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Tucson Masterclass 2023

How would thirteen musicians from Nantes, France, find their way to Tucson for a three week long ‘Masterclass’ with several of Tucson’s most gifted music makers?

The roots of the current Masterclass go back decades, and bespoke a transnational DIY ethos. Kick-started in 1995 by the French band The Little Rabbits desire to record with local producer/engineer/studio owner Jim Waters at his Waterworks studio, an un-official sister-city status has spontaneously manifested between Tucson and Nantes that has seen dozens of musicians, visual artists, filmmakers and more travel back and forth between their mutual cities for tours, festivals, residencies and more. The origin story is told in an article I wrote for Tucson Weekly back in 2015.

Tucson locals who have made the trek over the years include Golden Boots, The Pork Torta, Al Foul, Bob Log III, Al Perry, Gabriel Sullivan and many more, including a few who are also directly involved in the Masterclass and three shows being staged while they are in town: Billy Sedlmayr, Brian Lopez, Jeff Grubic, Dimitri Manos and Tom Walbank. Other local musicians involved in the Masterclass include Sergio Mendoza, Arthur Vint, Vicki Brown and John Contreras.

The Masterclass was the brainstorm of three adventurous culture workers from Nantes; Cyrille Bureau, Gilles Janin and DJ Laurent Allinger, aka The French Tourist. Allinger, an original member of The Little Rabbits, has been traveling to Tucson for decades since the fateful first encounter in 1995, and made many long-lasting connections here. So, Allinger brought Bureau and Janin to Tucson in 2022 to scout the locations and locals for a possible ‘Masterclass’ that features French musicians being taught by a select group of Tucson musicians. The consensus was that it could work, and after much planning the Masterclass runs from Sept. 18 through October 4.

Regarding the founding of the Masterclass, he says ‘In 1999 I took part in the same kind of Masterclass in Havana, Cuba. We were eight French jazz musicians who immersed ourselves in Afro-Cuban culture for 15 days in the company of a Santeria percussion master. The masterclass was a real revelation for me, opening the doors to Cuban culture (not just the music) that I’d only glimpsed from afar until then. I hope it will be the same for the participants in the Masterclass, attracted by the American West they might only know from records or films. This is the perfect opportunity for them to discover the rest.’

The Masterclass participants include thirteen musicians, a pair of sound technicians and a couple of videoographers/filmmakers to chronicle the event, in addition to Allinger, Bureau and Janin. Masterclass participants will be involved in class work with local musicians during the day, with evenings and weekends given over to cultural immersion and whatever seems like fun on a September evening in Tucson.

The Masterclass participants and their local teachers will stage three concerts during their time in Tucson, each entirely different than the others. The grand finale concert will be held on Tuesday October 3 on the Plaza at Hotel Congress, and will feature all of the French musicians playing with local special guests who have participated in the Masterclass.

Carl Hanni