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Jazz event brings in drummer Vilanueva, trio

January 9, 2014

By Kathy Edwards McFarland

Last Tuesday, a cold night in the Sweetwater Grill & Tavern, a few Jazz aficionados, University of North Texas Jazz students and faculty

Drummer and composer Rodrigo Villanueva

Drummer and composer Rodrigo Villanueva

experience the  “behind the scenes” rehearsal performance of the Rodrigo Villanueva Trio (Billed as the Stefan Karlsson Trio at the Denton venue.) Sweetwater owner Karen Meredith asked if the musicians preferred to be in a private meeting room for warmth, but Karlsson nixed the idea, saying, “This is like a day in May, back in Sweden.” So the chilled patio stage it was.

Bassist Jeff Eckels

Bassist Jeff Eckels

The first music piece, an original Villanueva composition, immediately engaged listeners with a fresh, cymbal-filled percussion backdrop, as Karlsson’s nimble piano style and Eckels’ spot-on bass line completed the rich sound. Noting this was the first time the three had played together, and the first time to play Villanueva’s composition, Karlsson thanked the audience for allowing the trio time to familiarize themselves with the music. (From where I was sitting, the music was great.) As the evening progressed, (somehow, the air warmed – maybe out of excitement) the three further engaged listeners, and worked out how to best play from the music charts before them.

Rodrigo Villanueva earned his Bachelor’s and a Master’s degrees in Jazz Studies from the University of North Texas, and was Karlsson’s Teaching Assistant during his Master’s studies. He has also toured with Karlsson in the Eddie Gomez Trio.

Pianist Stefan Karlsson

Pianist Stefan Karlsson

A Mexico City native, Villanueva is currently associate professor of jazz studies at Northern Illinois University, and submitted the proposal for his mentor, Karlsson, and bassist Jeff Eckels to perform a variety of his original compositions at the Jazz Education Network Conference in Dallas, this Saturday. (FMI about JEN, visit

The fact is, Sweetwater Grill &Tavern, on South Elm in Denton, is regarded by many top-of-their-game, professional musicians as a favorite spot to play, with a relaxed setting and a knowledgeable, appreciative audience.

Drummer and composer Villanueva

Mr. Rodrigo Villanueva holds a Bachelor’s and a Master’s degrees in Jazz Studies from the University of North Texas. He has played and/or recorded with several jazz, classical and pop artists from Mexico, Perú, Korea, Japan and the U.S. Among them are Stefan Karlsson, Lynn Seaton, Fareed Haque, Ed Saindon, Clark Terry, Eddie Henderson, Jimmy Owens, Liam Teague, Rodolfo Sanchez, Lee Tomboulian, Hiro Morozumi, Jangeun Bae, Carlos Guedes, Takayoshi Yoshioka, Jon Anderson, Carlos Prieto, Roberto Limón, Sandra Kaye, Carla White, and the Mexican pop icons Lucero and Alejandro Fernandez.

As a composer, he has arranged and/or sequenced music for pop artists and has published several original compositions for jazz big band. As an educator Mr. Villanueva has taught drum-set courses, clinics and workshops at many institutions in Mexico, Peru, Korea, Japan and the U.S. He is currently associate professor of jazz studies at Northern Illinois University, where he teaches jazz drums, jazz arranging, and coaches the NIU Jazz Lab Band, winner of the first place at the 2008 & 2010 editions of the UW-Eau Claire Jazz Festival. Rodrigo performs regularly with his jazz trio/quartet, the U.N. Jazz Trio, the NIU Jazz Faculty Group, the Sada Jazz trio, Panoramic – the Carolina Jazz Collective, and the Jan Wheaton Jazz Quartet.

He endorses Sabian Cymbals, Yamaha Drums, Latin Percussion instruments and Evans Drumheads, in addition he is a member of Vic Firth’s education team.

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