There's a new sound brewing in the jazz world of classically trained guitarist Gabriel Ayala, a Tucson native and member of the Pascua Yaqui Tribe. He calls the sound "JazzMenco," which he defines as "the chords of jazz with the drive of flamenco.
"It will be a sound Tucson has never heard before," says Ayala, talking of his spotlight gig Sunday for the Tucson Jazz Society at Loews Ventana Canyon.
Ayala was chosen to play for Pope Benedict XVI in Rome in October at the canonization of Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha, a Mohawk Indian.
Four months later, on Jan. 21, Ayala played for President Obama's inauguration on the mall in Washington, D.C., at the National Museum of the American Indian.
"In Saint Peter's Square, I was about 50 yards from the pope with my guitar. There were 150,000 people there," remembered Ayala. "They said I could play one song.
"I chose 'Inhiapsi' from my latest album. In Yaqui it means 'My Heart.' That song is truly an expression of who I am."
At the Obama inauguration, Ayala was asked to "play whatever you like" for 30 minutes.
Are there any mountains left for this Native American musician to climb?
"What would please me most now is to win a Grammy," said the guitarist, preferably a Grammy for his developing work in JazzMenco. His next CD is scheduled to be released in July, an album of original compositions with Ayala playing all the instruments.
More immediate is the Memorial Day weekend showcase, which "is also the debut of my quintet.
"Usually, I have worked in solo, duo or trio settings. Having these additional musicians will add new textures to the sound paintings I envision," Ayala explained.
The quintet includes Amilcar Guevara, keyboards; Troy Gray, bass; Eric Hines, textured percussion; and Danny Brito, world percussion.
Ayala calls JazzMenco a concept that has been slowing growing in his music since the versatile guitarist became interested in jazz about seven years ago.
At that time, established artists such as Al DiMeola and Paco de Lucia were experimenting with different blends of jazz and flamenco. John McLaughlin was also in there, adding his virtuoso licks. "But it wasn't working that well, I didn't think," said Ayala, who earned his master's degree in music performance at the University of Arizona. "There were too many notes fighting for attention.
"For me, the most crucial part in this mix was my classical guitar training. That discipline meant everything. It made all the difference in what they were doing and what I was hearing as JazzMenco."
The program Sunday will be "about 80 percent original pieces, but the standards will be there, too, done in my style," he said, noting that the play list is sure to include "Take Five" ("which I upgrade to 'Take 5.1')," "Spain," "Caravan" and "Breezin'."
IF YOU GO
• What: Gabriel Ayala Quintet in concert.
• Presented by: Tucson Jazz Society.
• When: 7 p.m. Sunday.
• Where: Loews Ventana Canyon, 7000 N. Resort Drive.
• Tickets: $30 in advance; $35 at the door. Discounts available.
• Reservations/information: tucsonjazz.org or 903-1265.
Chuck Graham is a Tucson-based freelance writer. Contact him at email@example.com