Mexican composer, arranger, orchestrator, and director Jaime Lozano – a native of Monterrey and a graduate of NYU’s Tisch School of Arts, with a Master of Fine Arts in Musical Theatre Writing – has a lot to be thankful for this Thanksgiving season, with Broadway Records’ upcoming release of his album A Never-Ending Line (A Female Song Cycle) on Friday, November 22, and a one-night-only concert of his Songs by an Immigrant at The Green Room 42 on Sunday the 24th. Both feature song cycles of his original music, inspired by themes that are very close to his heart.
The album, which will be available in stores and on digital platforms, was conceived by Lozano and developed in collaboration with a team of women lyricists to honor the women in his life and his upbringing in a strong matriarchal family. On it, an all-female roster of talents from on and off Broadway sings stories about the joys and challenges women face in today’s society, in a shared experience of womanhood. Prior to the recording, staged productions of the songs were presented in Paris, Monterrey, and at The Players Theatre in New York. Proceeds from sales of the album will benefit Maestra Music, an organization founded to give support, visibility, and community to women in the musical theater industry.
The Green Room 42 concert, following sold-out dates at Joe’s Pub and Two River Theater earlier this year, has an all-Latinx band and line-up of stars, including Broadway’s Mauricio Martínez (On Your Feet!) and Yvette Gonzalez-Nacer (Hadestown), along with Migguel Anggelo, Florencia Cuenca, Linedy Genao, Javier Ignacio, Amy Lynn, and Aline Mayagoitia. The ever-engaging Lozano and his acclaimed cast will focus in song and story on the immigrant experience in the US – the pain and happiness encountered in pursuit of the American dream – while also celebrating the launch of the album that same weekend.
During his preparations for this month’s big events, Jaime spoke with me about his background, the meaningful subjects of his music, and his own dreams for the future.
Deb: At what age did you become interested in music? What’s your first creative memory?
Jaime: I am the very first person in my whole family working as an artist. Actually they don’t always completely understand what I do for a living. I came from a working-class family. They worked really hard so they could have a better life and so I could have an education. When I was eighteen years old I wanted to study criminology, I even took the test to get into school, but I decided at the last minute that maybe that wasn’t what I really wanted. I made a drastic decision; because I was singing in a church choir, I thought that maybe studying music could be interesting.
I started as a singer. I did half of my major in opera singing and then I decided to switch to music composition, but it wasn’t until I was eighteen years old that I had my first music lesson in college. Everyone else in my class already knew how to sight read and they were okay players. They had been playing their instruments for at least for five or six years, or even more. For me everything was new. Of course I remember myself singing as a kid, I loved singing, but never was part of a choir or took a lesson. I found musical theater when I was nineteen years old. I wrote my first musical then and immediately I decided that I wanted to make up for lost time. I started to study like crazy: harmony, composition, history, analysis, musical theater, songwriting, etc. Sometimes I wish my family had signed me up for piano lessons as a kid or something related to music, but everyone has a different journey. Definitely discovering musical theater at nineteen made me hunger for learning more and more.
Who have been the biggest inspirations in your life and career?
Let me answer that by starting with my family, as people who worked hard to build a better life for themselves. My mom’s family left a small town where they were born to move to a bigger city. None of them went to college; they started working when they were teenagers – my mom included. Because of that I have always admired my mom, aunts, and uncles. They definitely have been an inspiration for me. Of course my wife Florencia, my son, and my daughter are an inspiration – or, better said, a motivation. I used to say that I didn’t believe in inspiration, but after my wife and my son I don’t think I believe that anymore. Also my friends. I have few friends, but they have become more than friends, they are my family, and I have the best family. I’m very proud to say that my friends are the smartest, most talented, and the best human beings in the world. I feel blessed to have those kinds of people around me.
Maybe you were expecting me to say the names of writers or composers, and yes, I can name a few. I definitely love Sondheim, Jason Robert Brown, Billy Joel, Ruben Blades, Juan Luis Guerra, Fito Paez, Bernstein, Bach . . . and, two more contemporary, Lin-Manuel Miranda and Alex Lacamoire. And you know what I have realized? That the best artists are the best human beings, and that’s what I learned most from those last two guys. Not about the craft, but about being the best version of yourself.
Tell us about your own immigrant experience. When and why did you decide to come to the US?
I never imagined growing up in Monterrey, Mexico, that I was going to live in New York City. Back then that sounded like something really impossible; I never dreamed of it. The first time I came to New York City, I was 27 years old. And it was because of another drastic and surprising decision: I decided that I wanted to apply for a master’s program in musical theater and what I found was this wonderful program in Musical Theatre Writing at Tisch, NYU. I came to apply even though I didn’t speak any English at that time. I remember going to the school asking for information and one of the students there was very nice with me and explained in very slow English that the language wasn’t the most important thing; communication and collaboration go beyond language. I applied for the program. I am the only Mexican to have been accepted and graduated from that program, and actually the reason I decided to do it was because I got a full tuition scholarship. My family didn’t have the money to pay for something like that. The scholarship was practically a miracle because the administrative director actually had mentioned to me that they didn’t give any kind of scholarships, so I had to lie, saying that I was going to find the funds for the program in Mexico. And you know what? Not too many people or organizations in Mexico supported me. It was funny that I got more support from the people and institutions in the United States than in my own country.
That was in 2007. And here I am, twelve years later. But it hasn’t been easy. My first work visa was denied because my lawyer was just a scam and I lost a lot of money. I went back to Mexico for four years in 2011, back to Monterrey. But it didn’t feel like home anymore. I moved to Mexico City. I got married to my “alma gemela” – my soulmate. We decided to come for our honeymoon to New York City and we decided to over-stay our visit. We sold the few things we had in Mexico. And then we realized we were expecting a child. We didn’t know what to do. We decided to stay anyway. I applied again for my artist’s visa and this time everything went perfectly. My son was born here in New York City and my family is my home. My stories are my home. My friends are my home. Musical theater is my home, and I can say now that New York City is my home. And I never had imagined this would be home for me when I was a child or even when I was in college. But life brought me here. One decision after another led me here. Wanting to be better and to have a better life made me leave my country.
How important is the love and support of the close-knit Latinx theater community in bringing your works to fruition?
I like to call them “my Familia.” Definitely we are stronger together. My work is nothing without someone singing my songs. And I write stories and songs about myself, about the people around me, about my country, so I need my people to tell those stories. I strongly believe that diversity should start from the stories and that’s what I’m trying to do in writing those stories. But before them, there are only words and notes on a paper; the exciting part of that collaboration is when the performers are bringing those stories to life and making those stories theirs. I love helping and supporting people. I love collaborating. I love the collaboration process of writing and telling stories. I love doing this process with my people, people who share similar struggles. I always say, “If you win, I win. If I win, you win.” We need to fight this battle together with the thing that we love the most, and that is telling stories. Our stories. Together.
What are you most grateful for this Thanksgiving, and what are your hopes for the coming year?
I think I already answered this question with all that I said before: I’m grateful for my family, the one in Mexico and my family in New York City. My wife, my son, my daughter. My friends. My Latino community. I’m grateful to be living in this moment, even with these hard political times, because it is an opportunity to speak up by doing my art. That’s what I can do. I’m grateful for my people and the people of my people. To be able to write what I want. And what I hope is that my stories can be seen and heard for many many people in many places – in small venues, in cabarets, in the street, in classrooms, in concert halls, and – why not? – on Broadway. That one of my songs, or one story, or one musical, or even one note or one line, could move one person’s heart and then another and another . . . maybe we can make this world better.
Thanks, Jaime, for taking the time to talk and for letting our readers get to know you. Congratulations on your exciting month; I wish you continued success with the show and the debut of the album!