Retaguardia Jazz Band: Preservation of the Past

Pioneering jazz in Chile and showing the world that this country has more to offer than just the cueca, the Retaguardia Jazz Band has been a pillar to the music's development in Chile since their conception in 1958.

Santiago Chile
Photo by Michelle Lezana (see more photos)

In their 51 years of existence, their musical skills have landed them gigs in venues around the world – from New Orleans to France. The group came together through Domingo Santa Cruz, its original tuba player, after the split of his original group The Santiago Jazz Band.

Santiago Chile
Photo by Michelle Lezana

Retaguardia's sound conjures images of speakeasies and saloons where women in strapless dresses and feather boas watched mustached men play poker. Aside from a portfolio of original songs, Retaguardia also performs covers from greats like Louis Armstrong and classics such as “Alexander Ragtime Band” and “Someday, Sweetheart” – with intricate skill.

Over time the group's membership has varied greatly. In fact 47 musicians in total have played at different moments for the group. Today, there are eight members and only two of its original affiliates are still in the group – Antonio Campusano (piano) and Carlos Subiabre (trumpet). But these changes have only strengthened the group as an institution of Chilean jazz, and the pool of talent formed from this evolution is the force behind the group's success abroad.

“We were the first...and last Chilean jazz band to be invited to the Festival of Jazz in France – we were very proud and privileged,” said Patricio, their trombone player.

Revolver caught up with the group in August when the North American Chilean Institute of Culture (ICHN) invited the band to play in their event called The Cycle of Jazz 2009 – a yearlong tribute to jazz.

Santiago Chile
Photo by Michelle Lezana

The concert was in the intimate underground auditorium of ICHN. As the eclectic crowd – young and old – slowly filled the small venue, the band could be heard backstage warming up with classic Miles Davis and Louis Armstrong tunes. The excitement of the ensuring performance lingered in the air.

Though the venerable band seemed aged as the musicians settled into their positions. They even appeared a bit removed from one another and introduced themselves by shaking each other’s hands in front of the audience. But as they started to play, their immense skill rose to the surface. Their harmony live strong and young.

Catch Retaguardia's latest acts at Nuñoa's Club de Jazz or have a look at their website for more information and performance dates.

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