Puerto Rican brothers Jerry and Andy Gonzalez learned a valuable lesson from Thelonious Monk: Persist in your art, even if the public doesn't understand it, and you can arrive at something great. Led by Jerry on trumpet and congas and Andy on bass, the brothers' quintet, the Fort Apache Band, has taken Monk's lesson to the stage and studio for the past 20 years.
Fort Apache has created a Latin jazz idiom defined by fluidity and self-assurance. As the five original members continue working together into a third decade, those qualities still blossom: "We converse with each other, there's an ESP sort of empathy within the band," Andy explains from New York. Over the years, that conversation has included influences ranging from Miles Davis and Art Blakey to flamenco and Latin dance music.
The quintet's 1988 album, Rumba Para Monk, is considered a masterpiece that revealed as it invented and invented as it revealed, exposing the Latinidad in Monk's music. "What we did was bring some of that Monk music into our world, which was Latin jazz with emphasis on jazz," Andy says.
Like the Gonzalez brothers, Cuban pianist Omar Sosa hears strong world music connections in Monk—specifically, the influence of Caribbean and African music. "When you listen to Monk, you hear African music, you hear jazz, you hear Latin music, you hear everything," says Sosa, speaking from Spain. "He has a little bit of the whole, entire world."
Appropriately, Sosa's Afreecanos Quartet brings together Cuban and African musicians to create a new musical language, inspired by Monk's philosophy of libertad—freedom. In his quartet, Sosa is joined by fellow Cuban and former Gonzalo Rubalcaba drummer Julio Barretto, Mozambican bassist Childo Tomas and Senegalese vocalist Mola Sylla. Their 2005 Mulatos album, a unique synthesis of tribal and urban sounds, has been re-released through electronica remixes by artists such as Marque Gilmore and Steve Argüelles.
"This is what I take from Monk: the freedom to spread whatever you have inside, whatever comes to you. We're proud to be part of this season because he is my guru," says Sosa.
Jerry Gonzalez & the Fort Apache Band play Duke's Reynolds Theater as part of Duke Performance's Following Monk series Thursday, Oct. 11, at 8 p.m. Omar Sosa and his Afreecanos Quartet share the bill. Tickets are $32-$38 or $5 for Duke students.