Juan José Calatayud (1939-2003)

I unexpectedly came across a YouTube video of Juan José Calatayud playing the classic jazz  tune “Misty” on the piano and tears came to my eyes, as a flush of recollections ran through my mind .

You might ask: why so sentimental? It might have been the thought  I would never meet this virtuoso pianist and inspirational man in person – we had planned to do, two years before his death – or that he left an extraordinary musical legacy. Or was it the melancholic melody of Misty? The marvelous vocal performance in English and Spanish by Veronica Ituarte? Or  his photo and the recent stories of him told by mutual fellow musicians?  Although I never met Juan José, he was  greatly admired by our family because he was part of the extended Calatayud clan.

Born on July 31, 1939 in Córdoba, Veracruz, Mexico, Juan José Calatayud was widely known in Mexico for bringing jazz to such a prevalent place in that country’s history. In his book  Jazz in Mexico,  Alain Derbez (author and musician) writes that Calatayud should be in the Jazz encyclopedia because of the same reason  that explains Dave Brubeck’s presence.“In Mexico, as it happened with Brubeck in U.S.A., when Calatayud started playing jazz in the 1960’s, he created new audiences: young people who would enter the jazz world not in a jazz club but in a theater, in a University, in cultural forums.”

Juan Jose Calatayud was a man who lived for his music until the end of his life. Despite an automobile accident at the age of twenty-six years old  that left him paralyzed in his legs,  he never stopped playing the piano, recording music, teaching, or delighting jazz music fans that came to hear him perform in orchestras in Mexico or the United States, including  at jazz festivals  or playing Gershwin’s music as a soloist with the National Symphonic Orchestra in New York.

Most of all he never forgot about the joy of living every moment!

“Juan Jose Calatayud, jazz master, life teacher, enthusiastic peace lover, intelligent and creative human being died on Sunday, March 23,  in 2003 in Mexico City, Mexico,” Alain Derbez said.

It’s been eight years since Calatayud’s passing; but, thanks to today’s  in-the- moment-and-forever technology, we can see and hear celebrated performers – some who have passed away, but for a moment caught on camera, are still here with us: breathing, laughing and performing with complete surrender.

This gives me certain comfort knowing I can just turn to one of the many music videos at any time or place and be reminded of his talent, love for music and unforgotten legacy.

On this Sunday evening,  with fall in the air, I leave you with “Misty”. [music by Erroll Garner, lyrics by Johnny Burke, performed by Juan José Calatayud (piano) and Veronica Ituarte (Voice)].