News / Arts & Entertainment

Haiti's Godwin Louis Takes Long Jazz Journey

Godwin Louis
Godwin Louis
Richard Paul
The annual Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition is one of the most prestigious jazz contests in the world. And as the name of suggests, the Monk Competition is decidedly international, with semi-finalists in the most recent contest coming not only from the United States, but also from countries including Austria and Australia, the Netherlands, Israel, and Chile.

One finalist in the competition, Godwin Louis, has had a jazz journey that has taken him from Haiti to New York.

Louis can remember the first time he heard jazz, all thanks to a relative in Connecticut.

"I was living in Haiti at the time and I have an uncle who’s a jazz guitarist, so he would send us some jazz CDs to check out,” he said.

He says he remembers listening in particular to a disc by alto saxophonist Cannonball Adderley and also to tenor saxophonist Sonny Rollins’ “Live at the Village Vanguard.”  But it was the cassette tape Louis’s uncle sent down of saxophonist and bebop innovator Charlie Parker that really did it.

“That was sort of my introduction to jazz and improvisation,” he said.

Godwin Louis Takes Long Jazz Journey
Godwin Louis Takes Long Jazz Journeyi
|| 0:00:00
...
 
🔇
X

The Parker recording that inspired Louis was of the saxophonist playing the song “White Christmas.”

“It was sort of like, Wow!, the liberties! It’s not quite the melody but it’s following some kind of shape that’s - it goes with the melody and it’s - it makes sense, but I just don’t know what it is," he said. "I want to be able to play like that.’”

Haiti might not be the first place you’d think of when you think of jazz.  But today - and during the time Louis was growing up there, "jazz absolutely was popular,” he said.

And Louis continues to working to see it stays that way.  He’s partnered with a number of Haiti’s best jazz players to demonstrate the country’s connection to jazz - a connection that goes back hundreds of years and is deeply rooted in Haitian and U.S. history. Both Haiti and the Louisiana territory that stretched from New Orleans up along the Mississippi River had been French colonies in the New World.

“A lot of Haitians migrated to the Louisiana Purchase, so with them they brought the culture, the architecture, cuisine, they brought their rhythms and everything else they could,” he said.

When he came to America to study jazz in 2009, Louis felt like he embodied this fusion.  He’d been living in Haiti, and had grown up with Haitian rhythms that had long ago contributed to the creation of jazz. So it all seemed to fit.  At the time, he says a teacher told him

“Man, some how you’re playing our music authentic, but it’s not the way we play it, but I can hear it - the authenticity and I think it came from that," he said.

Like in so many other places in the world, many Haitians immersed themselves in the culture of the United States, and on that score, Louis certainly went along.

“I also spent a lot of time of course, growing up in the [19]90s listening to popular music of the 90s," he said. "So I think all of it, when I play I guess I try to somehow - whether or consciously or subconsciously - find those influences and just play.”

Having been one of the finalists at the Monk Competition, says Louis, is “absolutely a dream come true.  I get to add about 25 people on Facebook every day.  I get more, you know, Twitter followers and so it’s pretty cool, it’s pretty cool,” he said.

And when he plays it, it’s also pretty hot.

You May Like

Video Experts Warn World Losing Ebola Fight

Doctors Without Borders says world is losing battle against Ebola, unless wealthy nations dispatch specialized biological disaster response teams More

Video Experts: Rise of Islamic State Significant Development in Jihadism

Many analysts contend the group - which grew out of al-Qaida in Iraq - has been rebuilding for years More

US-Based Hong Kongers Pledge Support for Pro-Democracy Activists

Democracy advocates call on Chinese living abroad to join them in opposing new election rules for their home territory More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Larger Than Life Chinese Lanterns Make Southern California Appearancei
X
Elizabeth Lee
September 02, 2014 8:57 PM
Chinese lanterns with a long history are lighting up in 21st century style at the Los Angeles County Fair in southern California. Visitors can see traditional lanterns that hang, but also lanterns in the shape of animals, iconic landmarks and many other objects, all created by artisans from a place in China known for its lanterns. Elizabeth Lee has the details from the fair in the city of Pomona.
Video

Video Larger Than Life Chinese Lanterns Make Southern California Appearance

Chinese lanterns with a long history are lighting up in 21st century style at the Los Angeles County Fair in southern California. Visitors can see traditional lanterns that hang, but also lanterns in the shape of animals, iconic landmarks and many other objects, all created by artisans from a place in China known for its lanterns. Elizabeth Lee has the details from the fair in the city of Pomona.
Video

Video Experts See Rise of ISIS as Significant Development

The Islamic State’s rise seems sudden. It caught the U.S. by surprise this summer when it captured large portions of northern Iraq and spread its wings in neighboring Syria. But many analysts contend that the group - which grew out of al-Qaida in Iraq - has been rebuilding for years. VOA's Jela de Franceschi takes a closer look at the rise of ISIS and its implications for the Middle East and beyond.
Video

Video Israel Concerned Over Syrian Rebels in Golan

Israeli officials are following with concern the recent fighting between Syrian rebels and government forces near the contested Golan Heights. Forty-four U.N. peacekeepers from Fiji have been seized by Syrian Islamist rebels and the clashes occasionally have spilled into Israel. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Jerusalem.
Video

Video Ukraine Schools Resume Classes, Donate to Government Forces

A new school year has started in Ukraine but thousands of children in the war-torn east are unable to attend because of ongoing clashes with pro-Russia rebels. In Ukraine's capital, patriotic education has become the norm along with donations to support injured security forces fighting to take back rebel-held areas. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video US Detainees Want Negotiators for Freedom in North Korea

The three U.S. detainees held in North Korea were permitted to speak with foreign media Monday. The government of Kim Jong Un restricted the topics of the questions, and the interviews in Pyongyang were limited to five minutes. Each of the men asked Washington to send a representative to Pyongyang to secure his release. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti has our story.
Video

Video Turkmen From Amerli Describe Survival of IS Siege

Over the past few weeks, hundreds of Shi'ite Turkmen have fled the town of Amerli seeking refuge in the northern city of Kirkuk. Despite recent military gains after U.S. airstrikes that were coordinated with Iraqi and Kurdish forces, the situation remains dire for Amerli’s residents. Sebastian Meyer went to Kirkuk for VOA to speak to those who managed to escape.
Video

Video West Africa Ebola Vaccine Trials Possible by Early 2015

A U.S. health agency is speeding up clinical trials of a possible vaccine against the deadly Ebola virus that so far has killed more than 1,500 people in West Africa. If successful, the next step would be a larger trial in countries where the outbreak is occurring. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
Video

Video Survivors Commemorate 70th Anniversary of Nazi Liquidation of Jewish Ghetto

When the German Nazi army occupied the Polish city of Lodz in 1939, it marked the beginning of a long nightmare for the Jewish community that once made up one third of the population. Roughly 200,000 people were forced into the Lodz Ghetto. Less than 7,000 survived. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, some survivors gathered at the Union League Club in Chicago on the 70th anniversary of the liquidation of the Lodz Ghetto to remember those who suffered at the hands of the Nazi regime.

AppleAndroid

New in Music Alley

Beyond Category

Pianist Myra Melford’s new CD “Life Carries Me This Way” features solo piano interpretations of drawings by modern artist Don Reich. She performs songs from the album, talks about turning art into music, and joins host Eric Felten in some Chicago boogie-woogie on "Beyond Category."