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  • Jonathan Widran


In September, veteran Grammy nominated trumpeter, bandleader and jazz educator John Daversa released American Dreamers: Voices of Hope, Music of Freedom, an extraordinarily ambitious album featuring the voice and musical contributions of 53 “Dreamers” – those afforded temporary status in 2012 with the Deferred Action for Childhood Early Arrivals (DACA) policy, but whose futures living in America has been threatened by the current administration.

Two nights before the crucial 2018 midterm election, Daversa boldly brought the project to Catalina Bar & Grill, overflowing the stage with an ensemble of 20 (including rhythm section, brass and strings) that was so large that it overflowed into the audience. When Daversa was not playing his own beautiful trumpet or EWI melodies, he was out there among the packed audience, conducting in the only space available. But as per the theme of the album, the sweeping arrangements of a wide range of material celebrating the true spirit of America wasn’t the only focus.

Throughout the show, as Daversa explained DACA, the reason for the project and the risks the Dreamers face, he brought several incredible young talents who are as American as any of us - but find themselves at risk because, as children of parents who came here illegally, they are undocumented. They were the embodiment of the importance of, as the bandleader eloquently put it, taking care of our own.

He brought all five of his DACA guests – Julie, Jocelyn, Kaleef , Rodrigo and Key – onstage to contribute spirited vocals on the chorus of a rousing romp through James Brown’s “Living in America,” then invited them to return one by one to showcase their individual skills. Julie sang her own tune, a beautiful ballad called “Dreamer.” Rodrigo engaged in a sweet, gently swinging bass-trumpet duet with Daversa on “On the Sunny Side of the Street.” Key, a faculty member at LACM, played a subtle original bass composition with his boss and mentor, Jerry Watts, Jr. Rapper Kaleef rhymed and grooved to powerful, dizzying effect during an intense full band jam through Led Zeppelin’s “The Immigrant Song.” And Jocelyn spoke eloquently of her family’s life in America.

All of this gave context to Daversa and company’s transcendent, inspirational arrangements of songs we usually save for happier times and the 4th of July (“Stars and Stripes Forever,” “America The Beautiful”) and others like Cole Porter’s “Don’t Fence Me In” and Woody Guthrie’s “Deportee” which fit the theme perfectly though they spoke from another generation’s pain and struggles. Standout soloists included, but were not limited to, clarinetist Phil O’Connor, pianist Christian Jacob and trumpeter Ron King.

Underscoring everything were ongoing urges to get out and vote, and the results have given America a glimmer of hope for at least a slightly more balanced government. Yet the best news came a few days later, when hundreds of thousands of DACA recipients were given a reprieve by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in California, which upheld a previous ruling that blocked the Trump administration from terminating the program. Their legal battle is far from over, so more recordings and showcases like Daversa’s may be necessary to raise awareness before their struggles are through. As a mix of message and entertainment, this show will be a hard one to surpass.

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