Javier Rosario is one of CMCB’s guitar faculty members and one of this year’s recipients of the Marilla MacDill Prize. Javier just released his first feature album with his band, the Javier Rosario Trio, which you may have seen at this year’s Fete de la Musique. One of the tracks, The Road Ahead, was played on NHPR All Things Considered with Peter Biello. Javier was also recently interviewed by Jazz en Dominicana.
You can read the entire interview translated in English below, or read in the original Spanish here (Click here for part 1. Click here for part 2.)
Jazz in the Dominican Republic – Interview Series 2021: Javier Rosario – 1 of 2
Since the beginning of Jazz in the Dominican Republic in 2006 we have been attentive to the career of the Dominican guitarist Javier Rosario. We have written about his studies at Berklee, his graduation, his concert at the Blue Note (opening up to Michel Camilo), his concert at the Santo Domingo Jazz Festival at Casa de Teatro, and more. Every time he had a special gig or that he would come to the country, his number one fan, Briseida, his mother, would let me know !!
As I was preparing the interview schedule for 2021, I couldn’t leave Javier. From what we communicated, and what a surprise, he had just released his first record production, and about it, his music, his trio and other topics, we began a conversation that resulted in the interview that we published in two parts.
Once I read three testimonies of great musicians about Javier, and you will see that a smile on your lips and pride take over when you read them. Let’s see what Michel Camilo, Joe Lovano and Mick Goodrick have to say:
Javier Rosario is a guitar virtuoso, composer, conductor, educator, and recording artist, Javier Rosario is the first winner of the Michel Camilo Scholarship, an initiative of the Dominican-born pianist, Grammy Award winner, Latin Grammy and Emmy. It was the first scholarship of this type in the history of the country, where Javier was born in Santo Domingo. In 2006 Javier attended Berklee College of Music, graduating with the highest grades ever awarded to a guitarist. In 2009, he performed at the Berklee Jazz and Blues Guitar Night – a concert in which only the best musicians from across the school participated. In 2010 Javier decided to continue his studies at the Longy School of Music at Bard College with a master’s degree, and there he was recognized by his guitar teachers as possibly the highest level guitarist to enter the jazz program.
Some of the musicians Javier has performed with include: Joe Lovano, John Lockwood, Matt Savage, Zachary King, Scott Kiefner, Aaron Holthus, Avery Logan, Bob Edinger, Vardan Ovsepian, Jeff Galindo, Phil Grenadier, Bret Willmott, Hoo Kim, just to name a few. Javier has performed at Blue Note in New York City, Casa de Teatro Jazz Festival, A-Town Jazz Festival, Strand Theater, Massachusetts’ State House, Cornelia Street Cafe, St. Botolph Club, Berklee Performance Center, Pianos NYC, Shrine World Music Venue, Silvana, Port City Blue, Riverwalk Cafe & Music Bar, Radio Bean Jazz Fest, Thunder Road, Tonic, just to name a few. Javier is a Community Engagement Programs Teaching Artist and faculty member at Community Music Center of Boston and Boston Collegiate Charter School. He is a music specialist at Amigos School and Morse School in Massachusetts. Javier has been a clinician at the National Conservatory of Music of the Dominican Republic since 2009. In late December 2019, Javier released his debut album Javier Rosario Trio, Vol. I: A Celebration of Life (Javier Rosario Trio, Vol. I: Una celebration of life) that has received very good reviews nationally and internationally.
With these lines about Javier, we begin the first of two parts of our interview:
Jazz in the Dominican Republic (JenD): We started the interview asking ¨Who is Javier Rosario according to Javier Rosario ¨?
Javier Rosario (JR): I am the biggest follower of my dreams. At the age of 5 I already knew who I was as a person; I knew and expressed that I was going to be a guitarist, or as I used to say to my mother “electric guitar maker”. As a person, I am very sensitive, which adds an incredible quality to music. It makes it more special, because it comes from a very deep place where I see myself in relation to how I feel in the world. As a professional, I am the winning guitarist of the first Michel Camilo Scholarship for Berklee College of Music, among other awards, and I am considered a virtuoso on the guitar. In life I had two dreams: to be an FBI agent and to be a professional guitarist. I was able to make the second a full-time reality!
JenD: How did you get started in music?
JR: I got started in music with and because of the great love of my mom and dad. I got started in music because of their great dedication and unconditional love, and because they also heard and felt my calling in life. I started in music thanks to all your sacrifices so that I can be happy, be who I am and today have a decent career. Everything is for them!
Around the age of 5 I heard a good guitarist play in the church where my parents go. His name is Aladino de Jesus. He inspired me to want to play the guitar. So I started taking classes with him, but very quickly my dad introduced me to the violin and I quickly switched instruments. I did not feel, for many reasons, that I had the option to continue with the guitar until I was 15 or 16 years old, when I resumed it. He had no teacher, music records, inspiration, no musician friends, or atmosphere to learn and play guitar. As a violinist, I had the level to enter the Children’s and Youth Orchestra of the Dominican Republic, with which I had the opportunity to play in the National Palace and in the Central Bank Auditorium. As a violinist, too, I was able to play in Bellas Artes and other places. But, I was never happy behind the violin. I never liked how that instrument works to create music. But, now I look back and see that much of the classical and jazz / popular world I have lived….route!
JenD: Why did you choose the guitar?
JR: As I said earlier, I heard a guitarist play when I was a kid. It caused me, I remember, high anxiety. I even think it made my body shake a little. Maybe already at that age I was playing music on the guitar, with my mind. I just had to put the instrument in my hands to let the music come out.
The guitar is the instrument that makes the most sense to me, in terms of where the notes are and how it’s played. As an artist and creator, the instrument does not matter. What matters is the music. As a human being, the guitar is the only instrument that I command.
I think I was in the right place, with the right people, at the right age, at the right time, and with the right personality!
A nice anecdote: the church community where my parents go had very good guitars when I was a child. The sound of a good instrument brought me joy and a lot of inspiration. That also served me well, knowing at an early age what a good guitar should sound like, well played!
JenD: Who were and are your influencers?
JR: Regarding music, looking at it since I was a child: my mother, my father and Aladino de Jesús. As a teenager at the National Conservatory of Music: Federico Mendez. As a student at Berklee College of Music: Tim Miller, Mick Goodrick, Michel Camilo, Bret Willmott, Hal Crook, and Joe Lovano; my most influential teachers at the time. At Longy School of Music of Bard College: the guitarist and my teacher at the time, Joe Morris. As a professional and an adult: my mom, my dad, and my therapist.
JenD: What have been the albums that have influenced you?
JR: Allan Holdsworth’s Sixteen Men of Tain record was the record that “taught me to play the guitar.” By this I mean, it showed me the level that I wanted to follow. The records of the British artist, James Blake, have been of great musical, personal and sentimental influence. Salsa records from India, the Princess of Salsa, always bring me a lot of joy and excitement.
JenD: How were your studies in the Dominican Republic? In United States?
JR: In the Dominican Republic I had so many “teachers”. I had many people who taught me something: musical, personal, professional, emotional, human. From Aladino de Jesús, Elila Mena Elementary School of Music, National Conservatory of Music, harmony classes with Javier Vargas, Berklee College of Music, Longy School of Music of Bard College, to the classical guitar teachers with whom I have studied for years Recent Although many Dominican guitarists gave me guitar lessons, the two that I consider my teachers, the ones who taught me the most important things and had the greatest impact on me were Aladino de Jesús and Federico Mendez. Aladdin inspired me to play the guitar. Federico Mendez gave me, he taught me everything else. Federico had the hardest job with me, on a musical and personal level. But, with everyone who has taught me I am very grateful! Especially those professional Dominican musicians with whom I play: Gustavo Rodriguez, Federico Mendez, Pengbian Sang, Remy Taveras, Sandy Gabriel, among others.
JenD: Why did you decide to stay in the United States?
JR: I am in the United States at the moment. But since I have a good job offer, teaching at UNPHU or UASD, I may accept and go back to Santo Domingo. I have two goals in life: to be happy and to have peace of mind. Everything else comes by attraction. It has always been that way for me.
JenD: You’ve been playing for a long time. How have those musical adventures been?
JR: I keep myself surrounded by the best friends and musicians possible, in order to stay inspired. That is essential! Musical adventures are born from those feelings, from that intimate sharing.
I can also share that from all the good concerts I have played, I have always learned something very important that has marked my next level. I have only arrived there with a lot of practice, and then playing more concerts so that the cycle repeats itself.
So far we come with the first of two installments. In the next one we will talk about his album Javier Rosario Trio Vol I: A celebration of Life, and other topics of great interest!
We share the presentation of his composition Ghost Town, live at the Shrine in New York on December 16, 2017. Fabio Rojas accompanies him on drums and Eddy Khaimovich on bass.
The quote that the famous saxophonist Joe Lovano gave about the Dominican guitarist Javier Rosario always caught my attention : ” Javier continues to grow and become a prodigious musician, who is tireless in his search for excellence ¨
And it really hit the spot. Since I met Javier in 2006 and began to follow his adventures, he has tried again and again a marked and consistent march in search of becoming the best Javier Rosario that he can be. Finding his sound, his style, his tastes along the way; and translating these into compositions and memorable plays that many of us have had the honor of witnessing. And, the interesting thing is that he does not stop, he continues his march towards his perfection!
Today we continue with the second, and last, part of our interview with him!
Jazz en Dominicana (JenD): Do you think you already have your style? Your sound? Javier Rosario (JR): But of course! JenD: How have you evolved as a musician?JR: “From all the good concerts I have played, I have always learned something very important that has marked my next level. I have only arrived there with a lot of practice, and then playing more concerts so that the cycle repeats itself.”
Exposure to art is what creates the most momentum! Every year that passes, life changes me, it takes me, it smiles at me, it makes me ask for more, it makes me grow sometimes with great pain, and with all that my music changes because I change. It’s not really “my music”; It is the music that happens in the moment when I am behind the guitar and captured it with notes and chords on the guitar. We all hear the music!
JenD: What is your preferred format and why?
JR: Today I have been very happy and inspired to compose music for my trio, Javier Rosario Trio, and to learn to play in new ways in the trio. Joe Lovano, the famous Grammy-winning saxophonist with whom I studied and played at Berklee, told me, “Let music teach you how to play it.” I always keep that with me!JenD: How do you consider your process when composing and arranging?JR: I start to imagine music. I create melodies for my compositions that move me emotionally and that I want to play and listen to again. I play a note and add others to it, and there I have a chord. Everything that moves me emotionally, I keep it. I memorize the music. I write the score for Zak King, drummer of the trio, and Scott Kiefner, bassist of the trio. We went out to play live. After a while, we recorded in the studio. As simple as that!
JenD: You just released your first record production. Tell us about A Celebration of Life.
JR: I am very proud to have taken that step. It was hard. But thanks to the generosity of all the people who were part of the project, the album was carried out. Heartfelt thanks to: Zak King (drums), Scott Kiefner (acoustic bass), Jake Pardee / Maritime Music Studio / Pulp & Fizz, Bradley Royds, Angel Irizarry Almonte and David Lapin.
I also express my gratitude, to all the places in the United States and Santo Domingo where I have played the music of my first album, Javier Rosario Trio Vol I: A celebration of Life. The title in Spanish is ¨Una Celebration of Life¨. It’s just a reminder of something my mom told me: “life is now.”
Thanks to you Fernando for sharing and exposing my album here at Jazz in the Dominican Republic, as they have also done in the United States: Jazz Weekly and JazzTrail, and in Italy: NeuGuitars. A Celebration of Life is Javier’s first album.
Rosario told us: Its realization was made possible thanks to the generosity of Zak King, Scott Kiefner, Jake Pardee and Bradley Royds. Thanks to master guitarist Joe Morris for inspiring me to make an album. Thanks to Skuli Thorsteinsson for pushing me to make this album. A very special thanks to Jake Pardee for convincing me to make an album many years ago. The timing was perfect, at the end of 2018 Zak, Scott, Jake and I got together on December 28th and we had the trio record this album in just five hours. We recorded the trio live at Maritime Music Studio in Gloucester, Massachusetts. The two solo guitar pieces on this album, “Transitions of the Heart” and “Change of Heart”, were recorded on June 23, 2019 in the same studio. May all who listen to this album find comfort in the music I have composed,!
Here is the link to purchase the disc: https://www.amazon.com/Javier-Rosario-Trio-Vol-Celebration/dp/B082F27X9Z
JenD: What did making the album A Celebration of Life mean to you?
JR: I already have something to show …. I have more material to show in a presentable way. I’m creating an avenue for more people to get to know me, create more resumes, maybe win awards, further develop my reputation, and have a more form of expression.
JenD: Musician, arranger, educator. What do each of these roles mean to you?
JR: Musician: I make art because of the love I feel doing it. Arranger: I imagine the music as I want to play it and then I learn to play it. Educator: I like to share and that’s how I earn a living.
JenD: What do you think about the state of jazz in general?
JR: Some people do better than others. In some places they pay more than others. In some places there is more visibility than others. But when and where I play to my fullest potential, I always have fun!
JenD: What do you think of jazz in the Dominican Republic?
JR: I want to be part of it even more. I want to be included and considered more. I want jazz festival and stage managers to read this, get in touch with each other, and get me to play more. It would be an honor for me; and I’m sure to entertain and inspire many
JenD: What do you think about the relay towers that are emerging in the Dominican Republic?
JR: There are more and more young people who are very good instrumentalists, and at an earlier age. The more the merrier! I hope to play with all of them soon. The world of information and learning today is not like when I was a child or adolescent. Now there are more opportunities and ways. As for the Michel Camilo Scholarship, from my eyes: the first winner was me, the other winners: Roger de la Rosa and Diego Ureña Santana, they are also guitarists, like me. With this I want to express that the path that I made, with a lot of effort, since before I arrived at Berklee, I still see it in the new generations and how it has impacted the “relay towers”. Guitar players have obviously been given more attention since 2005, when I won the first scholarship.
What we do in life always has a deeper impact than one imagines.
One of my contributions to the “relay towers” has always been my master classes at the National Conservatory of Music, thanks to Javier Vargas. I hope to continue making my contribution to other institutions as well, such as the UASD and UNPHU.
To the “relay towers” I share the following: many of those who participated in the audition for the first Michel Camilo Scholarship, told me that I “was not going to win.” I earned it! Then I won other scholarships! I became a virtuoso! Today many of them see me playing, and they don’t know what to do with themselves. One of them even saw me playing in New York City, pre-pandemic, and was speechless when he came to congratulate me after seeing me on stage. With this I want to tell you, YOU are the one who knows and the one in charge. Never let someone’s negativity get you out of your lane.
Now, over the years I have seen a change of attitude in people. It is somewhat less toxic than when I was a student and young professional in Santo Domingo. The change of attitude, change of heart and mentality of everyone is what makes us flourish the most as a community. The musical community belongs to everyone and for everyone! That is why I like to share what I know and give what I have.
Best wishes to all!
JenD: Answer the first thing that comes to mind:
Javier Rosario: I admire him!
The Guitar: a vehicle
Dominican Republic: tranquility and love
Javier Rosario Trio: form of expression
A Celebration of Life: a reflection of me
Jazz: form of improvisation
JenD: We are just “coming back” to a post-pandemic life. How do you see the future of jazz?
JR: Not very different from how it was pre-pandemic. We artists are very thirsty for expression and for bringing art out into the world. But I don’t see the future of jazz changing a big deal. Even many places where it was played collapsed due to the pandemic. But, I hope that many places are born, flourish and that they value jazz by doing the following: paying artists well, treating us well, and respecting each other that when we play there is no bustle drowning out the music.
JenD: What other plans are there for Javier Rosario in 2021?
JR: This June 2021, my trio is part of a music festival in Boston called, Fête de la Musique. It is a festival organized by the historical entity, Community Music Center of Boston, where I am a guitar teacher. He also went live to the state of New Hampshire, Massachusetts and the city of New York; I teach guitar; and, this year my second album comes out, Javier Rosario Trio Vol: II.
Listen to Javier’s trio at Fête de la Musique>>
Javier, in your words – what would you like to add and share with our readers:
JR: Thanks to you, the readers and music lovers, for taking the time to get to know me a little better! If you haven’t purchased a copy of my record, you can do so on Amazon. The name of the production is Javier Rosario Trio Vol I: A Celebration of Life. This is a perfect way to support me. If you want to learn guitar, write me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Tell someone about me. Find me on Facebook, Instagram and YouTube and follow me on social media. If you see me in Santo Domingo, say hello and come over. When I play a concert, come see me play and meet me after the concert. Thanks!I am very grateful to Javier for the time he has taken for this interview, his way of expressing himself, his love for his job and for the country. Let us all feel proud of Javier Rosario, for the path he has undertaken, for a special being who does not live in the past, but in the present, always looking to the future of his work in music !! Our congratulations and unconditional support to him (as well as to all the musicians in our patio, whether they are here or not).