Elio Villafranca And The Jass Syncopators Take A Musical Journey From Cuba To Harlem, New York

April 8, 2024

Elio Villafranca & The Jass Syncopators will take the stage at Aaron Davis Hall in Harlem on Friday, April 26, 2024, for a magical musical journey “Crossroads from Cuba to New York.”

The 7 p.m. concert, produced and presented by City College Center for the Arts (CCCA), will feature the return of two-time Grammy Award-winning jazz pianist and Steinway Artist Elio Villafranca and his group The Jass Syncopators in an exploration of the spiritual and musical connection of Cuba and New York and the diasporic Afro-Cuban musical forms intersecting with jazz that have sprung forth. The event will feature award-winning jazz vocalist Brianna Thomas, a New York City favorite who has performed across the world.

Growing up in Cuba, Villafranca saw how different religions are intertwined with the cultural fabric of Cuba. In many of these different religions, people see the crossroads as a place of great significance. It was the spiritual concept of the crossroads that touched Villafranca the most and inspired him to create this program, which draws from his second record in a musical trilogy that honors his ancestry and life as a jazz artist.

“Elio’s extraordinary musicianship along with his deep dive into his culture and the religious mosaic in Cuba created this brilliant masterpiece that we are proud to present” said CCCA Managing Director Gregory Shanck.

Villafranca, a New York-based jazz pianist, band leader and recording artist, has performed with jazz greats like Wynton Marsalis, Chick Corea, Johnny Pacheco and Lewis Nash. Grammy Award-winning Cuban clarinetist and saxophonist Paquito D’Rivera said of him that, “The musical history of Cuba is full of extraordinary pianists. Elio Villafranca is amongst the best representatives of the new generation of Cuban pianists and composers…” Villafranca is also a jazz faculty member at The Juilliard School of Music, Manhattan School of Music, Princeton University and Temple University.

Elio Villafranca & The Jass Syncopators features Villafranca on piano, Vincent Herring on alto sax, Freddie Hendrix on trumpet, Mark Gross on tenor sax, Tom Guarna on guitar, Edward Perez on bass, Vince Ector on drums, Mauricio Herrera Tamayo on percussion and Brianna Thomas on vocals.

Tickets for the concert are $25 and available at www.citycollegecenterforthearts.org. Aaron Davis Hall is located on the campus of the City College of New York at 129 Convent Avenue, down from West 135th Street and Convent Avenue in Harlem, NY.

Crossroads from Cuba to New York is made possible with funding from The New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, National Endowment for the Arts, Councilmember Carmen De La Rosa, The City University of New York and The City College of New York.

Elio Villafranca

Born in the province of Pinar del Río, Cuba, Steinway Artist and cultural activist, author, pianist and composer Elio Villafranca is a 2021 Guggenheim Fellowship recipient, a two-time Grammy nominee, 2019 Downbeat Critic’s Poll Rising Stars Pianist, winner of the 2018 Downbeat Critic’s Poll Rising Stars Keyboard, and a 2014 recipient of the first Jazz at Lincoln Center (JALC) Millennium Swing Award. Villafranca has released over ten acclaimed albums as a leader and performed with jazz and Latin jazz luminaries such as Wynton Marsalis, Lewis Nash, Eric Alexander, Pat Martino, Vincent Herring, Steve Turre, Paquito D’Rivera, Freddie Hendrix and Johnny Pacheco, among others. Villafranca has also performed with jazz masters such as Ron Carter, Jimmy Cobb, Joe Lovano, Jon Faddis, Christian Mc Bride and Chick Corea. His latest album “Standing by the Crossroads” (Artistshare) was selected by Downbeat among the Best Albums of 2023. He is based in New York City and he is a jazz faculty member at Temple University, Princeton University, The Juilliard School of Music and Manhattan School of Music.

Brianna Thomas

Brianna Thomas is an American jazz singer, vocalist, composer, songwriter, band leader and percussionist. She is known as being one of the best young straight-ahead jazz singers, says music critic and author Will Friedwald. Thomas is known to bring together various forms of American music from bluegrass to jazz into an original hybrid of jazz/funk/rock and soul.

City College Center for the Arts

The award-winning City College Center for the Arts hosts an ambitious, year-round calendar of professional performances in the historic Aaron Davis Hall in Harlem. Our mission is to provide a creative arts center and focal point for the City College of New York, building a sense of community within the College, elevating the profile of Aaron Davis Hall in the greater New York area, and connecting the College to the surrounding community through the arts.

Photo credit: 1) Elio Villafranca. 2) Brianna Thomas.

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