The Collegian
Thursday, February 29, 2024

UR Jazz Ensemble performs in Cuban Spectatular concert

Audience members embarked on a musical journey during the Cuban Spectacular concert, performed by the University of Richmond Jazz Ensemble and Combo and directed by Mike Davison, professor of music and director of the Jazz Ensemble.

The concert demonstrated how Cuban sounds have helped create American jazz and other sounds such as Afro-Cuban jazz, salsa, rock n' roll and cha-cha-cha. Guest dancers and artists, including a group of seven students and faculty from Pennsylvania State University, also performed.

The Jazz Ensemble and guest performers played hits ranging from Stevie Wonder's "Superstition" to Cuban independence classic "Guantanamera." Before the group presented the songs, audience members watched and heard the original performances projected onto the wall.

Community members, faculty and students attended the concert, which was free and open to the public. Davison said the concerts have sold out for the past four years. Richmond residents Dorathy and George Stuart decided to attend because a friend gave them extra tickets.

"I'm very glad we came,” George said. “The music was superb, and there was a wide range of music – very listenable and exiting."

Richmond seniors Adrianna Mendoza and Mattias Treu narrated the event as Carmen Santiago and Harvey and introduced the different performances through their memories of U.S. and Cuban music. In addition to narrating, Mendoza danced an impromptu routine with guest dancer, Edwin Roa.

"He is a great leader,” Mendoza said. “I messed up probably five times and he caught me and he was like, ‘You're good, calm down, breathe, stop being so stiff.’”

Roa's background is in Afro-Caribbean dance. He danced the remainder of the routines with Erin White, the other guest dancer, on the stage in front of the Jazz Ensemble. White said the two had used to dance together in the early 2000s. Their dance careers took them to different cities and on different paths, but they have recently reunited and performed again as a pair.

"I love the salsa,” Roa said. “One of the parts actually caught us by surprise because it was a genre we were not expecting to dance to. It's all about having fun, though."

Roa has been featured as a dancer in every Cuban Spectacular since the first show six years ago.

Sophomore Mike Rafizadeh has been involved in the Jazz Ensemble since his freshman year. During the concert, he sang as he played the bass and the guitar.

"I thought it was kind of funny that we played 50s music because it has roots in Cuban music,” Rafizadeh said. “I guess people didn't really know that so it was kind of cool for people to see that.”

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Each concert mixes Cuban rhythms with American jazz. Davison said it had taken him one year to plan the show, while students had one semester to plan and practice together for the show. Earlier this year, Davison went to Cuba with eight Richmond jazz students and a group of eight faculty members and students from Pennsylvania State University.

Contact reporter Eunice Brumskine at

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