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The Marciac jazz festival brings together fine fare and music for aficionados.
“In the beginning, all the concerts took place on a truck platform on the main square,” said balding farmer Gerard Tete who sold his foie gras at the festival’s first edition, 33 years ago. “At the time, there were only two food stands here.”
Today, the main concerts are held under a tent built for 6,500 people, while the main square is the stage for an "off festival," which is free and generally features lesser known musicians.
“It feels great to play here,” said Canadian drummer Karl Jannuska, who played the off festival. “It is a great crowd, there are a lot of jazz fans, I don’t know where they all come from to be in this little village!”
Visitor Kim N’Guyen said: “The good thing about the off festival is that everyone can attend. Not everyone can afford tickets for the 'in' festival, and here the atmosphere is very festive.”
Marciac has also developed a jazz section at its junior high school — a rarity in France. During the two weeks of the festival, students from the College de Marciac and professionals attend master classes for around $750 dollars.
This year, Marsalis’ drummer Ali Jackson Jr. and bass player Henriquez lectured on the history of jazz.
“It is very important for us to reach out to students, and teach them about the essence of jazz,” said Jackson, who had earlier demonstrated a stunning drum shuffle to the class.
On the school bench, long-haired high school student Hugo Cesselin was still exhilarated by the encounter.
“It is amazing to hang out with the musicians we saw on stage yesterday,” Cesselin said. “Whenever these guys play,” he said, “you feel like they put all their heart in it. Truly, it makes you want to work and reach the same level.”
The French festival has also helped foreign musicians reach international fame.
Pianist Roberto Fonseca is among of them. He was only 8 when he began playing piano. But it was during his 2005 tour with the Buena Vista Social Club, and a concert with legendary Afro-Cuban singer Ibrahim Ferrer at Marciac, that Fonseca acquired world recognition.
“I was extraordinarily lucky to play with the Buena Vista Social Club,” Fonseca said. “I consider myself one of Ferrer’s and [pianist] Ruben Gonzalez’s last students. By playing with them, and by seeing how they behaved on tour, I learned more than I could have ever learned by listening to their records.”
When he is in Marciac, Fonseca is treated like family, receiving warm hugs from the staff. He speaks just enough French with a lovely Cuban twang to charm anyone he meets.
On stage, Fonseca’s sense of melody and Cuban rhythms, combined with his good looks — the pianist is sponsored by upscale clothing retailer Agnes B. — set the crowd on fire.
This time again, the crowd refused to let the Cuban sensation go. The entire audience, volunteers and $60 ticket buyers alike, danced and cheered to keep Fonseca around for an encore.
Those not lucky enough to be inside the tent were trying to catch a glimpse of the music right outside.
Farther away, another jazz band was entertaining a wound-up and cheerful crowd. From the cobblestone streets to the corn fields-turned-parking lots, it seemed like all of Marciac was dancing to the music.