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Blue Desert Tour showcases Indigenous-led jazz

Navajo Times | Hannah John
D’DAT opens the Gallup show of the Blue Desert Tour last Thursday at the El Morro. The group is led by Diné trumpeter Delbert Anderson, far right.


Music of Indigenous-led jazz bands filled the El Morro theater last Thursday night with 60 people in attendance.

Dine jazz trumpeter Delbert Anderson organized the event with the Presenters Consortium for Jazz Grant.

According to the grant website, the grant provides support to consortiums of three U.S. presenters that collectively engage up to three professional U.S. jazz ensembles consisting of 2 to 10 musicians each to perform in front of an audience.

While this was the first time the tour was in person, it was not the first time Anderson received the grant. He received the grant last year but due to COVID-19 restrictions the tour was virtual and was named “Blue Desert Virtual Tour.”

This year, the virtual part was dropped and people attended in-person at three different venues.

Once he received the grant, Anderson applied with three art organizations to host the concerts, which were gallupARTS, the Northwest New Mexico Arts Council and the Cortez Cultural Center.

“I know some of the arts organizations they don’t have actual venues but, in this case, it allowed them to kind of seek partnership with music venues,” Anderson said.

The tour kicked off at the El Morro theater, then Sunflower Theater in Cortez, and finally the Riverfest in Farmington.

With the grant, each venue received $10,000 to book the three bands and have them play at their venues.

“We ended up playing at the three places, everyone stayed there and tried local food and whatnot,” Anderson said. “It was pretty much just a run at trying to make an art scene or trying to do something that was in the arts, something special.”

Navajo Times | Hannah John
Julia Keefe, Nimiipuu and vocalist of the Ii-yat Collective, leads her “all-womxn” group during the groups set at the Blue Desert Tour in Gallup last Thursday.

The tour featured the music of three Indigenous-led bands. The show was opened by D’DAT, a four-part contemporary jazz/hip-hop band from Farmington, led by Anderson.

Following was the Ii-yat collective, an all-womxn combo inspired by jazz and ancestral songs and led by Nimiipuu jazz vocalist Julia Keefe.

The show concluded with the Rico Jones quartet who are a blue/jazz ensemble from Denver led by Indigenous saxophonist Rico Jones.

When it came to picking bands to perform as a part of the Blue Desert Tour, Anderson chose Indigenous-led bands. He felt it was important to choose these bands to lift Indigenous communities with jazz music.

“The Blue Desert Tour, it had a lot of meaning to try and perform in front of an Indigenous audience,” Anderson said. “One of the main reasons we received the grant, we wanted to share sort of an art form that allowed people to be expressive, improvise, and learn how to sort of use those concepts to help them with their personal struggle.”

Jazz has played an important role in the lives of the people who performed on the tour and Anderson said the goal was to share that message with the audience.

“We did want more of an Indigenous audience but that wasn’t like the main thing, it was open to anyone who wanted to come,” he said. “It was very great. I know like a lot of the bands talked with some of the audience after the show. It was just a really great hangout for everybody.”

Rose Eason, executive director of gallupARTS, spoke about her own experiences with receiving positive feedback from the audience.

“One guy, when he walked into the theater,” she said, “he immediately said how much jazz music he had at home and how many great jazz musicians he has seen in his life and he just seemed really excited that Gallup was hosting such a high-quality jazz concert because that’s something he’s not usually able to access within our community.”

The concert also seemed to impact Gallup youth.

“Maybe a 13- or 14-year-old came in with his parents or grandparents,” Eason said. “He was just telling me he just really likes music and same for him, I think it was special for him to be able to see live music.”

As of right now, Anderson plans to apply for the grant again but is unsure if he will receive it three times in a row and a few of the band members have suggested saving funds.

“We’re always going to apply, we’re going to try and keep it (Blue Desert Tour) alive,” he said. “The groups, we kind of have our own little like clique.

“Like Julia and Rico, Molly and certain people in all the bands, we already do a lot of other projects together so we were kind of saying that we should start saving funds up for the next time versus just trying to hope on a grant,” he said. “We’re planning on doing some type of saving so we can do it every year.”

Due to the Blue Desert Tour, Anderson and other musicians have developed a “really good relationship” with each other and the arts organizations.

“It’s not only the Blue Desert Tour but we’ve been talking to all of the organizations and are getting ready to do different projects, new projects and stuff,” Anderson said.

“It’s kind of like our own little regional consortium that we made and everyone’s super supportive of what we do so yeah, I’m definitely planning on bringing the Blue Desert Tour back,” he said.

About The Author

Hannah John

Hannah John is from Coyote Canyon, N.M. She is Bit’ah’nii (Within His Cover), born for Honágháahnii (One Who Walks Around), maternal grandfather is Tábaahí (Water Edge) and paternal grandfather is Tódich’ii’nii (Bitter Water). She recently graduated from the University of New Mexico with a bachelor’s in communications and a minor in Native American studies. She recently worked with the Daily Lobo and the Rio Grande Sun.


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