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Manhattan School of Music, Afro Cuban Jazz Orchestra: Que Viva Harlem!

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Manhattan School of Music
Afro Cuban Jazz Orchestra - Qué Viva Harlem!

Bobby Sanabria
(Faculty Web Page)
Conductor, Music Director
Timbales, Clave, Shekere, Vocals

Saxophones: Patrick Bartley, Kevin Bene, Xavier Del Castillo,
Graeme Norris, Leo Pellegrino
Trombones: St. Clair Simmons, Josh Holcomb,
Jesus Viramontes, Santiago Latorre
Trumpets: Josh Gawel, Ryan DeWeese,
Benny Benack, Kyla Moscovich
Drums: Arthur Vint - Congas: Takao Heisho
Bongó/Cenverro, Baríl, De Bomba, Percussion:
Matthew González, Oreste Abrantes
Piano: Saiyid Sharik Hasan
Acoustic Bass: Max Calkin


Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
July 23, 2014

This CD is a fantastic collection of Afro-Cuban music, fused with jazz, celebrating East Harlem’s Park Palace, from the early twentieth century, and its Ballroom’s musical director, Mario Buazá. The CD’s liner notes include the history of the birthplace of Afro-Cuban jazz, an outline of the Manhattan School of Music’s Jazz Arts Program and of the Manhattan School of Music’s Afro-Cuban Jazz Orchestra. Bobby Sanabria is Conductor and Music Director of this Jazz Orchestra and also appears on this CD, playing timbales, clave, shekere, and vocals. Mr. Sanabria has been very favorably reviewed on the jazz column of this magazine, conducting big bands, playing drums and percussion in live ensembles, and appearing on drums and percussion on CDs. The music on this recording is highly evocative of the dance orchestras I’ve heard at the former Copacabana, as well as Cuban Jazz orchestras who’ve performed in New York clubs. I highly recommend this fabulous CD for personal and workshop listening, as well as social and performance dancing.

Notable tracks:

#1 – Mambo Inferno – Composed by Alberto Vera, Giraldo Piloto. This vibrant 20-musician orchestra opens its new recording with tantalizing horns, sassy strings, and strong clavé rhythms. This dynamic track invites a rambunctious mambo, with its magnetic, repetitive refrains. The phrases are ornamented with brass flourishes, one over the other, with wild drums and exotic Latin percussion. The live audience adds even more energy to this propulsive piece.

#2 – Feeding the Chickens – Composed by René Hernández. Kyle Atheyde transcribed and arranged this and the first track. Bobby Sanabria added arrangements to this track. The audience’s reaction at the last bars of this track says it all – so electric. Saiyid Sharik Hasan’s piano solo is extensive, accompanied by Latin percussion, drums, bass, and vocals. It seems directly imported from Havana, really authentic mambo. The piano solo is followed seamlessly by Josh Holcomb on trombone, accompanied by strong percussion and softer brass. Soon the entire orchestra joins for a stylized, sumptuous mambo melody, with a dramatic finish.

#6 – Royal Garden Blues – Composed by Clarence and Spencer Williams. Billy Strayhorn arranged the music for this track, which was adapted by Bobby Sanabria. The brass solos featured on this track are by St. Clair Simmons on trombone, Kyla Moscovich on trumpet fills, and Josh Gawel on trumpet. The ebullient brass and muted brass merge for an uplifting, jazzy theme. The finale brings out the full orchestra in fused, dervish mayhem, with Josh Gawel letting loose on his compelling trumpet.

#8 – Que Viva Harlem! – Composed by Kyle Atheyde. The rhythm section was arranged by Bobby Sanabria, with multiple solos on alto, tenor, and baritone saxes, piano, trumpet, bongó, timbales, and vocals. A final cadenza was also arranged for five musicians. At the finale of this exciting title track, the listener hears the live audience explode with accolades. It’s impossible to imagine that students are performing here, as it was so evocative of professional Afro-Cuban jazz orchestras and bands reviewed on Jazz and Cabaret Corner over the years. The track opens with seductive percussion, leading the listener in, before the orchestra features a variety of soloists. Each is persuasively stunning in the moment, and the effective result begs a conga line. Kudos to Bobby Sanabria and his Manhattan School of Music Afro-Cuban Jazz Orchestra..

For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at