Medellin Hits Cultural Sweet Spot with Big Band Jazz Festival

By Jordan Jones October 30, 2018

The Medellin Big Band stands to a rousing applause. Photo by Jordan Jones

Last week, the Teatro Metropolitano Jose Guiterrez Gomez opened its doors wide open to celebrate the creation of Medellín’s first “Big Band” for the thirtieth anniversary of the Festival of Jazz.

The Medellín Cultural Association commemorated the city’s introduction to the genre of big band jazz and its pioneers by hosting a concert featuring Medellín’s 24-member big jazz band and several special guests including: three of the band’s original members—“los hermanos de jazz” Jaime and Luis Uribe E., and Juancho Vargos—and vocalists Luis Fernando Moreno Vallejo, a Medellín-native, and Ana María González. Under the direction of Jaime Uribe, the band played traditional big band jazz and Latin jazz arrangements from the 1930s and 1940s, inviting members of the original Big Band to play alongside its current members.

The Teatro Metropolitano has been hosting the Big Band Festival of Jazz since October of 1988 but only within the last four years, due to a cultural initiative out of the mayor’s office, has the wider public of Medellín been able to participate.

Formally known as the Program of Public Formation, the Secretary of Culture’s initiative aims to make cultural events more accessible to citizens from the Estratos 1, 2, and 3.  In the weeks leading up to an event participating in the program, Medellín residents who qualify can present their latest utility bill in exchange for a ticket voucher which they trade in for an actual ticket on the day of the event.

A theatre employee distributing tickets as part of the Program of Public Formation tickets. Photo by Jordan Jones

One criticism of the program is that even though the program is free, the events are not always of interest to the general public. Alejandra, an employee of the Teatro Metropolitano and the person in charge of distributing the Public Formation tickets, is overall supportive of the initiative but hopes to see a wider range of events to encourage participation. 

“I would estimate that 10% of the Public Formation tickets are being used. Those that know about the program use it constantly, which is good because it means that it functions well,” she told the Bogota Post. “I don’t fault the public but I think we need to change our thinking that 100% of culture is classical music. Culture events should also reflect who we are in this country and also reflect what the public wants to see,” she said.

Perhaps in an attempt to bridge this cultural gap, the jazz concert incorporated elements that made it both sophisticated—prior to the performance the Teatro hosted the original band members for a panel discussion about the history of jazz in Medellin—and hip.


“We see ourselves as a link in the chain of development for the young people of Medellín,” Juan Carlos Mazo, the director of Communications of the Teatro Metropolitana, told the Bogota Post.

Juan David proudly displays his ticket in front of a Public Formation poster. Photo by Jordan Jones

Juan David, a student from the National University of Colombia, was waiting for his guest to arrive when he described his support for the program.

“This year, I went to the theatre many times and most of the time I went for free. In reality, I don’t think I paid for any of the events,” the jazz enthusiast from Santo Domingo told us.

In addition to the attendees, the band itself was a mix of young and established musicians from the Universidad of Antioquia Symphonic Band, the Symphonic Orchestra of EAFIT, and the Philharmonic Orchestra of Medellin.

But young and old people alike take advantage of the program’s benefits. Maria Luz, a native of Medellín, has been attending the theatre for over twenty years, but since the program’s inception four years ago, enjoys the free panel discussions before the event, demonstrating the program’s efficacy to draw people in and create unique cultural moments.

Such a moment was created at the very end of the evening: Just as the house lights went up and the audience began to file out, all of the night’s performers reunited for an encore performance of the hit mambo song “Oye Como va” by Tito Puente. The audience already standing began to dance in the aisle and sing along: Oye como va mi ritmo, Bueno pa’ gozar.