An inspired, majestic and visionary project celebrating the true spirit and ideal of America during a politically embattled time, American Dreamers: Voices of Hope, Music of Freedom shows us that veteran big band leader and multi-Grammy nominee John Daversa is as big a musical dreamer as the real life “Dreamers” he celebrates.
Let’s say up front that even with zero knowledge of the current charged immigration debate in the U.S., one can thoroughly enjoy, on a purely musical level, the expansive collection featuring bold, energetic big band arrangements of traditional patriotic tunes (“America The Beautiful,” “Stars and Stripes Forever”), rock and pop classics (James Brown’s “Living in America,” Led Zeppelin’s “The Immigrant Song”) and old time but suddenly timely and pointed gems (Cole Porter’s “Don’t Fence Me In,” Woody Guthrie’s “Deportee (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos).”
Yet a deeper understanding of the current political climate and the context it provides for the collection makes the experience of listening all the more emotional and necessary. Daversa and his dynamic ensemble aren’t just doing a random celebration here – they’re using music to bring reason and logical fuel to the battle for the values we have long thought America stood for but are now threatened. The project quite literally gives voice to young undocumented people known as “Dreamers” who, through no fault of their own, were brought up to his country as children and instilled with American culture and values.
In 2012, they were afforded temporary status with the Deferred Action for Childhood Early Arrivals (DACA) policy, but it was rescinded in 2017, and the currently face an uncertain future. Daversa, whose grandparents immigrated from Italy, uses the session as a vehicle to showcase some talented, hand selected music students and non-professionals to perform along with him and his band.
By the numbers: 53 Dreamers are featured on the recording, representing 17 states (plus DC) and 17 countries of origin. The real heart tug here comes from Daversa’s brilliant idea to introduce each song with a brief spoken word/musical testimony by nine of those dreamers, who perform a few bars on that track and then along with the full ensemble on the song they have introduced.
Daversa complements his range of vibrant re-imaginings with his own colorful, exquisitely executed compositions, including “All is One” and the funky, rap-filled hipster jam “Red, White and Remixed.” There are many layers of personal and universal heartache and joy to explore here, and one listen may not be enough to catch it all. So dig in! Jazz, like rock and roll, has long been a voice for freedom and protest. Daversa and his crew speak to this difficult moment with passion and conviction. If John Lennon had been a big band guru, he might have imagined something along these lines.