DONALD VEGA: REELING IN A DREAM OF A SPIRITUAL NATURE


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In the early 90s, There was a section in Los Angeles, that evolved out of the ashes of the riots in South Central L.A., an arts community came together to heal. Part of that Arts Renaissance was the Leimert Park  Village, which housed clusters of performing arts venues,artist lofts, craft makers, poets and dance troupes. Two of the more popular venues were 5th Street Dick’s  Coffee House & Billy Higgins’s World Stage.. This was a spawning grounds for some of today’s most eclectic & innovative jazz musicians. Donald Vega was part of that movement, along with, trumpeter Gilbert Castellanos,  saxophonist Dale Fielder, Drummer Willie Jones III, Composer / bassist   Marcus Shelby, Dwight Trible, and the Pan Afrikan Arkestra, founded by Horace Tapscott . Many nights as I sat in the coffee-house or the listening galleries checking out Donald and a bunch of under-25 years old jazz musicians,playing with such superb and intense virtuosity, with a NO FEAR attitude on the bandstand. It was always easy pick him out of the slew of piano players who helped to keep the jam sessions going long.. He always stood out, his solos were fluid, and none complicated, they just flowed,  He doesn’t lean that heavy on his technical prowess,but his improvisational composing offers up  florets of melodies that linger long after the song has finished. Donald Vega’s performing, composing, and arranging pays tribute to the giants on whose shoulders he stands, while stretching his own expression into uncharted realms.  His ballads touch the heart without employing sentimentality; while his velocity of swing reminds us that dance is at the heart of jazz.  Donald’s spiritual clarity provides a healing balm of grace while teaching us that life is more than what the eye can see.  The music of Donald Vega exemplifies the importance of affirmative culture in providing each of us with the resources of the mind and soul. Ron Carter isn’t known to  waste adjectives on musicians. The legendary bass master has incredibly high standards and a reputation for telling it like it is, so, an endorsement from Carter really means something. The fact that he hails Donald Vega as, “the next piano voice” in jazz, and selected him to be Mulgrew Miller’s successor in his own trio. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=96ZTBp0TQTg

Donald Vega came to the United States from Nicaragua at the age of fifteen without speaking a word of English and suffering health problems that threatened his hearing and his musical future.  Poverty-stricken, Vega practiced on a makeshift cardboard piano and within a year won the prestigious Los Angeles Spotlight Awards competition capturing the attention of Henry Mancini and the renowned jazz critic, Leonard Feather.  David Abel of Fine Pianos, at the request of Walter Grumman and Barbara Haig, donated a piano to replace the now legendary piece of cardboard.

Mastering English as quickly as the keyboard, Vega began studying at The Colburn School of Performing Arts (where he now teaches part-time),  graduated from high school, and went on to earn a B.A. degree in Jazz Studies from the University of Southern California in 1999.   Along the way, he won the LA Jazz Society’s New Talent Award and was runner-up in the Great American Jazz Piano Competition, a national competition. In addition, Donald went through a number of critical surgeries to restore his health and save his hearing.   

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Vega has performed with a long-list of jazz legends including: Al McKibbon, Poncho Sanchez, Milt Jackson, John Clayton, Jeff Hamilton, Bennie Wallace, Billy Higgins, Reggie Workman, Luis Conte, Alex Acua, Anthony Wilson, Francisco Aguabella and countless others. 

Vega has recorded with Aguabella (“Ochimini”, 2004; “Agua de Cuba”, 1999; and “Cubacan”, 2002).  Donald has also recorded with Al McKibbon, (“Black Orchid”, 2003), Poncho Sanchez, (“Ochimini”, 2004), Anthony Wilson (“Adult Themes”, 1999) and Jazz on the Latin Side All-Stars (“The Last Bullfighter” 2004).  

Vega while living in Los Angeles,he played all the top jazz night clubs in the Los Angeles area including the Catalina Bar and Grill, LaVe Lee, Sapazios, Steamers Cafe,Vibrato Grill & Jazz, Hollywood Park Casino and Ciudad.  He also appeared at larger venues like the Hollywood Bowl, Kodak Theater, Universal Amphitheater, Music Center, Grand Performances at the California Plaza, Getty Museum, Shrine Auditorium, Wiltern Theatre and the Greek Theatre.

Donald Vega has toured throughout Europe, Latin America and the United States; including major jazz festivals such as the Playboy Jazz Festival, Berlin Jazz Festival, Watts Towers Jazz Festival and the Central Avenue Jazz Festival.

In short – his music matters.   

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2 thoughts on “DONALD VEGA: REELING IN A DREAM OF A SPIRITUAL NATURE

  1. Hi Robert, this is Dr. Carlos from San Juan, Puerto Rico. I did like your piece on Donald Vega
    but, some info was missing … he also has a Masters from Manhattan School of Music and a
    postgraduate jazz diploma from Juilliard
    He was recommended by (p) Mulgrew Miller (before he died), as his replacement in the Ron
    Carter trio. More info in my BLOG # 9 in
    Best,
    Carlos A. Iramain, M.D.

    Like

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