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Jazz takes center stage at annual Heritage Music Festival on April 24

The 7 p.m. performance features percussionist Babatunde Lea and saxophonist Greg Abate and Friends.

"I guess you could say my music is jazz steeped in the music of the African diaspora," Lea recently told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. "I try to take a look at the music of a lot of different African cultures and blend it together."

Lea (pictured at left) grew up in New York City, listening to Afro-Caribbean music and was influenced by an African master drummer he met when he was a teenager. Early in his career, he worked with musicians such as saxophonist Pharoah Sanders and vocalist Leon Thomas Jr.; that exposed him to many world rhythms.

He appeared at the Monterey Jazz Festival in 2006.

"I draw a lot from African culture and one of the main things I draw is that music is functional; in African life music accompanies everything," Lea said. "The music can put you in a space to make you learn a lot, to open you up. Once you're open and energized then you can start building things to make the world a better place. Music is like oil and water: it does the bidding of who controls it; it has the power to open you up but it doesn't direct where you go once you're open."

But his music has its roots in jazz. "That's where my heart is," he said.

Abate spends more than half of the year on tour. At CSUMB, he'll perform alongside CSUMB's jazz band. A soloist like Abate travels alone and performs with different sidemen in every town, but he says these strangers quickly bond into an extended musical family.

After graduating from Berklee College of Music, Abate (at right) performed with the Ray Charles Orchestra in the 1970s and with the revived Artie Shaw Orchestra during the '80s. He also has made more than a dozen recordings, and now teaches jazz studies at Rhode Island College when he's not playing at festivals and clubs throughout the country and overseas.

The concert is sponsored by CSUMB's Music and Performing Arts Department and the univesity's Special Event Fund and made possible by a grant from the Nathan Cummings Foundation.

Tickets are $15 general admission, $10 for seniors, military and students. They can be purchased online at or by calling the box office at 582-4580. Driving directions and a campus map are available at

For more information or disability accommodations, call Nicole Mendoza at 582-3009.

"Lea makes a good case for drums being jazz's most important instrument."– Providence Phoenix

"Abate's musical style can be seen as a distillation of swing's easygoing vibe and bop's more animated groove. He has developed a unique voice."– METRO San Jose