Elio Villafranca was born in the Pinar del Río province of Cuba and was first musically trained in percussion and composition at the Instituto Superior de Arte in Havana, Cuba. Since moving to the US in 1995, Elio has been considered one of the top-flight pianists, composers, and bandleaders of his generation. He is especially well-known for his unique take on Latin jazz, foregoing the usual flashy percussion in favor of integrating elements from jazz and Afro-Caribbean music into impressive compositions teeming with subtle textures and featuring architecture derived from his classical training. As a result, Elio’s music has enraptured audiences and critics around the world, earning him no small number of accolades. He has been named a Steinway Artist, joining the likes of Ahmad Jamal, Billy Joel, and Evgeny Kissin. In 2014, he received the JALC Millennium Swing Award, and was nominated for the Preis der Deutschen Schallplattenkritik Award. In 2015, he was selected by Chick Corea himself to play at the inaugural Chick Corea Jazz Festival. Most recently, he was nominated for a Grammy for Best Latin Jazz Album for his 2018 release, Cinque.

At this year’s Springfield Jazz and Roots Festival, Elio Villafranca & the Jass Syncopators will perform Cinque, a five-movement suite inspired by the story of Joseph Cinque, who in 1839 led a successful revolt aboard the slave ship La Amistad days after being sold and transported to a sugar plantation in Cuba. Cinque showcases the cultural diversity of the five Caribbean islands of Cuba, Puerto Rico, Haiti, The Dominican Republic, and Jamaica, while simultaneously highlighting the Congolese musical heritage woven into Caribbean music. Cinque includes narration, original composition, and field recordings of Caribbean Congolese rhythms, especially the traditions of Tambor Yuka, only practiced today in Elio’s birthplace of Pinar Del Río, and Gangá, a little-known culture that traveled from Cinque’s birthplace of Sierra Leon to Matanzas, Cuba. Both traditions are near extinction today.

Elio Villafranca and The Jass Syncopators present a transformative musical mélange which adeptly combines the legacy of The Colored Syncopators, a 1940’s ensemble created by artistic visionary Duke Ellington, Villafranca’s Latin heritage, and contemporary jazz musical idioms in order to create a unique sound. The ensemble challenges the boundaries of jazz music by fusing it with the syncopated nature of a variety of traditional Afro-Caribbean musical forms. By connecting music with tradition, the Jass Syncopators seek to present an authentic cultural experience, using the full spectrum of Caribbean music: the drumming experience, the traditional instruments, the melodies, the syncopated rhythms, and the folkloric dancing, all essential elements to the Jass Syncopators’ sound.

The performance of Elio Villafranca and the Jass Syncopators, presented in collaboration with Painted Bride Art Center, Inc. and San Jose Jazz is supported by Presenter Consortium for Jazz, a program of Chamber Music America funded through the generosity of the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation.