Aug. 13, 2002 – Friday's sunset is still on as scheduled, and it's the third Friday of the month; so, that means it's time for the August "Sunset Jazz in Frederiksted" concert in Veterans Park on the town waterfront. This one promises to be a summer sizzler with the emphasis on hot Latin rhythms.
Doing the honors for the free public performance from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. sponsored by the Frederiksted Economic Development Association will be Rene Encarnacion and The Tipico Jazz Ensemble.
The ensemble comprises Encarnacion on congas, Demitri "Pikey" Copeman on saxophone, Otto James on keyboards, Michael Encarnacion on bass, Guillermo Encarnacion on timbales, and Junie Bomba on bongos.
Rene Encarnacion is known as a conga drummer/percussionist but also is an accomplished bass player. His first instrument was steelpan, and his first formal music studies were at the Seventh-day Adventist School on St. Croix. "Everyone else at school had guitars, so I decided to play bongos," he says. He was the leader for a decade of Conjunto Tipico de Santa Cruz and was part of Sanora Santa Cruz with Ruben Santana and legendary sax man Scypio. He also worked with Tito Puente and Jovani, a top Latin conga player. He can be heard on The Mighty Sparrow's "Saltfish" album and with Tuff Enough and The Rhythmix.
Copeman has been a jazz fan since his Central High School days. A self-taught saxophonist, he founded the Native Rhythm Band and has performed with such local groups as Jamsie and the Happy Seven, Free Association and Taco and the Playboys. His recording credits include "Joe Paris and the Hot Shots, Vol. 4" with King Derby and the "Zoop Zoop" anthology with Paris; he recently was in the studio with Rico and The Stars for a forthcoming CD. His day job is teaching art at Lew Muckle School, and he's also an accomplished painter as well as a poet whose work can be found in the V.I. poetry anthology "Yellow Seed Is Blooming."
James credits his siblings and trumpeter Eric Davis as early influences and has fond memories of "keg," the art of making drums from a key and goat skin. He recalls the excitement of listening to Latin music on Puerto Rican radio stations as a youngster. He studied at the Manhattan School of Music and performed with top Latin bands in New York including Orchestra Tropicana. Upon his return home to St. Croix, he joined forces with the top names in music, including Archie Thomas, Mario De Chabert, Mario Moorehead, The Vibratones and Rudy Schulterbrandt's band, where he played timbales.
Michael Encarnacion's first musical interest was singing, but he switched to keyboards and bass. A self-taught musician, he got his first gig with his Uncle Rene's Conjunto Tipico de Santa Cruz. He also has worked with Code 9, Another Level, and Liquid Sound and currently is music director for the Latin band Mo Tempo.
Guillermo Encarnacion took up the trumpet first, but when his Uncle Rene saw him beating on an old fiberglass chair (and anything else he could beat on), he went out and bought the young man his first bongos. In 1987, Guillermo joined Conjunto Tipico de Santa Cruz for his first gig then went on to work with Fuego Latino and Mario Thomas's Rhythmix. He currently is a member of Mo Tempo.
Bomba says that at about age 7, "I used to sneak down the hill to listen to The Vibratones … and hope my mother wouldn't find out." By 13, he was avidly listening to Joe Cuba, Eddie Palmieri and Tito Puente. His first instrument was a conga drum made from a keg. He got his musical training in the St. Patrick's School band, where he played drums and percussion. He has played with various St. Croix ensembles, including Jamsie and His All Stars, Horace Clarke and Freddie Williams.
"Sunset Jazz" is a family event, with accompanied youngsters welcome. The few benches in the park will be claimed by early comers, so the best bet for comfort during the concert is to bring your own folding chairs or a blanket to spread out on the grass.
FEDA will operate a cash bar, and concertgoers are encouraged to stay in town afterward to dine at the establishment of their choice and/or to take in any of the entertainment options offered on a Friday night in Frederiksted.
The next "Sunset Jazz in Frederiksted" concert, on Sept. 20, will feature The Jack Petersen Jazz Quartet. For more information, call 719-3672 or e-mail to Sunset Jazz.
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