazy with those wars and everything – so we need to just enjoy music with people.”

This is the first tour in the U.S. that Fonseca has headlined and the second chance he’s getting to expose American audiences to music from his most recent album Yo, which was released in the U.S. on August 23, 2013 by Concord Jazz. He played music from Yo while touring last year as an opener for the Buena Vista Social Club.

Yo is combination of some of Fonseca’s eclectic musical influences – starting with his Afro-Cuban roots and journeying through rock, jazz, Afro-pop, hip-hop, soul and electronica. It was nominated for a Grammy Award in the Best Latin Jazz Album category.

He said it’s his most personal record to date, except for the album he’s working on now that he expects to be finished with in late 2015.

“I think that came natural to me because I’m always trying to be a musician, not just a piano player, Latin jazz piano player or classical jazz piano player,” Fonseca said.

“I was paying attention to all of those different styles that I really care about and then I was trying to discover new styles of music when I was touring with Buena Vista Social Club…and then I incorporated those sounds and put them on the album Yo because that album is the most personal that I’ve done. I tried to put all my musical influences and my musical world on Yo.”

• For more information about Roberto Fonseca, visit robertofonseca.com/en.

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