The musical melting pot: Live-streamed shows at the Academy of Music feature Latin American jazz

  • Composer and saxophonist Felipe Salles, who teaches jazz at UMass Amherst, will bring his large ensemble to the Academy of Music April 24 for a livestreamed performance. Image courtesy Felipe Salles

  • Composer and saxophonist Felipe Salles, who teaches jazz at UMass Amherst, will bring his large ensemble to the Academy of Music April 24 for a live-streamed performance. Image courtesy Felipe Salles

  • Felipe Salles conducts his ensemble in a performance of “The New Immigrant Experience.” Photo by Jill Steinberg/courtesy Felipe Salles

  • Mexican-born singer Magos Herrera, now living in New York Ciy, brings her Latin American jazz to the Academy of Music April 2 for a live-streamed peformance. Image by Vanesa Rojo de la Vega/Wikipedia/public domain

  • Chilean vocalist Claudia Acuña performs earlier this month at the Academy of Music. The live-streamed shows by Laudable Productions enable peformers to see audience members on a wide bank of computers. Image courtesy Laudable Productions

  • During the livestreamed performances at the Academy of Music by Laudable Productions, images of audience members are projected on a back wall. Image courtesy Laudable Productions

  • Magos Herrera performs April 2 at the Academy of Music. Image courtesy Laudable Productions.

Staff Writer
Published: 3/25/2021 1:35:02 PM

Immigration has been a hot-button topic for years now, and a change of parties in the White House hasn’t altered the issue, as President Joe Biden contends with a sudden surge of unaccompanied minors at the U.S.-Mexico border, in turn inviting fresh criticism from Republicans over the situation.

But the Biden administration has also endorsed legislation to create new pathways to citizenship for immigrants — and an Easthampton music production company is using those proposals as the launching point for two concerts showcasing the musical contributions of immigrants.

“We Are All Immigrants: Jazz Reflections on Today’s America,” a series from Laudable Productions, features livestreamed shows in April from Northampton’s Academy of Music by vocalist and song interpreter Magos Herrera, a native of Mexico now based in New York City, and Felipe Salles, a composer and saxophonist originally from Brazil who teaches at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. A concert by Chilean singer Claudia Acuña took place earlier this month as part of the series.

And Laudable, which since last summer has been livestreaming performances from the Academy and other venues, notes that the upcoming shows, on April 2 and April 24, are also part of “Third Row Live,” a partnership the company formed last year with arts organizations in the U.S. and abroad that offers virtual events aimed at far-flung audiences — and that also allows performers to see many of their viewers via multiple computer monitors mounted on the edge of a stage.

The April concerts “are really designed to celebrate the contributions immigrants make to our country, musically and otherwise,” said Cassandra Holden, creative director for Laudable. “And they’re also about how for many immigrants, identity can be kind of fluid, between where you were born and where you live now, how you’re accepted, or not, in your new home.”

Holden and Kyle Homstead, Laudable’s founder, note that the music of both Herrera and Salles reflects the different sounds they’ve absorbed in the U.S. as well as the music they first began performing professionally, in particular Latin American jazz.

As they say in press notes about the upcoming shows, “There is no single immigrant narrative, however each of these artists came to the United States to pursue a more expansive, musical career…. Each has composed work that examines and reflects upon this uniquely personal journey.”

Herrera, who was born in Mexico City and sings in Spanish, English, and Portuguese, has won a number of awards and also earned a Grammy nomination for her 2009 album “Distancia.” She has collaborated with multiple artists, including Brooklyn Rider, a classically trained string quartet that works with many artists outside of classical music. Herrera’s 2018 album with the group, “Dreamers,” won widespread praise for its “gems of the Ibero-American songbook reimagined” in new arrangements.

As National Public Radio says of Herrera, “She gets way under the skin of the song, recalling great communicators like Edith Piaf or Billie Holiday.”

“I never thought of myself as belonging to a single nationality,” Herrera said in a statement about her new music, “but the Trump era triggered my Latin-Americanism and brought me closer to my roots.”

Homstead says Herrera, who will perform two shows on April 2 at 3 p.m. and 9 p.m., will be backed by a trio on guitar, drums and bass.

Inspired by the ‘Dreamers’

Salles, by contrast, will be backed by his 19-member jazz group, called the Interconnections Ensemble, on April 24 when he performs “The New Immigrant Experience,” an extended, layered composition he wrote after winning a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2018.

Getting that many musicians on stage and socially distanced is a challenge, Homstead noted, “but we’ve had ongoing conversations with Felipe and with health officials and the state to make this happen. There may have to be some adaptation, based on what’s happening a month from now, but we’re working closely with everyone to make the space comfortable for staff and the musicians.”

As he said in a Gazette interview a few years ago, shortly before debuting his new work at UMass, Salles composed “The New Immigrant Experience” after interviewing numerous “Dreamers”: young immigrants given legal status after being raised in the U.S. by undocumented parents. He used those shared experiences, and the vocal rhythms of the speakers, to create the music, which runs about 90 minutes and includes American and Latin jazz, Brazilian rhythms and a touch of classical.

Downbeat magazine, in a review giving “The New Immigrant Experience” 4.5 out of 5 stars, says Salles’ composition appeals not just for its varied grooves but because it’s also “about hearing what often-neglected people have been trying to get others to hear — a goal that Salles achieves brilliantly.”

His April 24 concert, at 8 p.m., will be preceded by a 3 p.m. panel discussion that includes Tereza Lee, the original “Dreamer,” and a number of other speakers involved with immigration. According to program notes, the talk is designed to add context to Salles’ composition by examining the situation of undocumented immigrants, prospects for new immigration policies, and related topics. Audience members will be invited to ask questions.


The April 2 and April 24 shows will be streamed to a range of other “presenting partners” that include as many as 50 theaters, festivals, and radio stations around the globe, according to Holden. She and Homstead add that the Felipe Salles show would not have been possible without the financial help of two other area arts organizations, Next Stage Arts of Putney, Vermont, and Blues to Green in Springfield.

“I think one thing we’ve learned this past year is the value of creating partnerships to give artists new platforms and to try and be creative about how we stage events,” she said.

Meantime, Laudable is looking at bringing back some of its live productions in late summer, including Barbès In the Woods, a one-day musical festival in Montague, and, the series of shows in Easthampton held over several weekends in late August and September. Those events were staged virtually in 2020, but Holden says “We’re certainly looking at the possibility of doing them live this year” if the pandemic can be diminished or contained by increased vaccinations.

For more information on the Magos Herrera and Felipe Salles concerts, and to purchase tickets, visit

Steve Pfarrer can be reached at

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