The Jazz.com Blog
April 07, 2008 · 1 comment
On Friday, we published Tim Wilkins’ account of Bobby Sanabria’s Kenya concert. Jazz.com’s Eugene Marlow, who recently interviewed Sanabria in these pages, was also in attendance and offers his perspective below on an event that is already one of most talked-about concerts of the season. If you weren't there, you will still get a chance to hear this music -- as Marlow reports, a documentary is in the works for PBS, as well as a CD. T.G.
The John C. Borden Auditorium at New York City’s Manhattan School of Music (MSM), a two-tiered structure capable of holding 846 people, was filled to capacity even before the concert started at 7:40 p.m. Several hundred people were turned away at the school’s entrance. To describe the feeling in the hall as “electric” or “excited” or “with high anticipation” would be an understatement. This was not just another concert by MSM’s renowned Afro-Cuban Jazz Orchestra (under the direction of multi-Grammy-nominated Bobby Sanabria). This was a milestone “event” long to be remembered as one of the concerts of 2008!
The Kenya concert (photo by Jan Sileo)
The occasion was the 50th anniversary celebration of the 1957 recording of Machito (who together Mario Bauzá was a father figure for modern Latin jazz) and the Afro-Cubans’ jazz masterwork Kenya. This was not merely a “legacy” re-enactment of the album, but a re-visit of the Kenya album’s 12 cuts, with contemporary arrangements of the original charts by trombonist Joe Fiedler, trumpeter Andrew Neesley, and baritone saxophonist Danny Rivera. The entire performance was recorded for later CD release.
The concert was dedicated to the Grillo family and the five surviving members of the historic Kenya recording: tenor saxophonist Ray Santos, trombonists Sonny Russo and Eddie Burt, trumpeter Pedro “Puchi” Boulong, and percussionist Candido Camero. Apart from the original charts, outstanding arrangements, and superb playing by the 21 musicians (all in black tux and white bow tie) in the orchestra, the concert was an event to be attended. This was evidenced not just by the full house, but also by the plethora of musical and journalistic luminaries who showed up. In addition to Candido (who also performed), they included two other original musicians on the 1957 album: tenor saxophonist Ray Santos and trombonist Eddie Burt—Burt called Bobby Sanabria the morning after the concert and exclaimed: “They played better than we did on the original album!”
Also in the house were: Mario Grillo (Machito’s son), Mercedes Ellington (daughter of Duke Ellington), The Village Gate jazz club owner Art D’Lugoff, Ana Araya (famed Palladium mambo dancer), jazz journalist Larry Blumenthal, Will Friedwald (New York Sun), percussionist Chembo Corniel, documentary producer Ivana Acosta, Ibrahim Gonzales (WBAI-FM), Marc Myers (covering for Jazziz), percussionist Nicky Marrero, Nina Olson (Harbor Conservatory for the Performing Arts, and Raices Latin Music Museum), ethnomusicologist Dr. Roberta Singer, noted historian Henry Medina, and award-winning City Lore folklorist and documentarian Elena Martinez. Also present were six cameramen from WGBH (Boston) who videotaped the entire concert as part of a WGBH/BBC documentary co-production on Latin music. Co-producers Pam Aguillar and Dan Macabe were also on hand. This four-hour documentary will be premiered on PBS and the BBC in 2009.
With video cameramen and still photographers roaming the stage at will to catch every moment of the concert from every angle, MSM’s president Dr. Robert Sirota introduced the concert, describing Bobby Sanabria as an “inimitable force of nature.” Sanabria then walked onto the stage to great acclaim. It may have been 67 degrees outside (unusually warm weather for New York City this time of year), but inside the auditorium it was much hotter—the result of Sanabria’s heat-generating showmanship and the youthful energy of the players on the stage. With Sanabria providing his usual mix of earthy humor and historical reference, the orchestra tore through new arrangements of “Frenzy,” “Congo Mulence,” “Kenya,” “Oyeme,” “Holiday,” “Cannonology,” “Wild Jungle,” “Blues á la Machito,” “Conversation,” “Tin Tin Deo,” “Minorama,” and “Tururato.” In addition, the orchestra performed as an encore the original 1943 arrangement of “Tanga,” considered by cognescenti to be the first true fusion of authentic Afro-Cuban rhythms and jazz arranging techniques.
The ensemble work and solos by several of the players—in particular, Justin Janer (lead alto), Michael Taylor (lead trumpet), Anthony Stanco (trumpet), Timothy Vaughn (lead trombone), bassist Billy Norris, pianist Christian Sylvester Sands, and drummer Norman Edwards, as well as the rest of the big band--was as “high order” as you might expect from any professional orchestra in the genre. This is not to ignore the entire percussion section that played with a compelling authenticity. Overall the performances were passionate and precise, a reflection, no doubt, in part of Sanabria’s high standards. He is especially demanding in rehearsal, even stopping a piece 80-90 % played through if something is not quite right and insisting the players perform the entire piece from the very beginning.
Perhaps the most moving highlight of the evening was the presence of Candido Camero, Latin percussion’s elder statesman, now 86 (as of this writing), with a birthday upcoming on April 22. Candido, walked on to the stage by Sanabria’s son Roberto, immediately received a standing ovation. He performed on three pieces: the title track “Kenya” of course, plus “Wild Jungle” (misnamed, according to Sanabria, on the album; it should have been called “Frenzy”), and the finale “Tururato.” Even at 86 maestro conguero Candido can still play up a storm. Best known for introducing multiple congas to both Afro-Cuban music and jazz (he played on three for this concert), Candido entertained with his usual sparkle in the eye and good humor (on the congas). And he can still play. His participation was no mere patronizing salute to this NEA JazzMaster. With fingers on both hands wrapped in tape, he mixed it up with the percussion section and took solos with as much force, rhythmic bite, and wit as you would expect from a 'young lion' player. At the end of the concert a birthday cake in Candido’s honor was paraded in front of the audience. Those who waited patiently got a taste (and perhaps a photo with Candido).
All in all, the 90-minute concert generated a high spirit and reverence for the music that was palpable. As Sanabria stated from the stage and in the program, quoting René Lopez: “It is not just enough to remember the past. We must also honor it.” This April 1, 2008 concert was not only a remembrance in honor of a seminal 1957 Latin-jazz album, it was a concert to remember. It was an honor being in that audience.
This blog entry posted by Eugene Marlow.
Below is the full personnel for the concert
Manhattan School of Music Afro-Cuban Jazz OrchestraBobby Sanabria, Director
Justin Janer, lead alto
Vince Nero, alto
Pawan Benjamin, tenor
Michael Davenport, tenor
Michael Sherman, baritone
Michael Taylor, lead
Jimmie “J.J.” Kirkpatrick
Timothy Vaughn, lead
Timothy “T.J.” Robinson, bass
Cristian Sylvester Sands
Bobby Sanabria, drums, timbales
Norman Edwards, drums, bongo/cencerro
Giancarlo Anderson, bongo/cencerro, guiro, maracas, clave
Jake Goldbas, congas, clave, maracas, timbales
Cristian Rivera, congas, bongo/cencerro
Obanilu Allende, quinto, claves, maracas, guiro, bongo/cencerro, congas, shekere