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Paraguayan Jazz Pianist Daniel Ayala Visits Kansas City by way of Partnership for the Americas

Paraguayan jazz pianist Daniel Ayala made an April tour of Kansas and Kansas City, playing a whirlwind of gigs from Emporia, Pittsburg, to Junction City, Kansas. On Saturday, April 15, Ayala presented a youth improvisation workshop at UMKC, in Kansas City.

Ayala—and violinist Ramiro Miranda, a Paraguayan transplant who teaches and conducts orchestras at Emporia State—led a group of mainly grade and middle schoolers through jazz riffs and licks, as well as how to improvise over standard scale structures.

At these performances, Ayala performed jazz versions of traditional Paraguayan folk tunes as well as some straight ahead jazz, including a focus on bebop. He leads his own quartet in Paraguay and has his own album out.

Partnership for the Americas sent him on this brief tour, with hopes of returning in the near future with his quartet. As part of his repertoire, at home and away, Ayala often plays one or two Parker tunes, as Kansas City is the perfect place for him to travel.

Chief JAM Magazine music reviewer, Kevin Rabas lives in Emporia, just across the street from Ramiro Miranda. The conductor’s wife is cellist Irene Diaz Gill, and their house is where Ayala stayed during the trip. Rabas is one of just a few jazz drummers in Emporia, and he was asked to accompany Ayala on one in-town gig. That grew into about seven more across the region.

Now, Kevin Rabas will touch on a few of the highlights of the week: When we first met, it was late at night at Ramiro Miranda’s house. Miranda is a busy man, teaching class and giving lessons and conducting the local and university orchestras. When the moon and stars are out, he can relax and plan.

Ayala started choosing tunes: “Sandu,” “On Green Dolphin Street,” “Caravan,” “Manha de Carnaval,” “Softly as a Morning Sunrise,” “Cantaloupe Island,” “Blue Monk,” “Scrapple from the Apple,” “Tren Lechero,” “Lucha Interna.”

“What’s one you might like?” Ayala asked. “Something from the drummer?”

I said, “How about ‘Well, You Needn’t?”

“Monk,” he said. “Yes, Monk. I like it. That one is not so easy.”


We played our UMKC gig and workshop. We hit the Green Lady Lounge, then the Black Dolphin, next door. We left at 6 am on Saturday morning, driving to play at Pittsburg State, and attended the annual Kansas Paraguay Partners meeting.

At the meeting, someone said, “What is that unusual drum you played?”

and I said, “Cajon. It means box. Mine is kind of eccentric, cone-shaped.”

“And those mallets you used?”

“A bass drum mallet--and a timpani mallet with a sock on it.”

Ramiro said, “But the sock is clean.”

A representative from D.C. arrived and spoke.

We moved drums in and out of buildings and on and off stages in the rain. Our UMKC date started at 5 pm. We went to dinner on the Plaza after. By the Black Dolphin gig we attended, folks in our group were starting to tire. Brian Ward Organ Trio played until 12:30, and saxophonist Todd Wilkinson capped the night with a sweet, stunner solo.

I said, “You should meet him,”

and Todd turned and said, “Kevin Rabas, the poet,”

and I said, “Yes, meet my Paraguayan friends.” When we got back to our table, Ayala said, “We lost one.”

Irene, Ramiro’s wife, a fine cellist, and a trooper, marshalling both instruments, musicians, and kids during the trip, had nodded off. She slept at the table, upright, but utterly out. I said, “We can take her and Maxi (her son) home and hit the Foundation jam,”

But the others were tired, too. They made a plan to be back for the Blue Room Jazz Draft Jam on April 27th.

There is so much that musicians in Kansas City can teach—and also learn—from international connections like these. Folks come from as far away as Paraguay, and further, to touch a tradition for a moment, and live for just a few days in a jazz mecca like Kansas City. That is so much more than physical souvenirs—be it a CD, a bottle of beer, or BBQ sauce.

The traveler brings the music back home with them when they go.

—Kevin Rabas

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