When jazz musician Yosvany Terry talks about music education, his voice rises with emotion.
"We need to focus on the younger generation," he said by phone from his home in New York City. "They are the ones who will carry the torch into the future. We must expose them to different musical traditions so they can learn how to utilize what's come before them. Then they will be able to fly higher with their own creations."
Considering his passionate stance, it's fitting the Cuban born saxophonist is the headliner Saturday, Jan. 26 for the 9th Annual Jazz @ The Lake concert. The event, held at Columbia's Jim Rouse Theatre, is an annual benefit for Wilde Lake High School's award-winning band program. Its alumni include such well-regarded jazz artists as pianist Alex Brown, his brother, bassist Zach Brown, and drummer Eric Doob. The former Wilde Lake High School students will return to the Rouse stage this weekend to join Yosvany Terry in concert.
"This generation has been exposed to sounds I did not grow up with in Cuba," said Terry of his young counterparts. "I really enjoy having my ears tuned to all the new voices."
Born in Cuba, Terry received his earliest musical education from his father, violinist Eladio "Don Pancho" Terry, a renowned figure in the Cuban Jazz movement. Since then, the musician has merged American Jazz traditions with his own Afro-Cuban background. Terry has released three CD's; his most recent, "Today's Opinion," was named one of the 10 best albums of 2012 by New York Times critic Nate Chinen.
Terry first came to America when he was 23, as a guest educator for the noted Stanford Jazz Workshop in California. The prestigious program offered the musician an opportunity to play with some of America's most accomplished figures in the Jazz world.
"In terms of music it was really incredible because it was the first time I had an opportunity to play with a lot of high-profile people from this culture," Terry said. "Everyone was really welcoming."
American jazz drummer Billy Higgins was particularly supportive. The musician, who played with everyone from Ornette Coleman to Thelonious Monk, took the young Terry under his wing and invited him to perform at The New World Stage in Los Angeles; at the time, the epicenter of jazz music on the west coast.
"All the great names played there," recalled Terry. "That was pivotal for me, not only for the music but the culture as well. I learned so much from the elders that contributed so much to the Jazz vocabulary."
Four years later, Terry was ready to take his career to the next level. In 1999, he packed up his saxophone and headed to New York City.
"We as artists travel a lot but at some point in our lives we need to be where the mecca of the arts is," he said. "It is important to expose your work."
When he arrived, Terry quickly put together a band and created a Thursday night residency at Jazz Gallery, a hub for the city's Jazz community. It didn't take long for the saxophonist and composer to make a name for himself.
Soon, critics were saying that Terry was breaking new ground and redefining Latin Jazz.
"I see myself more in a lineage of people that have been doing this before me," said the musician when asked how he feels about such reviews. "I see myself with a responsibility and a mission to expand all the work of the people that came before me. I'm a just a little part within the major story."
Even so, Terry will acknowledge that his innovative compositions are anything but smooth jazz.
"I would be lying to myself by not admitting that there's a lot of complexity within marrying all of the traditions I've studied," he said. "Coming from Cuba, I have that background. I was a student of classical music of the European tradition, and I've studied the music of this country. I've traveled the world; to Africa, South America. I've been exposed to music of so many different styles."
Now, Terry is aiming to share his musical and cultural journey.
"I believe we as musicians are ambassadors," he said. "I want to expose the audience to all the experiences that I've had traveling, learning, and exchanging with so many people from around the world. This is important, especially for young people who haven't been exposed to far way cultures. It is my mission to bring these traditions to the people. It's like going to literature class; you start reading the classics and that allows you to travel in time and understand how the world works and to value and appreciate different cultures."
Yosvany Terry, the 9th annual Jazz @ The Lake concert, Saturday, Jan. 26 at 7:30 p.m, the Jim Rouse Theatre, Wilde Lake High School, 5460 Trumpeter Rd, Columbia. Tickets are $20/$10 for students. Available at the door, online at InstantSeats.com/events/JimRouseTheatre or by calling 410-997-2070.