Over the past six months, I have had the opportunity (privilege!) to get to know a giant in the world of jazz. Since the beginning of this year, Ignacio Berroa’s pathway has weaved through intersections with YouthCUE staff and supporters, and the result has been happy new friendships and the better-than-likely hope that Ignacio will soon be making appearances at YouthCUE festivals and other events.

Ignacio grew up in Castro’s Cuba, making his way to the United States in 1980 on the Mariel Boat Lift at the ripe old age of 26. Arriving with only the clothes on his back and a dream for freedom of musical expression, Ignacio went to work doing many different jobs to support himself and his wife and son back in Cuba. They were scheduled to come meet Ignacio once he got to the U.S., but the Cuban government shut down that dream.

Ignacio had studied drumming, both formally and informally, during his childhood and adolescence in Cuba. Once he arrived in the United States, his obvious talent, along with his impeccable work ethic, became well-known in the professional musical community. He first played with Dizzy Gillespie at a gig (a performance without the benefit of a rehearsal) in the middle of New York City in a driving rainstorm. Once Dizzy experienced Ignacio’s talent on the drums, the rest, as they say, is history. In the thirteen years prior to Dizzy Gillespie’s death, Ignacio traveled the world many times with the Dizzy Gillespie Band, appearing on national television numerous times and making numerous recordings.

As you can tell, Ignacio’s story is a beautiful picture of the American dream: how hard work, strong work ethic, loyalty, honesty, and professional passion can blossom and flourish in a hard-working person’s life.

But beyond that story is what Ignacio can DO … NOW … and WOW! A week ago, YouthCUE sponsored a master-class in a San Antonio local church, featuring not only Ignacio, but also two other outstanding jazz players from the University of North Texas in Denton, TX. For almost 90 minutes, Ignacio mesmerized the crowd with his drumming and percussion skills. Among other things, he projected a world map, showing us where various rhythms of the world originated in Africa, South America, Central America, Cuba, and other locations in the Caribbean. “When people say thus and so has a Latin rhythm, that ‘s about as precise a description as saying that American auto makers manufacture cars.” There are so many particular Latin rhythms that I have studied all my life to learn them and become affluent in their use.”

One of the points of his genius is that he can isolate any rhythm you name, explain its origin, tell you what is peculiar about it, and demonstrate it on the trap set. He uses every part of the set … drums, rims, cymbals, high hat, drum sides, even cymbal stands, to create whatever rhythms he wants. During the entire hour and a half, Ignacio never hurt our ears – he can play rhythms of any complexity at pianissimo or mezzo piano levels, and it will be just as clean and crisp as if he were playing with twice or three times the volume. His control is beyond amazing, and his technique appears totally effortless. As a high school and college percussionist, I know better. Ignacio Berroa is a rhythmic genius.

Stay tuned for more about Ignacio Berroa and future opportunities for you and your students and friends to experience one of the most unique, educational, and FUN learning sessions. Your view of percussion, global music, and ensemble work is likely to expand exponentially. Mine has, and I could not be more excited to introduce this new friend to you.