The New York-based trumpeter and composer was scheduled to perform his “Swing Symphony” on Friday alongside the Simon Bolivar Orchestra conducted by Gustavo Dudamel, the first of three concerts planned in Caracas.
Marsalis and other musicians from the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra also were supposed to lead a series of workshops with Venezuela’s world-famous El Sistema network of youth ensembles. Both that organization and the orchestra are supported by Venezuela’s socialist government.
Greg Scholl, executive director of the Jazz at Lincoln Center, said he regretted the last-minute scratch of Caracas from the jazz orchestra’s 12-city South American tour. He said the visit would be rescheduled at a later date to avoid becoming a distraction amid the recent political turmoil.
Jazz “is a powerful tool to bring people across cultures and geographies together,” he said in an interview from New York. “But it’s important that it’s performed in conditions when the music can be heard. Intentionally or otherwise, if our performances there and the work that we were doing with them there was to become politicized those conditions no longer exist. And that could be harmful to both of our institutions.”
Marsalis has long been an emissary for jazz and in 2010 spent a week in Havana jamming with music students in communist-ruled Cuba.
His first visit to Venezuela since 2005 couldn’t have come at a worse time for relations between the two countries.
Last week, President Nicolas Maduro ordered the U.S. to sharply reduce the size of its embassy and slapped a new visa requirement on Americans that has caught many travelers by surprise.
The embattled leader said he was taking the steps to protect the oil-rich nation from attempts by the U.S. to oust his government. The U.S. has dismissed the claims as laughable and called them an attempt to distract attention from Venezuela’s deepening economic crisis.
Scholl said that all of the musicians had visas and that neither the U.S. nor Venezuela’s government pressured the orchestra to either keep or cancel its appearance.