Honoring legendary jazz trumpeters, celebrating American music culture

Cocooned within the intimacy of The Edye Second Space at Santa Monica College’s Broad Stage on Friday night, the audience heard the music of trumpet master Ron Meza and his jazz band Planet Afrobeat.

“We’re going to get dangerous,” Meza said, as the band set up and prepared to play a selection of jazz classics and one original composition.

Meza, who has been playing the trumpet since he was 8 years old, does not only lead the 11 members of Planet Afrobeat, but is also a film composer and award-winning sound designer, who currently works at the Fox Broadcasting Company.

Meza and his band prepared a show officially themed “A Tribute to the Titans of Trumpet.” The songs selected for the evening came from specific trumpet jazz masters like Donald Berg.

The session kicked off with an energetic number titled “Step Lightly.” Meza introduced himself and the band as audience members streamed in, many of them SMC students who were being afforded extra credit for attending the night’s show.

Some Latin jazz was thrown into the mix when the band played “Recuerdame,” an old standard that mixes the sounds of the trumpet with keys of the piano, played by Geoff Stradling. Bassist Chris Conner thumped some snapping notes, while drummer Rory McCurdy pulled off a solo.

The jazz classic “Star Eyes” was performed as Meza led the way with a melodic trumpet section.

The only original piece that was presented that night was composed by Stradling, titled “Isn’t it Contagious.” It was a long piece, and Meza warned before starting the session by saying, “Please wish us luck.”

After the show, SMC students were left impressed.

“I liked the drumming a lot,” said student Gary Bernadino. “It has that kind of fusion — jazz fusion like Miles Davis’ album ‘Bitches Brew’ — you know, that kind of rock jazz.”

“It was great,” said Arty Han, another student. “I really liked it.”

While watching students surround the other band members asking questions or showing their admiration, Meza said that he appreciated the young audience.

“It’s nice to see people under 30 come check it out,” he said. “It’s a funny thing because when you listen to popular music these days, they are sampling this old stuff. We’re playing what they’re sampling. It’s coming full circle.”

“You guys were well-behaved and very educated,” he said, when he addressed the SMC audience.

Meza, who also lives in France, lamented that the American and French jazz scenes face some of the same perils.

“It’s suffering the same economic problems,” he said. “There’s less clubs and less money and less venues to play. But there is still a lot of playing and learning. There are a lot of young people playing music, not living off of it, but learning.”

Meza complimented SMC jazz professor Keith Fidmont, who arranged the event.

“He runs it with an iron fist like a real jazz band,” Meza said. “That’s good.”

For students barely starting to discover jazz, Meza had a few recommendations, including listening to jazz musicians from the 20th century like Chet Baker, Miles Davis and Charlie Parker.

But ultimately, it “depends if you want to stay popular or get into more smooth jazz,” Meza said.

For Meza, there is a wider, more culturally important reason for appreciating jazz.

“It’s really the only American music,” he said. “This is something that came out of our culture. It’s a mix of a lot of things. It started here. It’s ours. We can’t forget we all had a part in it. We’ve got to be proud of it. We have to support it, because without it, we have nothing to sample.”

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