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2021 IASJ Jazz Research Conference, 11 and 12 November
Session 2, 11 November, 5 pm

Jazz research and multi media

Insight in the creative process of The New Immigrant Experience, a multimedia project in which the speech patterns of the 'Dreamers' are translated into musical themes.

Felipe Salles, saxophone, conductor, composer, UMASS AMHERST, USA

The New Immigrant Experience by Felipe Salles (UMASS, AMHERST)
Felipe Salles, professor of Jazz Studies at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, presents an insight into the creative process of ‘The New Immigrant Experience” - a multimedia piece combining video documentary and jazz composition, inspired by conversations with ‘Dreamers’. The documentary style video interviews and the original live music stand at the same level and are an equal partner in facilitating and connecting the intellectual and emotional discussion about immigration and identity. Musician and activist Teresa Lee was the inspiration for this project and is the original ‘Dreamer’. Her undocumented migration to the United States led to the DREAM Act, which was introduced to provide a pathway to legal status for unreported youth who came to the U.S. as children.

Together with producer Meghan Rossman, Felipe conducted 11 interviews with activists who are members of the Dreamer community. The initial interviews were held off camera and dealt with topics such as legal status, immigration, cultural identity, family and language. In the end 9 subjects were chosen to represent an array of nationalities, cultures, ethnicities and languages. With the assistance of Fernanda Faya, Brazilian cinematographer and documentary filmmaker, a visual identity was created and the final interviews were filmed in close-up to “put a face” on the issue. Transitional footage that connects the interviews and binds the stories together is related to mobility, migration, relocation and family. Fernanda and Felipe edited the final interviews down to about 5 minutes and each conversation was studied and key motifs, which served as an inspiration for the music, were extracted.

For the basis of the composing process Felipe drew out musical motifs from key words, such as names of the Dreamers, as well as rhythms, patterns and phrases based on their speech. There are two types of motifs that inform the work: specific motifs that only appear in the movement they belong to and overarching motifs that appear multiple times, across many movements and tie the narrative musically. The piece was composed for The Felipe Salles Interconnections Ensemble with specific musicians and their musical strengths in mind.

In his presentation Felipe gave specific examples of the various types of motifs, presenting them first in their most basic forms (bare note sequence without rhythm) and then in their fully orchestrated arrangement. Explanations on the relationship between themes and form, the reoccurrence of individual motives, their musical and stylistic variations and how they intertwine in the overarching themes were given based on specific parts of the musical work.

The ambitious The New Immigrant Experience combines multimedia, activism and cultural dialog with the fusion of elements of world music, jazz and 20th century classical music. It was released as a CD/DVD set, in March 2020, to critical acclaim, including a 4.5 stars review from Downbeat Magazine, making the magazine’s list of best albums of 2020. This work was made possible by the support and generosity of The John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, and The University of Massachusetts Amherst. Due to the pandemic, it has been performed live only a few times and is available in its entirety online.

Contact Felipe Salles
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The New Immigrant Experience EPK

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