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Relax and Rhythm at Riviera Maya Jazz Festival
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 jazzartistsbeachfronthoteltheroyal10.jpg  Host Resort 

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   img132.jpg  Cave Tours  paparazzi.jpg  People watersports17.jpg   Water Sports  
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 jefflorberpressconference.jpg  Interviews  stanleyclarkebass6.jpg  Jazz Artists  feet4.jpg  Takeoff & Landing


By: Art Jackson

Thanksgiving Week 2011

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Well I decided to do something different for Thanksgiving this year. I found a spot in the Caribbean that was not only warm with an average temperature of 81 degrees, but it also provided the best of what this hemisphere had to offer in jazz.


Welcome to Paradise…The Riviera Maya Jazz Festival is in its 9th year, and provided a well organized event that according to past  participants, just keeps getting better and better.  This festival was certainly a crowd pleaser, with its line-up that included Stanley Clarke, Jeff Lorber, The Yellowjackets, Randy Brecker and Richard Bona just to name a few.  It was a Thanksgiving weekend that will long be remembered.


Awesome, Breathtaking, Fabulous, Magnificent, Picturesque, Splendid are but a few superlatives to describe the experience.  I arrived the Cancun airport the day before Thanksgiving, and I must admit I first thought “that I will be missing my first Thanksgiving ever without football”.  Sigh!  Standing in the customs line I could tell that a lot of Europeans were leaving cold climates as they were carrying their heavy coats and sweaters.  Again, thinking, this seems like a nice known location for a lot of people who may not be jazz fans.  Once thru customs and picking up my luggage, I was bombarded by scores of greeters to welcome you to Cancun and to assist you in any way possible in providing a taxi or shuttle to your hotel, or with tour guide representative eagerly there to give you maps and explain your many options of excursions.  After getting through the maze I was greeted by the Riviera Maya Jazz Festival personnel  Emma, Tania and Jorge.  Then  we were off to the Mahekal Beach Resort which was 45 minute drive to the region known as Riviera Maya and the city of Playa del Carmen.   As I entered the open air lobby, I could already hear the waves from the Caribbean Sea.  I didn’t know which direction it was coming from but I knew it was close.  After checking in and walking pass a swimming pool, we arrived to my room and tranquility began to set in.. 

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As one of the sponsoring hotels for the Riviera Maya Jazz Festival the Mahekal is a Beachfront bungalow Resort with many amenities, but you will NOT find a telephone, television, clock, radio nor internet access in your room.  But what you will find are well manicured grounds, friendly staff, white sandy beaches, turquoise warm water and quiet nights with only the rhythmic sounds of the waves at this palapa-roofed resort.


The resort also provides two restaurants at opposite ends of the property; Restaurant Aventura which was use for breakfast (desayuno) and lunch (comer) and “La Loma” for dinner (comida) only.  An open air bar called “Casa Club Bar” features TV’s, pool tables, ping pong table and a “Happy Hour” where you can meet other guests from all over the world. There are two swimming pools, a full wedding service, concierge, day spa, gift shop and dive shop to choose from the many water sports excursions that they have to offer.

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After awakening early Thanksgiving morning, I sit on the beach listening to the waves and waiting for the sun to rise.  Instead of the usual smells of Mom preparing the holiday feast, I feel a perfect breeze circulating the clean fresh scented ocean air.  Other vacationers are also taking advantage of this magnificent scenery.  Together we share peaceful quality time, without speaking, but in quiet awe of nature’s beauty.


In order to enjoy the beautiful morning while having breakfast, I obtained an outside table in order to take in the beauty, sights and sounds as the beach becomes the destinations of those just waking up to soak up the sun.

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hugorivieramayajazzfestival112511709412.jpg  Hugo caitlynsymonsfrommontana.jpg  Caitlyn walterfrommaryland.jpg  Walter

Although loving every minute of this relaxing time, I know there is a jazz festival preparing to kick off today, so I should get ready to take in the first day of the press conference. Walking along La Quinta Avenida (Fifth Avenue), where there is no shortage of people to watch. This is the main pedestrian walkway that provides numerous shops, restaurants, and bars making it the happening nightlife place to be.  I met many friendly people along this route as well as the beach. They come from around the world for both business and pleasure.  I spoke with a couple street vendors, who once lived in East Los Angeles and Fresno, CA.  Hugo took the 3 hour drive from Belize in hopes of meeting Stanley Clark and Richard Bona, because he was a bass player when he was younger and showed me a couple of photos of him playing the instrument back in the 70’s.  When I bumped into him again.  He was thrilled to show me where both artists autographed his photos. I also met many other interesting people such as Gustavo and Karla, a young couple from Mexico City; Kia from Australia; Walter from Maryland who has been visiting Playa del Carmen for consecutive 11 years;  Caitlyn from Montana, who actually came to the region to study Massage Therapy;  Luis who was working security for the event; and a number of other people from Germany, France and Italy.

 jazzartistsbeachfronthoteltheroyal9.jpg  The Royal jimmyhaslipofyellowjacketswithwife.jpg  Jimmy Haslip mediaconferenceroom.jpg  Media Conf. Room 
The host hotel, The Royal, is a modern big city luxury hotel, that has all the amenities that you are accustomed to and more.  It was here in the hotel lobby that I bumped into Jimmy Haslip of the “Yellowjackets” and his wife.  The conference room was filled with over 30 journalists from around the world. Journalists from Russia, Poland, Canada, USA and Mexico City were all in attendance. And this is just to name a few of the countries that were represented. All gathered together for the sole purpose of covering this 3-day free to the public government sponsored event. 
 natalialafourcade.jpg  Natalia Lafourcade alexotaolapressconference3.jpg  Alex Otaola  brotherstoussaintfernando2.jpg  Musical Tribute
brotherstoussaintfernando6.jpg  Fernando Toussaint   brotherstoussaintenrique.jpg  Erique Toussaint brotherstoussaintbernardobennyron4.jpg  Bernardo "Benny" Ron
Each day, the press were allowed to interview each artist who were set to perform. The artists included the popular Mexican teen star Natalia Lafourcade. With a unique sound for a teen beat, I could see why she is so popular with the kids, as she also reminded me of a young Madonna voice.  Local talent was also on display with Alex Otaola who provided a movie score with his ten piece orchestra to coincide with the playing of a silent black and white movie that was made in the early 1920’s.   Another local artist performing also happened to be wearing a double hat. This was Fernando Toussaint, the promoter of the Riviera Jazz Festival, and also the drummer for the Hermanos Toussaint Band. The press conference turned melancholy when finding out that the host band of the Riviera Maya Jazz Festival Hermanos Toussaint will be playing for the first time after the passing of their brother keyboardist Enrique Pat. Brothers (drummer) Fernando and Enrique (bassist) are playing together  will make a special tribute to the career of Eugenio Toussaint (1954-2011). Eugenio passed past February. During their show, they performed a tribute to their brother with the help of technology, as the recorded piano music of their brother was being heard the two brothers played along with him in spirit.
 jefflorberpressconference.jpg  Jeff Lorber Fusion rivieramayajazzfestival112411575209.jpg  Randy Brecker pressconferencewithrichardbona.jpg  Richard Bona
pressconferencewithjonandersonformerleadsingerofyes.jpg  Jon Anderson stanleyclarkepressconference3.jpg  Stanley Clarke yellowjacketspressconferencebobmintzerandjimmyhaslipwithpromoterfernandotoussaintandcarlosmoraveradiroftourisum.jpg  Yellowjackets

During one of the press conference break, I got to ask Fernando; how was he able to translate so well with some of the lengthy questions that are being asked?  He couldn’t help but begin to laugh and say he doesn’t even know, “I am amazing myself”.


The rest of the press conference included internationally known Bassist Richard Bona, who just finished a tour covering Poland and Japan; and, he actually just arrived in Playa del Carmen minutes before his scheduled press conference. Bona, born in Africa, has played with all the major stars in the world.  When Smooth Jazz Magazine asked about which musical stars is he most impressed with, the personable artist lit up even more, as he gave raving reviews on the voice of Lady Gaga and the creativity of John Legend. As Bona said “You can never judge a book by its cover.” And he went on to say, with all the flash behind Lady Gaga, she has so much substance and so talented.  And with John Legend, he was impressed with John’s ability to sit and write new material on the spot”.  This is a gift that he does not have, “in fact what John did in a matter of hours, it would have taken me months to do”.   


Smooth Jazz Magazine also sat down with Jeff Lorber in his hotel suite for a Q&A regarding his upcoming new CD “Galaxy” in the USA, which is to be released, January 31, 2012.  Other Q&A’s from the press conference with Randy Brecker, Jon Anderson, Stanley Clarke and Yellowjackets can be read in the Interview category of the icons located at the top of this page.

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Currently the currency exchange rate is 15 Pecos to the dollar, and if you rent a car, expect prices to average $3.50 per gallon.


With a plethora of activities to do in the Riviera Maya, I encourage everyone to  do at least one activity. From my experience of traveling, taking an excursion while on vacation is creating a memory that you will always relived once you are back home, and the two I took will definitely be ones that will hold special memories for me. With both the Punta Venado http://puntavenado.com/ and Rio Secreto horse-back riding and discovering the underground caves of the Yucatan’s Peninsula respectively made for great break away from the press conferences.  The Horseback riding cost $45US for a hour and a half ride and for the 3 to 4 hour tour at Rio Secreto the cost is $59. http://www.riosecreto.com/


For the first time in actually riding a horse, I was looking forward to this experience.  I have heard horror stories from other first timers when the horse they were riding would have a mind of its own, and take them thru shrubs, rub against fences, takes off in a full gallop or the next day you end up sore and can’t walk.  Well none of those things happen as Marlboro and I got along just fine, thank you very much; in fact you can just call me the “Marlboro Man”.  Riding along the beach and in the jungle, the views and total experience was great Yee-haw!! 

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I didnt know what to expect when I heard the mention of hiking in a cave.  But I thought of the line Morgan Freeman as “Luicius Fox” said about going Spelunking in the movie Batman Begins. However, the thought of walking and swimming in a cave did sound intriguing to me.  Now, being asked several times how well do I swim was a little unnerving.  I said “I swim like a rock,” but I still wanted to do this and after the whole experience, I am so glad that I did. 


Now I have to give you fair warning, even though the instructor said people in their 70’s have done this tour, it does take effort as you need to have the ability to swat, have  good balance and swim at least 100 yards.  After you put on a diving suit, life vest, and  a lighted hard hat,  then you are ready to go.  You will be amazed in what you will see.  On my outing, there were a couple of shrimps, crab, blindfish, and catfish. And, believe it or not, an actual bat flew over us. Once the tour is over, there is a meal waiting.  A buffet was served salad, tacos, tamales, red mash potatoes,  fruit and other items with tea and water which was all inclusive in the cost of the ticket.  And who knows, maybe you will get to see a cute Coati as well.

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Last year the Riviera Jazz Festival was held in May, and this year during the USA Thanksgiving holiday, which for most Americans involves breaking from the norm.  But I must say, visiting for the music and activities would be worth the visit.  But keep visiting our Smooth Jazz Magazine festival page for updates on next year date to begin planning your trip and see if the new festival date is moved back a week or so.     

Each night, the shows began at 7 pm, with 3 acts per night. I felt this was the perfect number of artists to enjoy each night. This is corroborated by the estimated 2,000 spectators each night, all with beach chairs, blankets or standing in the sand or water.  Richard Bona and Stanley Clarke were given standing ovations prompting both artists for encore performances.  Speaking of Encore performances, when asked promoter Fernando Toussaint who are some of the artists that he is considering for next year?  He was excited to say “Chick Corea and Stevie Wonder”.  


See you there next year….



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