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“Some of the musicians I met at Berklee Valencia have become my colleagues and collaborators.” – Alexey León Reyes M.M. ‘14
Alexey León Reyes hasn’t slowed down since earning his master’s degree from Berklee Valencia in 2014. The Cuban-born saxophonist and flutist has racked up top prizes at jazz festivals around the world, helped students achieve their musical goals as a teacher at Sedajazz in Valencia, and is about to release his third album, Okudzhava for My Mother, a homage to the Russian poet and songwriter Bulat Okudzhava. We recently caught up with him to discuss the inspiration behind his new project, and his career as an artist and educator.
Why did you decide to pursue Berklee’s Master of Music in Contemporary Performance (Production Concentration) program at the Valencia campus?
I made the decision because I wanted to experience the Berklee teaching method. I also wanted to study with Perico Sambeat and get more efficient in music production. When I saw the campus, met my future teachers, and saw the studios, I had no doubts I wanted to be there.
Why would you tell other students to come to Berklee’s Valencia campus to study?
Great program, top teachers, and an amazing and inspiring campus.
What was the best aspect about the Berklee in Valencia experience?
A learning environment created with the effort of our teachers, fellow students, visiting artists, and the contacts with Berklee alumni outside the campus.
During your time in Berklee Valencia you participated in numerous concerts, clinics, and recording sessions with faculty members and visiting artists. How did these experiences shape the professional artist you have become?
I remember many of them. They became my reference on how to work. Some of the musicians I met during these events have become my colleagues and collaborators.
Since 2014 you’ve been teaching jazz theory and saxophone at Sedajazz in Valencia. How would you define your teaching style, and what are the most gratifying aspects of sharing your skills with others?
I would define it as well-organized, systematic, and demanding but with a fair portion of freedom for students to choose their own path. After Perico Sambeat recommended me to work at Sedajazz, I suggested teaching the intensive jazz course that I’d been developing. I was given absolute freedom. The most gratifying thing is to see my ex-students reach their goals and continue their studies at jazz departments all across Spain and Europe.
Why did you decide to stay in Valencia after graduation?
I stayed in Valencia because the musicians I wanted to play with lived and worked in Spain. I also have a very strong connection with Perico Sambeat, and I thought that being here would help me to continue learning with him. I strongly believe that to become a better musician you need to play with musicians that have more experience than you; that's why I’m happy to play with Perico Sambeat, Marc Miralta, Ivan “Melon” Lewis, and Carlos Sarduy in my current quintet.
You have released two albums, and a third one, Okudzhava for My Mother, will be coming out soon. Can you give us a preview?
Bulat Okudzhava is a great Russian poet and songwriter from the 20th century. We recorded this album with one of Russia’s best jazz rhythm sections formed by Evgeny Lebedev, Ignat Kravcov, and Makar Novikov at Cinelab studios in Moscow, together with Joao Soeru, a Berklee Valencia graduate and a dear friend. We are now finishing the recording process.
You have also performed as a sideman for artists like Sergio Pereira, Sebastián Laverde, and Thaïs Morell. How different are these experiences from your own projects, and what have you learned from them?
Being a session musician is somehow easier because you don’t bear all the pressure and responsibility of the project, but you still need to bring the best of yourself. I think they taught me to be a better listener and to be able to give what the leader of the project wants, even if our musical views might be different.
You have won awards at festivals all over the world, including JoJazz in Cuba, the Johnny Raducanu International Jazz Festival in Romania, and Jazz Jove at Festival de Jazz Palau de la Música de Valencia. How have these recognitions helped you in your career?
As a result of winning JoJazz last year I was introduced to the Cuban jazz scene, my second album was selected for the international music showcase Cuba Disco in Havana, and I also established new contacts with promoters and labels on the island.
After winning the Johnny Raducanu festival, my quartet was selected for the Getxo Jazz Festival in Bilbao, where we played last summer. After Jazz Jove, I was invited to teach a jazz seminar at the Palau de la Música with musicians like Chris Cheek and Peter Bernstein. I believe each competition fosters the quality of my performance and prepares my group for new musical challenges.
What are your current and future career plans?
At the moment we are polishing the last details of my third album, and I'm preparing a spring tour with my Cuban Connection quintet, as well as composing new music for my next album with this group. Also, it's been a couple of years since I began working on my course book for my classes, and I'm looking forward to having the first copy soon.