Jazz musician explores Latin American influences

It was the Pink Panther theme that motivated Venezuelan-born Bernardo Padrón to take up the saxophone as a teenager. His high school, however, forced him to learn the clarinet first, a task he hated. After receiving an alto sax for Christmas, on his own initiative and much to his teacher’s dismay, he sat in the band’s saxophone section. Numerous efforts were made to drag him back to the clarinet, but his teacher finally gave up and Padrón was allowed to play his beloved saxophone. He later switched to a tenor sax during his undergraduate studies at the University of Toronto. It remains his current instrument of choice while completing his doctoral degree in music at York.

Right: Bernardo Padrón

Padrón composes for and leads the Bernardo Padrón Group, a jazz ensemble that has released two independently produced albums, Seadance (2001) and Tales of La Juana (2007), both available on iTunes. The latter was created with a grant from the Canada Council for the Arts and reflects Venezuela’s rich folk traditions and texts, which he transforms into contemporary jazz medleys. The album has garnered international acclaim, providing Padrón with a reputation as an inventive new Canadian jazz musician.

Padrón’s work as a performer has been influenced by particular aspects of Sonny Rollins’ and Chris Potter’s style, including phrasing, vocabulary and timbre. Padrón’s compositional work has been inspired by musicians such as Pat Matheny and Bill Frizzell, who explored technique as a means to communicate individual yet universal stories. Padrón highly regards Phil Nimmons, his mentor at the University of Toronto, whose dedication to his students is a quality Padrón strives to emulate.

The value of music as a medium to communicate stories creatively, emotionally and spiritually is central to his work, as is his identity as a Venezuelan-Canadian living in contemporary Toronto.

Although Padrón enjoys live performances, his plans were put on hold this year because of tendinitis in his right arm. He continues, nevertheless, to look for needed resources to record his new material.

Padrón’s graduate research focuses on musicology, improvisation and composition with an emphasis on Latin America. He plans to explore interrelationships made evident in expanding models for studying musical experience. For example, by examining celebrated composers such as Chavez, Revueltas, Ginastera and Villalobos, Padrón hopes to determine the musical esthetics exclusive to Latin American culture. Identifying the importance of improvisation in Venezuelan folk music will also be critical to Padrón’s work. He is interested in the representation of Latin American culture in music. He also intends to highlight the numerous contributions music offers society, especially its positive effects on youth.

Padrón’s passion for youth involvement in music is evident in his recent participation in the Baddest Beatz II program at Westview High School. The after-school program, supported by the Ontario Arts Council and the Success Beyond Limits organization, provided an opportunity for at-risk children in under-served communities to learn music composition using computer software.

Padrón believes the need for youth to be exposed to art is crucial to our progress as a society. He hopes that one day Baddest Beatz II and similar programs can become more permanent in school curriculums. The ability for youth to embrace and make art is a subject close to his heart. For him, art is a means for children to have a better quality of life.

Padrón’s own relationship with music has allowed him to be involved in numerous projects and for this he feels grateful to everyone who has supported him.

Written by Crystal Basaez, Faculty of Fine Arts research assistant, and reprinted from the summer issue of the Faculty of Fine Arts Research Newsletter