Biography

“a percussion colourist of great distinction… leans heavily on his aptitude for, and particular genius for counterpoint and most of important of all – his understanding of instrumental timbre...” –Raul Da Gama, Latin Jazz Network 2018.

Fran Vielma, born in the Venezuela Andes, is a critically acclaimed and award-winning multipercussionist, composer, and educator. His extensive knowledge of rhythms from the Caribbean, Venezuela, Southamerica and beyond is integrated with his attraction to concert music and the freedom of jazz. 

His first album “Inesperado” was part of a catalog for the record label Cacao Musica long with productions of international artists such as Horacio “El Negro”Hernandez, Jose Luis Quintana “Changuito,” and Negroni’s trio among others.

Fran Vielma’s recent album Tendencias with his Venezuelan Jazz Collective included in the top releases of 2018 by DownBeat, Latin Jazz Network, and the NYC Jazz Records -features outstanding jazz figures like Luis Perdomo, Michael Rodriguez, and Miguel Zenón

Phillip Freeman from the Downbeat Magazine says: “The ensemble is not quite hard-bop and not quite salsa-they are something more complex and unprecedented, and take sharp turns at times.

His versatility as a percussionist, arranger, and orchestrator has involved him in recording projects, tours, and festivals with renowned musicians around the world.

Fran attended the Arts University (UNEARTE) for composition in Venezuela and in 2010 transferred to Berklee College of Music in Boston, MA awarded by a scholarship. He earned a Master in Jazz Studies at New England Conservatory in 2016.

Vielma has received multiple awards and honors and his scholarly interests have immersed him in the study of musics of the world, which he currently teaches as an adjunct faculty at Salem State University, MA.  He has offered lectures and master classes in several institutions around the world, among those stand out Berklee College of Music, New England ConservatoryThe Andes University, and The Panama Jazz Festival. 

He has been an artist resident at Baltimore School for the Arts, DC Youth Orchestra Program, and was a Teaching Artist of the Maryland Classic Youth Orchestra for the Spring 2019. 

Fran Vielma uses Istanbul Mehmet Cymbals, Vater Percussion Sticks, Meinl Percussion and Alejandro Escobar Venezuelan Percussion. 

Artist Statement:

As a percussionist, I am drawn to the rhythmic elements of Venezuelan and Caribbean music that are full of African heritage. The nuance and variety of classical and world music styles, as well as the freedom of jazz, have constantly nurtured my performance, making me think as a real-time orchestrator, improviser, and an active seeker of sonic textures. These elements allow me to accompany and interact with other players, and to highlight passages or sections that a piece of music entails.   

Composition has also been an important element of my artistry and I have developed it in parallel with performance. When composing, I usually start singing melodies while finding harmonic accompaniment on the piano, always thinking in a drum pattern or a bass line that can fit the accents suggested by the melody; thereafter, I transcribe these ideas on music software.    

As a creator, I am inspired by the Russian and French composers of the 20th century, as well as the North American jazz masters. I endeavor to integrate elements of the flavorful traditional music of Venezuela -intrinsic in my upbringing-, combined with the fascination of blending harmonic colors with orchestration.

Early Years

Fran grew up in Mérida, Venezuela, a college town where arts and culture are part of the daily life of its citizens. Encouraged by his mother Maritza Vielma, a music lover, he started in the musical world by singing, playing Venezuelan cuatro, and taking core music theory courses at The Andes University Arts Center (CUDA) for 8 years.

In 1999, Fran joined the Youth Symphonic Orchestra - El Sistema Merida branch for three years while he was also a member of Kimbandu- a Venezuelan folk music ensemble; with the latter he made research trips around the country to study the traditional music of Venezuela.

He moved to Caracas in 2004 and kept a busy schedule performing, recording, and touring nationally and internationally with regarded jazz, salsa, pop, and traditional Venezuelan music artists. He became faculty at the renowned Caracas Jazz Workshop (Taller de Jazz Caracas), where also performed duties as Percussion Chairperson. He was a founding member of the music collective Movida Acustica Urbana (MAU).

Vielma attended the Arts University (UNEARTE) as a composition major, taking courses in harmony, counterpoint, analysis, and orchestration with regarded composers like Gerardo Gerulewicz, Violeta Lares, Miguel Astor, and Orlando Cardoso. He also studied at Caracas Free Percussion Cathedra directed by Miguel Urbina and Jhony Rudas. 

In 2010 Fran transferred to Berklee College of Music in Boston, MA awarded by a scholarship, where he majored in performance and theory of jazz with David Johnson, Randy Feltz, Jackson Schultz, Jamey Haddad, Mark Walker, and Terry Lyne Carrington among others. 

Recent Years

In the US, Vielma has played with the Paul Winter Consort, Javier Limón, Luis Enrique, Eguie Castrillo, Occidental Gypsy, Mango Blue, NEC Jazz Ambassadors ’15, Alcides Rodríguez, Betzaida Machado, Troy Roberts, and César Orozco & Kamarata Jazz among others. 

In the US, Vielma has received multiple awards and honors and his scholarly interests have immersed him in the study of musics of the world, which he has taught at Salem State University in northern Massachusetts. He has offered seminars, lectures, and master-classes at Berklee College of Music, New England Conservatory, The Andes University and Caracas Jazz Workshop in Venezuela, and at Fundación Danilo Pérez during the Panama Jazz Festival. 

His versatility as a percussionist and arranger of different genres from Caribbean and Afro-Venezuelan to Jazz, world, and concert music has involved him in recording projects, tours, and festivals with regarded artists around the world. Some of the venues he has performed in the US include The Kennedy Center, Berklee Performance Center, NEC’s Jordan Hall, Blue Wisp Jazz Club, An Die Musik, Jazz 66, Twins Jazz, Blues Alley, Fat Cat, and Terrace 7. In Panama at Ateneo Ciudad del Saber, and Danilo’s Jazz Club. In Venezuela at Teatro Cesar Rengifo (Merida), and Centro CulturalB.O.D (Caracas); in Mexico at the National University (CDMX), in South Korea at the National Theater (Seoul), and in Australia at the Bird’s Basement Jazz Club (Melbourne).

Vielma earned a Masters in Jazz Studies at New England Conservatory of Music having Ken SchaphorstBilly HartJerry BergonziBob MosesJoe Morris, and Brian Levyas some of his mentors. 

Releases as a leader: 

  • Fran Vielma and his Venezuelan Jazz Collective. “Tendencias,” Papelón Records, 2018

  • Ensamble Nuevas Almas. “Inesperado,” Cacao Music, 2009

  • Nuevas Almas with Movida Acustica Urbana. “MAU en Vivo,”independent, 2009.

As a sidemen:

  • Fernando Álvarez, "Típico Ma Non Troppo," independent 2018

  • German Marcano, “Aquí y Allá,” independent, 2018

  • Cesar Orozco, “No Limits for Tumbao,” ALFI Records, 2015.

  • Jihee Yoon, “Inflorescence,” Yeolin Music, 2012.

  • Rafael “Pollo” Brito, “Boleros en vivo,”ANES records, 2012.

  • German Marcano. “Rochela,” independent, 2011.

  • Oscar Fanega, “Bass&Percussion,” independent, 2009.

  • Hugo Fuguet, “Nueve dias,” independent, 2009.

Awards & Honors:

  • 2019 - 20 DC Arts & Humanities Fellowship

  • 2019-20 South Arts Foundation - Jazz Road Tour Award

  • 2013-16 New England Conservatory-Scholarship and Merit Award

  • 2010-13 Berklee College of Music - North American Scholarship

  • 2012 Berklee College of Music -Outstanding Percussionist

  • 2012-13 Berklee College of Music-International Student Grant