As our readers well know, we are always happy and proud to share a Cubanitos done good story. And when those stories involve second or third generation Cubanitos, it makes it all the more special. For all of us it means that the hard work, sacrifice, and pain our political exile parents and grandparents endured by giving up everything in order to raise us up in the freedom this incredible country offered them was not in vain. Furthermore, it means that the values and morals of our Cuban exile parents and grandparents continues to live on in future generations who were born and raised in exile.
Today’s story comes from Glenwood Springs, Colorado where the Gorra family is feeling justifiably proud over the incredible achievements of their two Cubanito teenage boys, Walter and Pablo. I will let the proud parents tell you more about them:
Working towards futures in the fields of Engineering and Jazz Performance, Brothers Pablo and Walter Gorra share the distinct privilege of being awarded the Boettcher Foundation Scholarship. The goal of the Foundation through the scholarship as well as contributions to Colorado colleges and universities is to give back to Colorado by improving higher education and keeping the talented local students studying in the state to ultimately contribute to its prosperity.
From an initial pool of over 1,300 students in the top 5% of their class nominated by their high schools, a final 40 complete four-year scholarships are awarded each year for recipients to study the career of their choice at any Colorado college or university. In addition, at the semifinalist selection of 200 students and the finalist stage of 72 students, the merits of the candidates are made known to Colorado schools, who offer significant scholarships to attract and benefit all these students.
The boys grew up in Glenwood Springs, on the Western Slope of Colorado with their Cuban-born Father, Honduran-born mother, and Cuban Grandparents. One of the first stories they heard was how El Viejo brought the family to freedom by cutting sugarcane in concentration camp conditions for two years and subsequently left the island stripped of all money and possessions, eventually welcomed by this great country to start anew. Their parents are engineers, so the boys grew up with the love of science and mathematics and helped the family with a construction project. And since “Palo que nace ‘pa violin…” they picked up music on their own with the help of the music community in the Roaring Fork Valley. Walter started on the piano at age 9 and Pablo caught the bug and started the alto saxophone at age 12. They were amazed to learn in “The Lost City” why Cuban bands were for so long without incorporating saxophones. Paquito D’Rivera’s “My Sax Life” gave much insight into music and the Cuban story. And “For Love or Country” provided another valuable perspective.
The Brothers are voracious students of that great American art form, Jazz, and enjoy bringing Cuban rhythms into Jazz. In Colorado, they have benefited from many excellent jazz camps and workshops including Colorado Music Educators Association’s All-State Jazz Bands, JAS-in-Schools workshops by Jazz Aspen Snowmass, Jazz in the Sangres by Colorado Conservatory of Jazz Arts, and UNC Greeley Summer Camps. The proper study of jazz requires, in addition to sharp music reading, writing and playing skills, that hundreds of standard jazz tunes be learned by ear and completely committed to memory. This doubles when the Cuban and Latin repertoire are added. They have also found that the discipline provided by jazz studies and martial arts training is an excellent tool to aid their studies in the demanding field of engineering. Of great influence in the jazz area is the work of Paquito D’Rivera, the Valdes family of pianists, Dizzy Gillespie, Phil Woods, Eric Marienthal, Oscar Peterson, Art Tatum, Chano Dominguez, Mario Bauza, Cachao, Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock, McCoy Tyner, Roy Hargrove, and their own mentors and local musicians Chris Bank, Terry Bannon and Tim Fox.
Walter with a Jazz combo led by Paul Romaine at CU Boulder play Walter’s arrangement of Paquito’s “To Brenda with Love.”
Pablo playing Thelonious Monk’s “Round Midnight.”
For more examples of the jazz opportunities for youth in Colorado and Walter and Pablo’s involvement, go to www.waltergorra.com.
Walter is pursuing a double major of Civil Engineering and Jazz Piano Performance. Pablo will study Mechanical Engineering and Jazz Saxophone Performance also at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Yes, it is possible to pursue such a double major at some universities, although in their cases it involves a full 5-year schedule including summer courses. They would be happy to share their experience in this regard with upcoming students considering a similar option and can be reached through Walter’s website above.