W.P. Norton

Archive for November, 2015|Monthly archive page

Jazz festival helps put Dominican Republic on world music map

In jazz, latin jazzz, music on November 9, 2015 at 5:42 pm
Photo by Gabriel Rode: The Berklee Gobal Jazz Institute band helped bring the sounds of world jazz to the stage at the 19th annual Dominican Republic Jazz Festival in Puerto Plata and Cabarete.

Photo by Gabriel Rodes: The Berklee Gobal Jazz Institute band helped bring the sounds of world jazz to the stage at the 19th annual Dominican Republic Jazz Festival in Puerto Plata and Cabarete.

By W.P. Norton

Special to the Miami Herald International Edition

CABARETE, Dominican Republic — One thing to know about the annual jazz festival on the Atlantic coast of this Spanish-speaking nation of the Caribbean is that Latin jazz is only some of the jazz you are going to hear.

To be sure, the percussion-heavy rhythms of the Afro-Cuban jazz form can be said to have dominated the 19th annual Dominican Republic Jazz Festival that rang out in the principal towns of the world-famous North Coast province of Puerto Plata Nov. 4-9: The D.R.’s own Big Band Conservatorio Santo Domingo opened in Santiago Wednesday and the incredibly high-powered combo of Cuban percussionist Pedrito Martinez closed in Cabarete Sunday.

But you could also hear Puerto Rico’s David Sanchez Quintet, France’s Mario Canonge Trio and Israel’s Roy Assaf Trio. And the United States delivered the Student Loan String Band, renowned jazz bassist John Patitucci, and Boston’s Berklee Global Jazz Institute from the Berklee College of Music.

The two drummers, cellist, standing bassist, violinist, saxophonist, pianist and flamenco guitarist of the Berklee ensemble showcased particularly sophisticated and wide-ranging arrangements that expanded the definitions of jazz. For example, the student virtuosos opened their Friday and Saturday shows with a brief Arabic sounding composition, the emigration song “Stop by My House,” featuring Middle-Eastern vocal phrases from the group’s violinist, who hails from Jordan.

The number had a mournful, dreamlike quality that made you feel transported to somewhere like a peaceful Moroccan Kasbah, being called from the minarets to hear the Middle Eastern equivalent of a worshipful choir — instead of standing on a Caribbean beach a few hundred feet from the Atlantic ocean.

Photo by David Rodes: Cuban percussionist Pedrito Martinez. second from left, and associates conducting a music education workshop with Dominican youth in Puerto Plata Province, Dominican Republic.

Photo by Gabriel Rodes: Cuban percussionist Pedrito Martinez. second from left, and associates conducting a music education workshop with Dominican youth in Puerto Plata Province, Dominican Republic.

The audience of several hundred was rapt, and applauded with intensity. And why not? All great forms of music have the power to transport, to take you someplace else. And in one sense that was the point: getting people from there to here has been the economic strategy of the Dominican Republic for decades.

One New York critic remarked that the festival’s strong association with the Berklee School helped puts the Dominican Republic on the world map of desirable places for important jazz musicians to hang their berets.

Among its many sponsors is JetBlue Airways, whose interest in developing the D.R. tourism market is just as strong as the country’s ministry of tourism. The air carrier’s sponsorship of the festival is a sign that JetBlue thinks the festival can boost the number of travelers coming to the North Coast for “destination tourism” of a higher cultural caliber than the sealed-off all-inclusive, private-beach packages favored by the most affluent of visitors here. Indeed, no hotel rooms were said to be available in Cabarete over the weekend.

By comparison, Puerto Rico’s Heineken Jazz Festival is one of the better-known events of on the Latin America-Caribbean circuit, and it’s been going strong for around three decades. Panama has run its own jazz festival for a mere dozen years.

With the star power and prestige afforded by the Berklee connection, the Dominican Republic of jazz is putting itself on the world map of destinations worth visiting. And positioning itself for a very successful 20th anniversary next November.


—-AP UPDATE: Jeffery Brandt, who killed soldier dog Major Mike, will not be charged

In dogs, specialforces, wardogs on November 6, 2015 at 12:28 pm

A veteran of the Special Forces. A living IED detector. A saver of lives. Shot dead in Montana by a bicycle. A legal shooting, authorities said.

The AP has moved the following story on the closing of the investigation into the shooting death of Major Mike, the war dog who helped his handler, Matt Bessler, confront the challenges of civilian life: The report:

POWELL, Wyoming — (AP) — The Park County Sheriff’s Office says no charges will be filed in connection to the fatal shooting of a Powell veteran’s service dog.

Matthew Bessler served with his Belgian Malinois, named Mike, in Iraq in the U.S. Army before bringing the dog home to Powell to help him with his post-traumatic stress disorder. Mike was shot and killed on Oct. 10.

The Powell Tribune reports (http://bit.ly/1WEXLN3 ) that on Thursday Sheriff Scott Steward said he didn’t doubt Mike was a caring companion to Bessler, but he also didn’t doubt that the 10-year-old dog attacked and injured a 70-year-old man in April. The shooter says Mike attacked him.

Bessler was out of town at the time of the shooting.

Bessler says both he and Mike returned from Iraq with PTSD, making them a team in recovery.


In caribbean, carinval corp., cruise ships, dominican republic, tourism, W.P. Norton on November 5, 2015 at 5:15 pm

Carnival frontCarnival jump

By W.P. Norton, special to the Miami Herald International Edition

Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic — With the fireworks, fervor and ceremony reserved for a presidential victory party, top brass of the world’s largest cruise-ship company, Carnival Corp., joined hands with Dominican politicians this week to christen its $85 million, 25-acre Amber Cove port complex in this city founded by Christopher Columbus.

The official inauguration on Monday of Amber Cove, so named for the abundance of the precious substance that is mined along the northwest coast of the Dominican side of the island of Hispaniola, is Carnival’s boldest move yet in the Caribbean cruise market, which accounts for 80 percent of its cruise business worldwide.

“We are always looking for new ways to create wonderful vacation memories for our guests,” said Carnival CEO Arnold Donald, “and we cannot wait to share the excitement of opening our new Amber Cove cruise port.” (Carnival’s “Victory” cruiser, docked on Monday, was also the first ship to drop anchor at the new port Oct. 6.)

Dominican President Danilo Medina attended the ceremony but made no formal remarks. That role was taken by Francisco Javier Garcia, the minister of tourism. In a fiery oration replete with allusions to Neptune, the mythological god of the sea, the impassioned Garcia thanked President Medina for doing everything possible to facilitate the Amber Cove project, and called the venture an “inseparable marriage” between Puerto Plata and Carnival Corp.

Among the matrimonial terms are a long-term extendable lease on the land surrounding Maimon Bay, just west of Puerto Plata city, where the port complex now sits. The land belongs to the B&R Group, which holds a 49 percent stake in the Amber Cove joint venture with majority stakeholder Carnival.

The cruise port complex is a kind of beachhead for Carnival to enter the Cuban market, a no-go zone for American businesses for the last 50 years until the recent reopening of diplomatic relations with the United States. Amber Cove also represents a second chance for an economic rebound in Puerto Plata, a city with a dire need to modernize its infrastructure and capture cruisers’ dollars in this tourism-dependent country.

Some three decades have passed since a ship brought holidaymakers to Puerto Plata, the country’s eighth-largest city and the regional center of a world-famous strip of surf, water sports and resorts along this Atlantic coastal line of towns that includes Sosua and Cabarete.

In a country whose lifeblood is tourism, Puerto Plata had failed to provide fundamentals like consistent supplies of water and electricity, and the local workforce lacked basic skills to meet the standards of the international hospitality industry, according to Aridio Perdomo, a Dominican journalist who covers tourism.

The city has been in decline ever since, as development dollars have flowed largely to private all-inclusive resort areas and especially to Punta Cana, one of the most popular tourist destinations on the northeastern side of the Island.

Puerto Plata has learned from its mistakes, and stands ready to meet the challenge of catering to the needs of the 350,000 “cruzeristas” expected to visit here annually, Perdomo told a reporter during the midmorning ceremony.

B&R chief Jeffrey Rannik gave credit to the Dominican government and Carnival for making Amber Cove a reality.  But if any single person can be said to have turned Amber Cove from an idea into a reality, it was Giora Israel, Carnival’s vice president of port development.

“Carnival Corporation cruise ships dock in around 720 ports around the world — we are really a global player,” Israel said in an interview with the Miami Herald International Edition. “And when I arrived at Puerto Plata the first time, I knew I really wanted to develop a port right here.”

Since his first meeting, in 1998, with the Rannik group, Israel reckons he made more than 150 visits to the Dominican Republic for negotiations with various government ministers and presidents to negotiate the deal.

In addition to the millions of dollars it pumped into the creation of a long dock that can berth two super-cruisers at a time, Carnival bankrolled many miles of new roads, acres of landscaping and thousands of square feet of retail and dining features for the mall-like tourist complex.

The Amber Cove investment is Carnival’s spearhead into the vast Cuba cruise market, Israel said. To that end, in April 2016 the cruise line is using its new Fathom cruise brand to offer “social-impact” cruises to people who want to spend a few days on Dominican land, sleep in locals’ homes and work with them on local products like handmade chocolate products. People-to-people cruises to Cuba are already scheduled for later next year, Carnival said.

“Victory” passengers Jeremiah Crear and his wife, Cynthia, of Birmingham, Ala., were among hundreds of passengers making their way through Amber Cove’s retail shops, restaurants and water features as a  fireworks display capped Monday’s ceremony.

Both veteran cruisers, the Crears said that although the port lived up to their expectations, the walk from ship to shore seemed too long and would have been easier with a conveyor belt.

“We’re still exploring it,” Jeremiah said. “But we like it so far.”

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