As I Travel
Release Date: October 27, 2023
Label: Imagery Records and Tiger Turn

Acclaimed pianist and composer Donald Vega is a luminary whose accolades are rivaled only by the scope of his vision. From studying firsthand under jazz legends such as John Clayton, Billy Higgins, and Kenny Barron, being a staple member of the legendary Ron Carter Golden Striker Trio, and most recently being selected as a Guggenheim Fellow, Vega has had an impressive and wide-ranging career which has pushed him steadily into the upper echelons of the jazz landscape. A native of Nicaragua, Vega emigrated to the United States at age 14 and has been shaped powerfully by the people and experiences who have walked with him from his childhood through to the musician and person he is today. As I Travel, set to be Vega’s fourth album as a bandleader, is a programmatic, autobiographical suite of compositions inspired by his voyage - both geographically as an immigrant and intangibly as he has been molded through the lives of others. Featuring an all-star roster of Lewis Nash (drums), John Patitucci (bass), and Luisito Quintero (percussion), As I Travel highlights the interactive and interconnected nature of what it means to learn and grow as a human being. 

The story behind As I Travel began long before the album was even conceived as an idea. At age 14, Vega - led by his mother who had previously begun the process of moving to America to pave a way for her family - fled from the civil war in Nicaragua and emigrated to the United States. “This album is an American story,” Vega says. “The topic of immigration has been debated in the United States since its founding. No matter what side you land on, each immigrant’s story is unique, full of hope and often heartbreak.”

For his first couple years in America, Vega spoke little to no English and his primary form of cross-cultural communication was music. This multi-layered dependence and joyous release that Vega found in music led him to dig in to his passion for the discipline and art form even more, ultimately enabling him to study at the Manhattan School of Music and The Juilliard School. As his prowess in the craft developed, Vega began to recognize within himself a distinct ability to convey stories through music. Now, as an established musician and inimitable creative force in his own right, Vega seeks to tell his personal story - and in so doing, the stories of so many others - through music. “There are thousands of immigration stories just like mine that don’t get told,” Vega explains. “I’m fortunate enough to be able to share my story through music.”

The album’s title, and the title track from which its name stems, succinctly summarizes the unifying theme present throughout the album. The name As I Travel is a reference to the distinct physical distance from Nicaragua, to Los Angeles where Vega’s family settled, and finally to New York where Vega studied and settled on his own. Simultaneously, this title is a nod to Vega’s personal development of head and heart, with lessons learned through both seasons of wonder and tribulation. “Through moving countries and ultimately attending some of the best universities in the world, I learned a lot about myself, my character, and my passion for music,” Vega says. “Adversity also taught me to have compassion for those around me, the importance of hearing everyone’s story, and recognizing and celebrating their uniqueness.”

Musically, Vega puts storytelling at the forefront of his compositions. Whether through pleasing melodies or idyllic harmonies, Vega infuses his time on the bandstand into every note and rest he performs. More than mere pitch and rhythm, Vega carries with him the compassion and kindness carried from his wealth of varied experiences in each performance. “My music comes from a place of love… This album is a celebration of friends and family and all the experiences and memories that make us who we are,” Vega says. “I hope [listeners] feel all those things and bring that level of love and compassion back to their own families and lives. Wouldn’t that be great?”

As I Travel begins vibrantly with a track entitled “Baila! Dance Like No One’s Watching”. As the name suggests, the piece is a jubilant statement that reflects the culture and outlook of Vega’s homeland. “In Nicaragua, there is so much poverty, and yet the people are known for their joy,” Vega says. “They take time to celebrate every moment and ‘Dance Like No One’s Watching’.” As a father, Vega sees this same unconquerable spirit of happiness in his son, and this piece is equally dedicated to and inspired by his son and his homeland. The album continues with a retelling of one of Vega’s oldest and dearest compositions, “Tomorrows”. Originally the title track from his 2008 debut album, “Tomorrows” is a tale of hope and optimism for the future, inspired by the hope and optimism of his own story - even if sometimes the optimism is created in the embellishment. “The story gets told a lot that I came to this country at the age of 14 on the 4th of July. The truth is, I don’t recall the exact date or year,” Vega admits. “...but it’s a nice idea isn’t it? That America was celebrating another year at the same time I was crossing the border to start a new chapter in my life.” As the album nears its close, listeners are presented with a driving, beautiful work entitled “Dear Mayra,” Vega’s tribute to his mother. Vega’s mother was in many ways his beacon growing up. From paving the way to America for her family, to always ensuring Vega had everything he needed to pursue music, she is a steadfast, “positive force of nature” in the composer’s life. “You’ll notice there are many sections where this song does not let up,” Vega says. “It drives you forward no matter what - just like every mom does all over the world.”

An album with such a high-caliber vision requires a band of equal caliber to pull it off, and Vega assembled a perfect (and star-studded) cast for the task. As I Travel boasts the presence of Lewis Nash on drums, John Patitucci on bass, and Luisito Quintero on percussion. In addition to the wealth of experience and unparalleled accolades of such a crew, Vega specifically praises the band’s versatility. With a body of work that regularly and seamlessly flows between Latin and Swing idioms, such a level of musicianship and interconnected trust was a prerequisite for success. “[The band] 100% brought their experience and musicality to the table in the recording and As I Travel is better because of it,” says Vega.

With As I Travel, Vega presents an artistic statement that stands as a profound monument to the human spirit. Uniquely creative yet universally appealing, Vega blends with seemingly effortless command a myriad of traditions into a brilliantly unified whole that bespeaks a story worth telling and a tale worth hearing.

As I Travel releases on Imagery Records and Tiger Turn on October 27th, 2023

For: As I Travel 

"Musically, Vega puts storytelling at the forefront of his compositions. Whether through pleasing melodies or idyllic harmonies, Vega infuses his time on the bandstand into every note and rest he performs." Check out the full review here.

"With a body of work that flows between classical, Latin and swing idioms, such highly refined levels of musicianship and interconnected trust are a must."

"This album is fascinating in all these aspects, thanks to Donald Vega’s rhythmic and melodic sensibility." Check out the full review here.

"Vega’s As I Travel is beautifully rendered and emotionally uplifting." Check out the full review here.

"Boosted by a pulsating rhythm section that gives it a Latin feel Vega proves to be one of the most exciting pianists on the scene today." Check out the full review here.

"Throughout the album, Vega's technical prowess is evident as he effortlessly navigates intricate technical passages and arrangements, demonstrating a profound understanding of the instrument's nuances" Check out the full review here.

"...the pianist is an accomplished musician who raises the level of performance a tad above the norm..." Check out the full review here.

"The album is one of those collections that consistently engages you as it takes you on a musical journey of nine tunes, is full of interesting twists and turns." Check out the full review here.

"A very high quality record, in which the obvious pleasure and mastery of the protagonists shine through in every measure." Check out the full review in French here.

"Amid the sometimes—frenzied playing, a centeredness is present, a mutual love for exploring the world in the context of providing listeners with thoughtfully tuneful music." Check out the full review here.

"Always and everywhere melody and harmony is held together by rippling, tumbling rhythms, clearly embedded in body and soul with which Mr Vega leans into his music." Check out the full review here.

"His love of jazz music and the freedom it inspires is obvious along with his wonderful composing talents." Check out the full review here.