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Varela will be touring this fall in borderland communities as well as Mexico in order to share his project with new audiences
Varela will be touring this fall in borderland communities as well as Mexico in order to share his project with new audiences

Marcos Varela, School of Jazz and Contemporary Music Faculty Member, Wins Creative Capital Grant to Support New Music Project

Since 1999, the Creative Capital Awards have been supporting artists and creatives with monetary grants up to $50,000, which are also supplemented by career development and networking services to foster thriving artistic careers.

Marcos Varela, a faculty member in the School of Jazz and Contemporary Music, received a grant in 2022, which has been instrumental in helping him develop a new project, a fusion of American improvisational musical styles that have origins in both African Huapango and American Jazz music. 

“This award is an honor not only for myself but for the memory of my father, Alfonso Varela, for whom this project is dedicated to,” shares Varela. “This fusion has not been attempted much before and my mission is to combine my cultural heritage and my musical upbringing together while influencing a market that might otherwise not have known the connection between the two idioms prior to this project – that market not only being Americans, but also Mexican and Hispanic Americans that would be interested in the traditional songs while also  introducing them to American jazz music which comes from a similar history.”

Varela is eager to connect with audiences in Mexico, as it is the culture that most informs his perspective, and a demographic that he believes is underrepresented in the world of jazz. He will be touring this Fall in borderland communities as well as Mexico in order to share his project with new audiences.

“I am becoming more passionate about my work’s social impact and implications; therefore, performing in these areas will offer unique opportunities to share new works that seek sonic relationships between Mexican music cultures and their connections to traditional jazz music, where they are underrepresented,” explains Varela. “I am eager to connect directly with Spanish-speaking and Mexican audiences, potentially increasing new interest and meaningful professional relationships that will contribute to a lasting future presence in the region through increased regional performances and touring opportunities.”

As an artist and musician, Varela aims to spark conversation and critical dialogue among his audiences and fellow musicians. His debut album, “San Ygnacio,” began his exploration into the intersection of jazz and Mexican sounds, and continues with his current projects.

“While I have been honored to have a successful career in music, most of it has been spent as a sideman, performing as an ensemble member in other artists’ visions,” says Varela. “Therefore, as my artistic perspective and convictions continue to grow, I am increasingly interested in taking on more bandleader opportunities, which will support my growth as a composer and allow me to lend my perspective as a Mexican-American performer to the jazz landscape.”

As a working musician and educator at the School of Jazz, Varela is influenced and inspired by a variety of factors, and is committed to creating and developing mentorship relationships and opportunities with the students he teaches.

“As an avid student of history and a non-Black artist performing jazz — a Black American art form — I have always approached my craft as a pupil first and foremost, finding inspiration and understanding through historical context. For example, it has been critical for me to acknowledge and learn about the rich legacies of the Black experience that informed the creation of jazz as an art form related to and descended from West African griot storytelling. Therefore, as a Mexican-American man seeking connection with my own heritage, a practitioner of African-American music, and a history enthusiast, I look forward to sharing some of the findings discovered in my Creative Capital Project with Mexican audiences — again, emphasizing the legacy of the African diaspora in Mexican sounds as an  underrepresented artform.’

Varela is not the only member of the College of Performing Arts community making an impact, as faculty and alumni were recently nominated for a variety of Tony awards, and MA Arts Management and Entrepreneurship students debuted capstone projects that spanned diverse genres and disciplines.

Starting this Fall, Varela will begin performing in borderlands communities, including San Antonio and Austin, Texas, Albuquerque, New Mexico, Denver, Colorado, and more. He is also planning to perform at the Polanco Festival in Mexico later this year.

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