Interview with Roberto Aymes: bassist, composer, producer, documentarian, radio host
I was recently introduced to the great Mexican bassist Roberto Aymes through a fellow jazz giant, Venezuelan bassist Gustavo Caruci. Through Gustavo’s kind gesture I have made a new friend who happens to be one of the leading figures in Mexico’s musical development.
An award-winning bass virtuoso and composer, Roberto Aymes has built a well-established career for more than three decades in his native Mexico and around the world. His work artfully bridges classical and jazz music to create a hybrid of “jazzistico language with symphonic music,” and has been featured by dozens of acclaimed symphonies and jazz ensembles.
Roberto Aymes is considered a pioneer in the music industry, his tireless efforts to nurture and support jazz in Mexico are impressive, from his work as a writer to his nearly 29 year stint as a radio show host, the incredible discography and performance credits he’s built to his 25 year career as a teacher… the man lives and breathes jazz.
He has performed over two thousand concert performances with a staggering array of notables from both the jazz and classical idioms, and is a highly acclaimed soloist known for his exotic and passionate performances in a wide range of formats from small to large ensemble and symphonic settings.
Roberto’s compositional and interpretive works have been premiered by dozens of esteemed symphonic orchestras under the baton of such notable conductors as Akira Endo, Eduardo Diazmuoz and Enrique Batiz, and often feature his original compositions, as well as his exotic interpretations and arrangements of new music, classical, and jazz composers such as Claude Bolling, Astor Piazolla, Lennie Niehaus and Phillip Glass. Roberto is also an in-demand composer for ballet, film and television.
Aymes has been recognized with dozens of awards for his work including an Emmy and a Grammy, and is a published writer and contributor to a variety of print media publications, such as his seminal 2001 article about “Jazz Development in Mexico,” published in the University of Pittsburgh’s prestigious International Jazz Archives Journal.
INTERVIEW WITH ROBERTO AYMES, BASSIST AND COMPOSER
When and how were you introduced to music?
At my home when I was a little kid, then my father took me to a Louis Armstrong Concert in Mexico City when I was 8 years old, and I realizd that I love this music. In 1974 I became pro, because I love music and all my life I listened to jazz and good music because my parents and family use to have a good taste, so I learned first on my ears and then on my hands.
Is bass your first instrument?
Yes, acoustic up-right and electric.. my preference is six stringed instruments… both! and also I play piano, guitar, sax and flute.
Where did you study jazz?
In my early years I went to the Mexico City Conservatory studying classical percussion, then to The National School of Music. I finished my first degree at The Music School in Veracruz with my formal teacher, the Polish Andrezejv Kalaruz. I went as a teacher for several years to Yugoslavia (now Croatia ans Slovenia) and finished my Teacher’s degree in Poland at The Frederick Chopin Conservatory. Jazz I studied when I went to The Manhattan School of Music..Ph.D. in Composition.. I think the jazz musicians, the life and my courage is how I learned Jazz.
Who were your biggest influences?
Bill Evans, Duke Ellington, Charles Mingus, in my instrument Eddie Gomez, Scott LaFaro, Dave Holland and a lot more.
Who performs your works?
Mostly only me, but I have permanent work as a writer in movies, and ballet.
How many recordings have you made as a leader?
How many have you recorded on as sideman?
in jazz.. maybe 60 or 70 (Chet Baker, Carla White, Paul McCandless, Marian Petrescu, Freddy Hubbard, Gerry Mulligan, and many more), other kinds of music, as studio musician and arranger etc., more than 2000
You travel a lot performing, where will you go next?
Eugenia Mendez, friend and piano player-singer.
Please tell me about your ensembles. Do you have more than one trio?
Yes at least three with different musicians and instruments.
I used to play with a quartet and quintet, including violin, trumpet and sax, also I have an Xtreme Combo with two percussionists and ancient instruments like oud, viola da gamba etc.
What is your favourite instrumentation for your sound?
The Symphony Orchestra, but the sound of the trio is what I love (piano-drums-bass)
Do you have favourite players you like to work with?
Yes, a lot of to name.
I know you’ve been invited to Canada for a composer’s residency at the Banff Centre. Can you tell me about how you heard about it and your experience there?
I heard about it at the Canadian Embassy in Mexico first and then with the National Arts Foundation in Mexico (FONCA). I received an invitation and a grant, I was there for three months, August, September and October, 1997. Hugh Fraser was head of the Jazz Faculty, with Don Thompson, Joe LaBarbera, Kenny Wheeler, Ellen Rowe… Canada is for the last almost 50 years one of the american countries that ruled jazz and music.
Do you teach?
I did for 25 years, but now I’m in a kind of ’sabbatic’ year.. well, two years.
What is your greatest musical moment?
I have a lot fortunately.. but my first contact with jazz and Louis Armstrong is one of the best.
Is most of your work in Mexico City?
Yes, because I’m not only performer, I’m doing a radio show from the last 28 and a half years, and also I used to write.
Are there jazz music programs in schools?
There are some but not a very good level.
How many jazz musicians are there working in Mexico?
Not too many as in Canada or USA or Europe, because we don’t have a Federation, nor Festivals and almost no places to play jazz.
I understand you have a successful jazz radio show, can you give me a little more detail?
The show started in 1959 and I received it from the original producer Juan Lopez Moctezuma in March 1978. It runs five days a week one hour just jazz, very open to all kind of improvisation music.
I’ve read your article on the development of jazz in Mexico, it’s very impressive. How did it come to be?
I received the invitation from The University of Pittsburgh, it was published in the Sonny Rollins International Jazz Archives in Vol II, Num. 2, Fall 1999-2000.