Michel Herrera breathes jazz

Michel Herrera breathes jazz


By Liz Bobadilla, Photos: Eduardo Rawdrígez

Michel Herrera exhales the air from his lungs through a mouthpiece and his breath envelops the atmosphere in a metallic sound. His fingers, like a lover, run through a score of holes and pads, while his saxophone emanates notes turned into jazz.

Michel Herrera breathes jazz

Although his musical studies began with the piano, his mother’s fascination with the saxophone, created by the Belgian Adolphe Sax in 1840, led him to dedicate his time, talent and inspiration to it.

This instrument is a bridge of connection with the people who follow my music, he confessed in an interview with CubaPLUS Magazine, recalling that from the beginning of his studies it became a companion in his life.

Considered one of the young masters of Cuban jazz, Michel Herrera upholds this genre as a bastion of his own artistic identity. For him, this sound stands out for its interpretative possibilities: “It has allowed me to develop everything and channel all the elements I’ve learned to communicate, both from orchestration and improvisation.”

Michel Herrera breathes jazz

A follower of international figures such as Charlie Parker, Paquito de Rivera, Chucho Valdés, Lilí Martínez, Emiliano Salvador and many others who nurtured his sound spectrum, Michel combines his talents as an orchestra man capable of increasing knowledge and giving strength to the recording industry of the largest of the Antilles.

For the artist, “musical production and direction has been an incredible path that musically has given me a lot, I have learned from masters such as Joaquín Betancourt, Juan Manuel Ceruto, Emilio Vega... Each job is a new challenge and at the same time a complement.”

The saxophonist values the prevalence of jazz in his solo career, although he remains linked to all rhythms that are part of the Cuban identity, which he always evokes in his performances, as notes of history among the island’s sound.

In that sense, the leader of the group Madre Tierra Project referred to his position upholding the Caribbean nation’s culture on any stage in the world, because “I always try to show the elements that identify us as Cubans and that can only be achieved through a musical journey where the native rhythms of our country are shown.”

“We have exported many important rhythms such as the conga, the bolero, the danzón, the rumba and that cannot be forgotten or not advocated, it is a legacy of previous generations, it is our musical history, our roots,” he said.

He also advocated the potential of music as an element of unity and safeguard of national identity, “because it is a chronicle, it awakens feelings, it is a projection of the future and it generates good energy among people.”

Michel Herrera breathes jazz

Speaking about the impact of COVID-19 on cultural activities, the 2014 Cubadisco award winner revealed that it became a prolific time for his career, as he was able to experiment, develop skills with new technologies, compose, write and produce, both at home and in large recording studios (Egrem or Abdala).

“The pandemic has forced artists to rethink new ways to develop their art and social networks have been the opportune space to be present, I think that in these difficult times people have had to find different mechanisms to remain active,” he said. He is currently working on his fifth album, which will pay tribute to the outstanding Cuban performer Ignacio Jacinto Villa Fernández, known as Bola de Nieve, with the support of the Recording and Music Publishing Company and the Hermanos Saíz Association.

Michel Herrera breathes jazz

“The record will feature eight songs, some of the best known and others not so well known, but just as incredible,” Michel explained before noting that the line-up includes musicians such as Pablo FG, Polito Ibáñez, El Noro, Luna Manzanares, Frank Fernández, Beatriz Márquez, Alexander Abreu, Roberto Fonseca and the Jazz Plaza Band, Osiris Valdés and the Areito orchestra, directed by Emilio Vega.

During this period he premiered the videoclip of Bésame mucho, by Mexican Consuelo Velázquez, with an arrangement shared with his sister Ana Gabriela Oviedo, with whom he has collaborated on several projects.

Highlights among them include the music, direction and arrangements of the song Cubanidad, composed by Raúl Torres and featuring virtuoso pianist Frank Fernández, the co-production of the album El Trabuco sinfónico, by Manolito Simonet, and the online concerts organized by the Ministry of Culture.

A key player in venues such as the Jazz Plaza Festival and the Drum Festival, Michel, with each puff, transforms the sound of the saxophone into his own voice, and with it seduces, unsettles, thrills, invites to dream and calms his listeners, on stages in Cuba and around the world.