American culture is a bulldozer. Here today, gone tomorrow, forgotten yesterday, and when it comes to America's music, the bulldozer has been known to plow under giants like so many redwood trees into mulch. Fortunately, some American musicians have good memories and even stronger conservationist tendencies.
Take the case of Manfredo Fest, about whom Jazziz critic Phillip Booth wrote, "Few of bossa nova's pioneers were as successful in keeping alive the distinctive fusion of samba rhythms and American jazz he helped create four decades ago in his native Brazil." But outside of the experts and a few passionate locals who know his work from when Fest was a mainstay on the Twin Cities scene in the '80s and '90s, he is barely an asterisk in the annals of jazz.
That all changes this week, as Twin Cities pianist (and former Fest student) Terrence Hughes unveils a CD and concert celebrating the music of Manfredo.
"I only took a few lessons from him, in '83 and '84," said Hughes. "I taped them on a crummy little cassette, and found them a while ago and decided to re-take the lessons. He was blind, so when I listened to them, there he was, showing me all this really beautiful, intricate music. So I catalogued everything. I wrote it all down; I made notes to myself, and studied each tape. It took a long time, and it felt like I was hanging out with him again, and the guy's been dead since '99."
Hughes frequently plays Fest tunes at his regular gig at D'Amico Cucina in Uptown, but now he was obsessed. He recruited other Fest fanatics, including Gordy Knudtson, who was Fest's drummer for 10 years. The collaboration ended up on the CD "Bossa Blues," which sees its release tonight at the Dakota Jazz Club, where Hughes and Knudtson will be joined by Fest's son Phillip, a guitarist who leads a trio in Clearwater, Fla., that regularly plays Manfredo tunes.
If the story sounds slightly familiar, it's because Hughes was working from something of a spiritual template: Ry Cooder and "The Buena Vista Social Club," which introduced the music of a bunch of obscure Cuban musicians to the world.
"I love that music, I love what Ry Cooder did, I love that he let it live," said Hughes. "I don't want to really be known as Manfredo Hughes. I'm not trying to put my name in front of the guy, or build a franchise or anything -- I just want people to hear this stuff."
The Fest family, he said, is "thrilled that the music is being kept alive. His wife gave me the best compliment. When she listened to the CD, she said she sensed his presence in the room. And that's a beautiful thing. We captured the essence of the guy."