This El Paso couple promotes and performs jazz in the borderlands

The El Paso Jazz Exchange spreads love of the music while educating the next generation.

By Alan TiscarenoMarch 20, 2024 2:15 pm, ,

For this El Paso couple, their roots in music run deep.

Candice Reyes’ parents had a band called “Azucar,” while Abel Mireles started his career in Ciudad Juárez with his brothers where he formed a trio band and played saxophone. The two continued their development as musicians at the University of Texas at El Paso, where they started an early version of what is now known as the Jazz Exchange.

“It’s interesting because living here in El Paso, when we were going to UTEP, we kind of like already had this in mind. It was called ‘EP Jazz Exchange,'” Reyes said. “I was in partnership with a friend of mine, a local photographer, and that kind of was more just to promote jazz. What was happening in El Paso and Juárez. So it was just kind of like a collaboration of how do we get the music scene a little bit more involved, how we’d get the community to come out and listen to music.”

After they got married, they decided to move to the New Jersey-New York area to pursue their music dreams. Reyes and Mireles worked with different musicians and singers in their time on the East Coast – Auliʻi Cravalho, Christian McBride, Martina McBride, Mellisa Walker, and John Legend among them.

“It is very competitive, but if you’re ready, if you’re, committed, you know, it opens up the doors for you, the hard work that you do,” Mireles said. “You know, we had opportunities. Candice put out a couple albums and one of them with Christian McBride – you know, nine time Grammy winner. And then, myself, I put out on an album, too, with a record label out there – Sunnyside Records.”

Steve Garduño

Abel Mireles

Mireles also recalls working with legendary jazz legend Slide Hampton at his house, which became a moment for reflection. Hampton was a Grammy winner in 1998 and 2005. He passed away in 2021 at age 88.

“You know, it’s amazing. These musicians have dedicated their whole lives and sometimes seeing some of those legends, you know, not how they should be living their last years… In our society, we don’t understand sometimes how valuable this is,” Mireles said.

They eventually returned to El Paso looking for ways to promote the music they love on the border, thus creating the Jazz Exchange, with educational opportunities for young people in the area.

“For them to be part of something more is because they’re either interested in and having that opportunity, or they’ve seen something or they experienced it, or maybe they’ve heard jazz for the first time, or just saying how ‘I want to play like that’ or ‘I want to do that,’” Reyes said. “I always say this to parents: if your students or  your kids are part of a music program, allow them to have that option to go into something a little bit deeper if they’re into it.”

Steve Garduño

Candice Reyes

The Juarez-El Paso area is not new to jazz. It used to have an established scene with history, from legendary musicians like Duke Ellington and Count Basie coming to the borderland. The Jazz Exchange wants to take an important role on making the jazz scene grow once again.

“At some point Juárez was like Las Vegas pretty much in the time for jazz musicians. I have seen the El Paso and Juárez area growing,” Reyes said. “I think one of the biggest things is that we’re trying to collaborate now. Why does it have to just be oneness and just El Paso? No, it should be both.”

“We need more positive things in the border, especially in Juárez. And you know, E Paso, too. I do think that there are a lot of things that are happening. I’m very happy to be part of that movement,” Mireles said.

“It’s really like our time to step in and be part of it, because these things are not just going to happen out of nowhere. You know, just going to sit on the sidelines and thinking that, ‘well, somebody is going to do something with jazz.’ It it doesn’t work like that.”

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