Jazz Philadelphia's Hometown Heroes: Spotlight on Percussionist Arturo Stable
Latin jazz master percussionist Arturo Stable has been in motion his whole life, and working and living all over the world has allowed him to seamlessly shift though a myriad of musical traditions. Whether he’s on stage with the Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra or lightening up a tight Latin jazz quartet, it’s just another border crossing that demonstrates Stable’s rich cultural knowledge.
As a person and player, he’s open to the beauty of always being centered in exploration, especially during uncertain times. “There are many new pathways opening that we need to be constantly exploring, and finding the best way to utilize,” Stable said.
He calls making Philly his home a “major move” amid all his “travel experience as an artist just moving from city to city,” even though the moving started early in his life.
“My family was an immigrant inside of my country before I became an immigrant myself,” he explained. The Cuban-born musician and educator grew up nurtured by his family of artists in Santiago de Cuba and Havana, beginning his formal study of music at four. During those formative years, he absorbed an international assortment of musical styles that included classical, Cuban pop music, jazz, rock, and R&B.
Those influences, and the people and places he finds himself in proximity to, are evident in albums such as 2013’s Cuban Crosshatching, which also featured guitarist Lionel Loueke, saxophonist Seamus Blake, singer Magos Herrera, and bassist Edward Perez. In a video talking about the project, Stable said he wanted to find something that unified the Bach, the early ragtime—Jelly Roll Morton or Louis Armstrong—and the Cuban music that had of course seeped into his system. He leaned into “strong melodies, nice grooves, interaction, and an inviting sense of dance,” he said. Whether he’s playing a full drum kit or settling into an array of more traditional hand drums, he’s thinking about those bodies that will be in motion if the music is on point.
He’s still pondering his own motion, and what it means as both a musician and a community member. “[Philly] definitely has a place in my heart,” he said after a reflective pause. “When you put it in context of my life experience: I have moved 39 times, in 13 different cities, in three different countries.” Stable also ticked off the places he’s lived in the U.S. “I have been in Miami, Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, so, yeah, I have moved a lot. But if you’re following your heart and you’re an artist, it’s where life takes you. Philadelphia is on the top of that list. My son was born there, and I feel like I learned immensely as an artist because of the people that I got to meet and know. I feel like I have family there.”
He’s made his career not only as a musician but by giving back as an educator. He attended Berklee College of music and then earned a master’s degree in 2006 from Philadelphia’s University of the Arts, and he now teaches there and at other Delaware Valley area schools, including Temple University and West Chester University.
Younger musicians can also learn from his example. Though his personal philosophy is centered on openness and motion, don’t mistake Stable’s peripatetic life for an aimless one. He made a plan, and he followed it. When he issued his first album as a leader he called it “3rd Step.” It was a reminder of his pledge to himself to go through a three-step process to attain success as a musician. First, he’d move to the U.S. to pursue his career goals; then, he’d dig into his musical education; finally, he’d produce a recording that applied all the skills he’d acquired.
Now 45, he has released four albums as either a leader or collaborator, including 2007’s Notes On Canvas from Origen Records, which reviewer Mark Turner called, “vividly imagined, and filled with melodicism and space.” He was joined on the record by a large crew of musicians, including Aruan Ortiz on piano, Peter Slavov on bass, and Francisco Mela on drums.
Stable’s looking forward to more music, both for himself and others. “The hope I have for Philly’s jazz community is the same that I wish for any community,” he said. “Light, growth, and beautiful experiences.”
His contemplative nature and open spirit naturally draws in like-minded collaborators, which he welcomes, and he believes that together the city will find its rightful place as a jazz mecca.
“I think we all have to get together, listen to all the voices, and try to create an industry that supports us that is somehow sustainable. By finding the community and the support of the community, people who’re willing to go to certain places to listen to the value and the importance of preserving America’s gifts to the world, which is jazz and Philadelphia, one of the centers in the world.”