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Venezuelan jazz singer Maria Rodriguez shares the rhythms of her country in Jazz UpFront debut

A woman wearing hospital scrubs sings and plays cuatro in a radio studio.
Lauren Warnecke
Maria Alejandra Rodriguez gives an impromptu concert at the WGLT studios before heading to work as a housekeeper at a hospital. The jazz singer has a degree in music education and wants to create bilingual music programs for kids while rebuilding her professional career. Rodriguez headlines Jazz UpFront on Saturday with Brazilian guitarist Jose Emilio Gobbo.

Venezuelan jazz singer Maria Alejandra Rodriguez moved to the Twin Cities in 2022 looking for a fresh start.

She left the hustle of New York and Miami’s jazz scenes, committed to sobriety and got a job cleaning hospital rooms. Rodriguez sings in her car. She sings in the park. And Saturday, she'll sing at Jazz UpFront.

Rodriguez debuts at the downtown Bloomington jazz club with central Illinois-based Brazilian guitarist Jose Emilio Gobbo, joined by Jay Ferguson on drums and Max Beckman on bass.

Rodriguez also plays cuatro, a four-stringed Venezuelan instrument that looks like a cross between a guitar and a ukulele. Her style blends the rhythms of her country with American jazz and bossa nova—which she says is better heard than described. Original compositions are a melting pot of these styles; she also covers jazz standards in both English and Spanish.

A woman smiles, singing into a microphone with a guitar in her lap.
Maria Alejandra Rodriguez

Rodriguez earned her music education degree in Venezuela and hopes to someday teach bilingual music classes in Bloomington-Normal while continuing to sing, play and write music professionally. Leaving behind a steady career in more reputable jazz markets, she was frustrated, at first, by putting her music on pause. Saturday’s gig will be her first in over a year.

“It’s going to take time,” she said. “No rush. I will be patient.”

At age 44, patience comes easier for Rodriguez.

“First is to feel good, feel serenity,” she said. “If I focus on myself, my civility and my sobriety, everything is going to come in. There’s no escaping my reality. I have to stay here. I will find my happiness in whatever place I am, and opportunity is going to open.”

Most of Saturday’s set will be as a quartet, with Gobbo and Rodriguez each playing a few tunes on their own. Rodriguez will perform songs rooted in Venezuelan folk rhythms like pasajes, vals, danza and merengue.

Approximately 25% of Venezuelans have fled the country since 2014, escaping authoritarian rule and economic collapse. An influx of asylum seekers entering United States has thrust Rodriguez’ native country into the spotlight and deepened political divides on the topic of immigration.

“The only thing I can do to love and help my country is to sing the music,” said Rodriguez, who is an American citizen. “I am very grateful and I will continue to develop my style. But this is the thing I can do to help my country. Continue singing, focus on the positive things and focus on myself.”

Maria Alejandra Rodriguez and Jose Emilio Gobbo headline 7 p.m. Saturday at Jazz UpFront, 107 W. Front St., Bloomington. Jazz UpFront is a 21-and-up club; there is a $10 cover charge. jazzupfront.com.

Lauren Warnecke is a reporter at WGLT. You can reach Lauren at lewarne@ilstu.edu.
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