It was not until after I listened to pianist Donald Vega's "Nostalgia" that I received an email from his publicist suggesting I read Vega's biography, which tells the story of a young Nicaraguan child whose family was torn apart by civil war and who was also afflicted with a disfiguring medical condition since birth. Eventually he was smuggled into the United States and fought many court battles to remain. His musical talent was noticed and rewarded by the Los Angeles jazz community. They came to his side in his battle to stay in the country as a political refugee. Ultimately the final determination was in the hands of a judge. According to the bio, the judge asked Vega if he liked John Coltrane. Vega answered in the affirmative and was granted asylum! The jazz community went even farther, as philanthropist and jazz fan Helen Bing paid for the necessary operations to ameliorate Vega's disfigurement. Other jazz fans and musicians were also quite generous. Vega found religion and spent time recovering from the many surgeries that were required. He didn't play jazz for a decade. But he rediscovered it in 2004, and earned two Masters Degrees in music. Now he has released his first album. Tell me this story of tragedy, humanity and rebirth wouldn't make a great jazz movie
It turns out I really didn't need to read Vega's biography to know his story. I learned everything about him the first time I listened to "Nostalgia." It's all there in each beautiful note and well-placed accent. The song has true moments of melancholy, retrospection and hope. It is played by three expert musicians who know what evocation is all about. Vega has a special gift for telling a story through music. That can really come in handy when you've led the life he has and you can play the piano the way he does. With any luck the future chapters of his biography will all be about the wonderful music he is bringing to our ears.
I saw drummer Lewis Nash play with pianist Tommy Flanagan one time. He was good. And he has been good with many other great musicians as well. When I saw his name on the credits for pianist Donald Vega's new album Tomorrows
, I jumped to the conclusion that Vega must be good as well, if Nash is playing with him. As fate would have it, Nash opens the album's first cut, "Wake Up!" with a brief drum flourish. It took all of about two seconds after that to determine that Vega was indeed good. Bassist David J. Grossman is good too. Vega's composition is a subtle melody that the band swings aggressively. Vega proves to be quite the soloist and accompanist. Grossman does a lot of walking and doubles-up on some of the accent notes of the tune's head. Nash is given several breaks on which he takes full advantage. The superior material Vega has created must be a treat for musicians of this caliber to tackle. It would be hard to find any progressive jazz piano trio out there these days that could play better than these guys.
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