The release of Canción Para Mi Amor by Scott Oakley Y Sus Incomparables is a major musical event for it features a new band playing an exciting brand of Cuban jazz. Rather than performing the usual Latin jazz songs in the usual manner, the group interprets 13 new compositions by its leader-pianist Scott Oakley that are full of fire, exciting Cuban rhythms and heated jazz improvisations.
The genesis of Canción Para Mi Amor occurred in 2005. “I happened upon the Afro-Latin program at Cal State LA and started working towards my Masters,” remembers Scott Oakley. “The last few years have really been consumed by my new interest in Cuban music. Through constant study with Paul De Castro, the director of the program at Cal State L.A., going through the introductory process of learning about montunos, about clave, and how to apply clave in my playing and writing, I was so inspired that I began to write songs. Before I knew it, I had five tunes written, and couldn’t stop writing. I wrote 15 songs in two years. As I approached the end of the program, I realized that I had a perfect recital program lined up. Paul suggested that I put together an all-star band. We rehearsed the tunes, played them at the recital, and then went into a recording studio. The result is Canción Para Mi Amor.”
For this exciting project, Scott Oakley is joined by bassist Rigoberto Lopez and drummer Raul Pineda, both of whom knew each other while living in Cuba. In fact, Lopez was Pineda’s teacher at one of Havana’s conservatories; the drummer currently teaches at Cal State L.A. Bob Fernandez teaches percussion at Cal State L.A. while tenor-saxophonist and flutist James King is a first call saxophonist for salsa bands in Los Angeles.
“I think what we have on this record is something very different than one has in a normal Latin jazz band,” says the pianist. “It is very energizing music that is totally accessible to jazz fans. The music constantly uses montuno in the blowing sections and the originals are based on Cuban song forms. My favorite selections are ‘Mi Perucin Descarga #2,’ ‘Al Estilo de César ‘Pupi’ Pedroso,’ ‘Eu Procurarei-o Por,’ ‘Para Pupi’ and ‘Los Perlas Caen en el Plato de Jade.’” The playing on all 13 originals is consistently passionate and, with the stirring team of Lopez, Pineda and Fernandez pushing the lead voices, the results are quite memorable.
Scott Oakley was born in York, Pennsylvania, starting on the piano when he was five. He first heard jazz in high school when a friend gave him Mose Allison’s Your Mind Is On Vacation and Charles Lloyd’s Forest Flower. “When I got out of high school, after a short stint of operating heavy equipment in a construction business, I went to Berklee. I was a beginner when I walked in the front door but Berklee was very good in developing a foundation for its students. In a matter of a year and a half, I was playing on a higher level than I ever thought I could.” Oakley’s first piano teachers were Dean Earl (who had played with Charlie Parker) and James Williams. He also learned a lot from his roommate at the dorm who played him Chick Corea and Herbie Hancock records, particularly Herbie Hancock’s “Chameleon” and Chick Corea’s Light As A Feather.
After Berklee, Oakley studied with Charlie Banacos and enrolled at the New England Conservatory Of Music partly because Jaki Byard was one of the teachers. After graduating in 1978, he spent six months freelancing in New York City. But after realizing how difficult it is to make a living playing jazz, even in NYC, and spending a brief period playing commercial music, Oakley started working for Yorktowne Paper Mills, playing the music he loved at night. While living in Maine, he worked for a period teaching at the University of Maine, Augusta, and made his recording debut with Raphael’s Revenge. “All four of my records prior to Canción Para Mi Amor are trio records that feature mostly original material along with a few standards.”
Scott Oakley moved to Los Angeles in 2000, developed some contacts, and worked locally including two years with his trio at the Money Tree in Burbank. Then he discovered the Afro-Latin program at Cal State L.A., immersing himself in Cuban jazz and even visiting Cuba for two weeks with other musicians. “There were 20 of us and we had private lessons, classes, and visits to the great music clubs of Havana. We had the incredible fortune of having Pupi Pedroso playing at our last goodbye dinner at a small restaurant. I sat four feet away from Pupi as he led his band through the fabulous music.” Oakley dedicates “Al Estilo de Cesar ‘Pupi’ Pedroso” to the great pianist on his new CD.
Now that Cancion Para Mi Amor has been released, Scott Oakley looks towards the future with enthusiasm. He plans to resume teaching because he loves passing down his knowledge to students, he hopes to become involved in writing soundtracks, and the pianist wants to get the group from the CD working regularly so the music can continue to grow. “I look at the finished results of this CD with awe and wonder for it came together fast and had a life of its own. The study of Cuban music has been so powerful for me that it changed my life.”