Siblings Briana and Christian Acevedo, ages 16 and 18, Sydney Greenwald, 15, and Cecilia Leon 16 — AKA the Lotus Jazz Quartet — have played a staggering 300 shows since the band's inception a year and a half ago, all while completing their high-school duties. The ensemble has performed at some of Miami's most highly regarded venues, including the Citadel, the North Beach Bandshell, and the Fillmore.
The shutdown, which has played out for five months with no end in sight, has no doubt affected the teens, but there's a silver lining to it. Usually bogged down by schoolwork, social engagements, and band practice, Lotus Jazz has been able to use the downtime to release its debut single.
The quartet came together with the help of Sammy Gonzalez and Zach Larmer, founders of the Wynwood School of Music, an after-school and weekend music program. Gonzalez and Larmer have been teaching and mentoring school-age kids for about decade through Gonzalez's nonprofit, Young Musicians Unite (YMU). Both programs were created in response to the chronic defunding of music programs at local schools. (Florida ranked 42nd in a nationwide study of spending on education, undertaken by the Education Law Center in 2016; that leaves little funding for extracurriculars.)
YMU and the Wynwood School of Music have proven there's a need for music education in Miami-Dade. Gonzalez and Larmer have seen their students grow and hone their musical abilities. Recently Gonzales' student, Nicolaus Gelin, received a full-ride scholarship to the prestigious Manhattan School of Music in New York City.
That success record continues with the Lotus Jazz Quartet, which recorded its first-ever single: a full-band arrangement of "Atoll." The track is a cover of Australian singer Nai Palm's song, which featured only an acoustic guitar and vocals.
Faced with a new set of challenges, the four teens set off on a mission to deliver their first single with limited resources. (For several of them, this was their first experience recording music.) Recording from their homes, the Lotus Jazz Quartet managed to overcome the obstacles to complete the track, which Gonzalez mixed and mastered Gonzalez at his recording studio, the Bull Productions.
The track puts Cecilia's warm, neo-soul voice front and center, layering it to create gospel-like harmonies and intricate percussion. The cover feels in line with the current resurgence of jazz and gospel-influenced R&B, the latter of which, thanks to acts like SZA and the Weeknd, is enjoying its umpteenth mainstream resurgence.
"We had to just figure everything out as we went along," Cecilia says.
"It went by surprisingly smoothly," Christian adds.
With so much of Gen Z's creative culture transpiring online, it is perhaps not surprising that the group was unwittingly well prepared for the digital collaboration. "It was almost more comfortable for us to do something like this," Sydney explains, noting that recording videos of themselves and sending them to each other was hardly a stretch.
Digital literacy aside, the budding musicians have found it difficult to deal with the fallout of having their education disrupted in response to the pandemic.
"For me, personally, it's been really hard," Cecilia admits. "There's only so much you can do alone, and only so much energy you can dedicate to music all by yourself. So doing this song and getting it recorded and playing with other people again has brought that spark back."
Christian, who teaches at the Wynwood School of Music, says it's been tough keeping his students engaged.
"It's been really important as a teacher to let my students know that this will pass eventually," he says, then adds: "And in the meantime stay focused, and use it to work on yourselves as musicians."
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