Bringing together some of the finest improvising musicians of his generation, in 2003 Simon founded Ensemble Venezuela as a vehicle for exploring the affinities between jazz and Venezuelan music. Its mission is the exploration of the marriage between these styles through the creation of new works and arrangements of compositions by Venezuelan masters. In 2005 Chamber Music America awarded Simon a grant to compose his "Venezuelan Suite", a work that crosses the boundaries between jazz, chamber music and Venezuelan folk music. "Venezuelan Suite" is undoubtedly Simon’s most important work to date. It inspired the creation of a series of abstract paintings by artist Ellen Priest: "Jazz Paintings on Paper: Improvisations on the Venezuela Suite." On February 24, 2007, while Simon was artist-inresidency at Ursinus College in Collegeville, Pennsylvania, Ensemble Venezuela performed the "Venezuelan Suite" at the Philip & Muriel Berman Museum of Art during an exhibition of Priest's works, offering viewers and listeners the rare opportunity to experience both artists’ works together. On several occasions Simon has been invited to give presentations on the compositional process of this work, most notably at Stetson University in DeLand, Florida; Ursinus College in Collegeville, Pennsylvania; Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey; and the New York University Department of Music Colloquium in New York.
Since its inception, Simon's Venezuelan Suite has formed an integral part of Ensemble Venezuela's repertoire who, over the course of several enthusiastically received performances, has further developed and refined its interpretation of the work, achieving a level of maturity worthy of experiencing. "Venezuelan Suite was born from my desire to consolidate my cultural heritage, my love for classical music and my experience as a jazz musician," says Simon. "Despite its rich and varied folklore, Venezuelan music has yet to obtain the recognition that other musical traditions from Latin America have received. Ever since I rediscovered the music of my homeland, I've been fascinated by its sheer beauty as is evident by the ubiquitous folk songs heard in many of my recordings since my second album (Edward Simon, 1995). Reflected in it are the sounds of the various ethnic groups that make up its inhabitants, an amalgamation predominantly of its indigenous people, Spanish and Africans, manifesting in a myriad of forms. Over time, my growing interest led me to want to delve more deeply and explore the possibility of integrating my cultural heritage into my practice in a more holistic manner. That is, rather than making jazz adaptations of folk melodies, as I had done previously and as I’ve done here with “El Diablo Suelto”, to create a work which fuses Venezuelan music’s infectious rhythms and lyricism with the richness and interplay of jazz harmony and improvisation."
Ensemble Venezuela has performed at important venues and festivals such as the Contemporary Arts Center in New Orleans; the San Francisco Jazz Festival; the Silvermine Guild Arts Center in New Canaan, Connecticut; the Walton Arts Center in Fayetteville, Arkansas; Joe’s Café at the Public Theater in New York; the Moab Music Festival; Centro de la Diversidad Cultural in Caracas, Venezuela; and Teatro de La Opera in Maracay, Venezuela.
Adam Cruz (drums) grew up in New York City surrounded by jazz and Latin music, his father being a noted Latin percussionist. Adam's musicality, versatility and technical skill have brought him wide recognition. Cruz has been featured on nearly 40 recordings. He has recorded and toured with The Mingus Big Band, David Sánchez, Danilo Perez, Chick Corea's Origin Sextet, The Leon Parker Band, Leavitt Award from the Berklee College of Music, where he has both studied and taught.
Jorge Glem is one of the most sought after cuatro soloists in Venezuela due to his incredible virtuosity, imaginative musicality and the staggeringly complex polyrhythmic patterns he creates with his instrument. He was born in Cumaná, Venezuela and began to play the cuatro at a very young age, and already at 24, he is the winner of numerous competitions and awards both in Venezuela and abroad. In 2005 he won 1st price in the "Siembra del Cuatro" International Festival Competition, and in 2004 won the "Best Cuatro" and "Best Ensemble" at the "Silbon de Oro" International Festival, a competition celebrating the music of the plains of both Venezuela and Colombia. Since then he has played with many groups and soloists among them: “Schola Cantorum of Caracas”, Rajatabla Theater Ensemble, The National Flute Orchestra of Venezuela, The Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra, The Venezuelan Symphony Orchestra, Lilia Vera, Carlos Jorgez, Claudio Nazoa, Luis Quintero, Corina Peña, Alirio Díaz, Eugenia Méndez, Ruperto “Tico” Páez, Lucila Becerra, Toñito Naranjo, Marco Granados,Jesús Rengel, Alberto Requena, Jaime Martínez, Aquiles Báez, Gurrufío Ensemble, Maria Rodríguez, El Cuarteto, Hernán Marín, Tierra de Gracia, 21 de Noviembre, Serenata Guayanesa, Rafael “Pollo” Brito, Cheo Hurtado, Rosa Virginia Chacín, among others. He is a member of the following ensembles: Percussion Ensemble "Atalaya", Saul Vera Ensemble, National Radio of Venezuela Ensemble, C4 Trío, “Cuerdas Bajo Presión” Ensemble and Antología Criolla. He has represented Venezuela international music festivals in Guatemala, Colombia, and Germany and is the first cuatro player to have had the honor of performing in the prestigious Kammermusikal of the Berlin Philharmonic theater, The Philarmonie.
Marco Granados (flute), a recent Winner of the YouTube Symphony Orchestra 2011 competition, maintains an active international career as a soloist, chamber musician, and teacher. His diverse repertoire spans from classical to folk, with an emphasis on Latin-American music as his specialty. He has been a member of many critically acclaimed ensembles, among them the Quintet of the Americas and Triangulo (Latin American Chamber Trio). As a founding member of the Amerigo Ensemble, The Camerata Latinoamericana and the Granados/Abend Duo, Mr. Granados’ collaborations also include those with The Cuarteto Latinoamericano, The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center and with such distinguished artists as Paquito D'Rivera, flutist Ransom Wilson, harpist Nancy Allen, oboist Heinz Holliger, flutist William Bennett, as well as with soprano Renee Fleming and baritone Dwayne Croft. Recent performances include recitals at Wigmore Hall in London, tours of the US, Slovenia and South Africa. He has also performed at many summer music festivals including Moab, Chautauqua and the Colorado Music Festival in addition to the Caramoor International Music Festival. Mr. Granados is Music Advisor to Caramoor’s Latin American Music Initiative: Sonidos Latinos. His album Sunflute brought him a Grammy nomination in 1999.
Leonardo Granados (maracas) was born in San Cristóbal, in the Venezuelan Andes, and studied music at the Pedro Antonio Ríos Reina School of Music founded by his father. He belongs to a distinguished musical family: his father is a violinist and his brothers Daniel and Marco Granados are both wellknown wind players. Leonardo is a recognized Bolero and Tango singer, as well as a virtuoso on the Venezuelan maracas. He hasperformed with artists such as Simón Diaz, Francisco Flores, Paquito de Rivera, Marco Granados, Francisco “Pancho” Navarro, Katie Viqueira, David Oquendo, Octavio Brunetti, Raul Jaurena, Cecilia Todd, Oren Fader, Raman Ramakrishnan, Tito Castro, Marta Topferova and Matt Lemmler among others.
John Ellis (bass clarinet), now 35, has never been an artist who stays in one artistic place very long. Born in North Carolina, he took piano lessons as a child, soon switched to clarinet, and first became seriously drawn to music when he heard the music of legendary ragtime composer Scott Joplin. After moving to New Orleans, Ellis' jazz chops improved radically as he gigged with the likes of Ellis Marsalis and Walter Payton. After three years in the Big Easy he then went north to New York City, graduating from the New School and settling into the city's thriving jazz scene. Along the way, Ellis spent six years as a member of jazz guitarist Charlie Hunter's group, cutting four albums with them while also developing his own sound. He has released five critically acclaimed albums as a leader.
Roberto Koch, born in Caracas, is considered one of the most versitle bassists in Venezuela. He has played with many of the most prominent artists and groups in Venezuela including: Aldemaro Romero, Simón Díaz, Aquiles Báez, Aquiles Machado, Alexis Cardenas, Eddy Marcano Gualberto Ibarreto, Cecilia Todd, Francisco pacheco, Rafael “Pollo” Brito, Ilan Chester, Huáscar Barradas, Cheo Hurtado, BAK Trio, C4 Trío and Ahonda. He has appeared on more than 50 recordings and is currently producing an album for the virtuoso trumpeter Francisco “Pacho” Flores, scheduled for release in 2013. He has also played and/or recorded with Venezuelan jazz artists such as Pablo Gil, Gerry Weil, Leo Blanco, Roberto Quintero, Orlando Poleo, Alfredo Naranjo and Andrés Briceño and many international artists including Paquito D’Rivera, Dave Samuels, Edward Simon, Dave Kikosky, Steve Khan, Mike Stern, Adam Rogers, Anat Cohen, Mike Holober and Pedro Eustache.
Jackeline Rago, born in Caracas, Venezuela, Jackeline began playing music at the age of four. Prior to moving to the United States, she spent years studying the Folk-Venezuelan “Cuatro” (national string instrument) and mandolin at the “Manuel Antonio Carreño Primary School” under the tutelage of Venezuelan folklorist Angel Guanipa. During her teenage years, she completed studies in music theory and harmony at the “Escuela de Musica Prudencio Esaa” and courses in classical mandolin at “The Caracas Philarmonic Orchestra Conservatory” under maestro Ivan Adler. While in Venezuela, Jackeline also pursued studies in Afro-Venezuelan percussion under folklorists Hector Pacheco and Alexander Livinalli from the “Fundacion Bigott” in Caracas. In 1989, Jackeline graduated with a B.A. from the Music & Arts Institute of San Francisco, CA, majoring in classical mandolin. Presently, she resides in the Bay Area which has been her home base for the past 20 years. In addition to her Cuatro and mandolin expertise, Rago is an accomplished percussionist and vocalist.