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Valley Focus

Sun Valley : Students Hear Beat of Jazz Drummer

November 04, 1995|TIM MAY

If they listened closely, Giovanni Hidalgo told a group of high school students, some of the secrets of life could be heard in the beat of the conga drums he would play.

The drummer smacked his instrument and smiled as 25 students from history teacher Juan Morillo's class filed into a music hall at Polytechnic High School. "We'll talk later," he said. "First, let's play."

As he began drumming, the students leaned forward in their chairs, trying to track Hidalgo's hands as they flew in a blur over the beaten faces of the conga and bongo drums.

"The hands are important," he said, during a pause. "But the breathing, it's how you breathe, that is most important. Develop that. And control your emotions."

Hidalgo, known for collaborations with such legendary musicians as Tito Puente, Art Blakey, Dizzy Gillespie and Paul Simon, began his drum studies with his father when he was only 3. As his talent developed, he pioneered a blend of Afro-Caribbean jazz that caught the attention of jazz master Gillespie, who asked Hidalgo to join his United Nation Orchestra.

At the close of his one-hour performance Friday, the students--even those familiar with percussion instruments--seemed awed. "I've never heard anything like it before in my life," said Marq Jacobs, a drummer in the school's jazz ensemble, who was invited to accompany Hidalgo on the steel timbales. "He was so incredibly fast."

For the few students who may not have heard the secret in his syncopation, he summed it up: "You improvise," Hidalgo said. "Never take away your own style. Develop it. Go home, do your assignments, then practice--whatever you want to practice. There's no hurry to life, right? You have to enjoy the life, correct? So be prepared. Be positive."

He smiled and kept playing.

Hidalgo will give a free performance with other musicians at 7 p.m. Sunday in a UCLA jazz series concert at the Veterans Wadsworth Theater in Westwood.

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