On December 30, 1965, in the Bensonhurst section of Brooklyn, New York, another talent was added to the world of music with the birth of Jessica Valiente. Raised in New Jersey, she leads one of New York's most unique Latin jazz bands; one that has diligently worked at achieving its own identity. After witnessing a performance by this young ensemble, one immediately identifies with the fresh approach to a genre that produces more Latin jazz groups than venues willing to accommodate them.
Valiente's first instrument was the recorder, purchased by her parents John Mariano and Candida Luisa Amataya. "Mostly jazz and classical was listened to at home. My parents went to all the jazz clubs when they were growing up. Every Thursday or Friday, they were at the 'Five Spot.' My father had a tremendous jazz collection; my mother is very much into classical. Latin music was mostly heard when the family came over on Christmas holidays. My mother is front the Dominican Republic, so we heard a lot of merengue, but her father (my grandfather) is from Puerto Rico, so we also heard salsa. My dad listened to all kinds of stuff, mostly jazz but also different things from Jamaica and South Africa, Irish folk music, as well as rock music like Janis Joplin, Eric Clapton, the Stones, a lot of Santana. If one of us wasn't practicing, the stereo was on."
In school, Jessica wanted to play violin, but her mother suggested the flute since she was already familiar with the recorder. She Became a serious musician at a young age. School orchestras, marching bands, pit orchestras, even renaissance magicals followed, as well as some back-up singing in "a couple of rock hands, but that was more like dabbling. I never went very far with that." At the age of 11, Jessica played the recorder for a high school rock concert for which she was paid $35 dollars. "My dad was a saxophone player and I tried learning clarinet and saxophone, and I just hated it. I felt like my head was going to explode. I knew that wasn't the ticket. My mother would say 'You should play Latin music.' I grew up in the '70s and to me, Latin music was for horns--trumpets, trombones. I wasn't exposed much to Pacheco, Fajardo. None of that."
Her husband, trombonist Rick Faulkner (one of Latin music's exciting young trombonists), would later turn Jessica on to Latin music by way of charanga. He played some José Fajardo and Belisario López for her. She was 28 and with the help of good friend and flautist Héctor...