June 13, 2024

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Interview with Bobby Sanabria: The world a better place: New video 2018

Jazz interview with jazz maestro, drummer, percussionist, bandleader Bobby Sanabria. An interview by email in writing. 

JazzBluesNews.Space: – FIRST LET’S START WITH WHERE YOU GREw UP AND WHAT GOT YOU INTERESTED IN MUSIC?

Bobby Sanabria: – I grew up in the Melrose Projects of the South Bronx in NYC. I’m what they call a Nuyorican. I was born and raised in NY but my parents are form Puerto Rico. At the time I was growing up, the 60s and 70s, the city was in financial collapse, the drug of choice was heroin, and the South Bronx was burning. But the music scene was firing on all cylinders with jazz, salsa, funk, r & b, rock, anything and everything on the radio. It’s what kept us all alive and inspired. Plus TV was great because all the cartoons featured jazz and jazz bands were featured on all the TV talk shows. You got to see all the great jazz artists of the day like Louis Armstrong, Dizzy Gillespie, Buddy Rich, Louis Bellson, Gene Krupa, Doc Severinsen, etc. Later on as the jazz rock/fusion movement started you got to see artists like Don Ellis, John Mclaughlin and the Mahavishnu Orchestra, as well as Jimi Hendrix, Santana, and other progressive rock acts.

JBN.S: – WHAT GOT YOU INTERESTED IN PICKING UP THE DRUMS? WHAT TEACHER OR TEACHERS HELPED YOU RISE TO THE LEVEL OF PLAYING YOU HAVE TODAY? WHAT MADE YOU CHOOSE THE DRUMS?

BS: – I was always drawn to the drums when I would see a band on TV. I guess all that kinetic energy was attractive. But I really didn’t that excited when I would see rock or pop groups. It was the jazz drummers in groups like Duke Ellington’s, or in small combos like Art Blakey’s that excited me. Who wouldn’t get excited and inspired when you saw someone like Buddy Rich on TV with all that solo virtuosity. My Father José exposed me as well to a lot of different forms of music from different parts of Latin America like Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, Colombia, etc. He was really my first teacher. He was also into everything from the Byrds, to James Brown, to the folkloric music of our ancestral homeland Puerto Rico. The other thing was that there was always conga drumming going on in the parks (playing Cuban guaguancó) in the summertime and salsa was the gospel of the masses, it was evertywhere.  So I had a pretty eclectic musical upbringing. With all that happening at the time and if you had desire and some modicum of talent, it was inevitable that I would become a musician. From that I learned through just watching and listening the basics of Afro-Cuban percussion. By the time I was in high school I was playing timbales in local salsa groups, but I had a strong desire to really play jazz drumset. In high school I was in marching and concert band playing everything from snare drum to timpani. The director Mr. William Ryan taught me what it meant to be a professional musician and coached me in theory and harmony which helped me to get into the Berklee College of Music. At Berklee I met a teacher who changed my life, Keith Copeland. He made me the professional drummer that I am today. He taught me about sight reading, the difference between playing in a small group as opposed to a big band, playing behind singers, shows, different styles, and most important, he took me to his gigs and recommended me for gigs. At the same time I continued my skills as a Latin percussionist getting into Brazilian music and other forms playing in different ensembles at the school. One of them was the elite ensemble at the school, the Michael Gibbs Chrome Waterfall Orchestra. He was the artist in residence at the school and the group, although being an actual class, was made up of the best players and a select group teachers at the school. You’re talking about people like Pat Metheny. Mike had seen Weather Report and the use of Latin percussion had become ubiquitous in a lot of fusion groups, so I fit right in. Mind you this was all in my freshman year. The great thing about Berklee was that I became a complete musician as a drummer and percussionist because I was in the hardest program at the school which at that time was called Applied Music. You had to take eight semesters of jazz drumming and eight semesters of classical percussion as well as becoming competent as a composer and arranger. My knowledge of Latin percussion gave me a lot advantages because we culturally are exposed to polyrhythms and polymeters in our music be it Cuban, Puerto Rican, Dominican or any other place in Latin America.

JBN.S: – HOW DID YOUR SOUND EVOLVE OVER TIME? WHAT DID YOU DO TO FIND AND DEVELOP YOUR SOUND? WHAT DID YOU DO TO FIND YOUR SOUND?

BS: – That’s a good question. I think what you really are asking is, how did you develop your musical identity? Everything that I’ve told you before about my upbringing has helped me to develop my musical identity as well as my musical training combined with my cultural background. I was lucky to have grown up where I did. The South Bronx, according to the head of African American Studies at Fordham University, Dr. Mark Naison, has developed and or nurtured more forms of music that any other place in the United States, and that includes New Orleans. It was at its zenith during my youth, so I’m the product of all that. If you want to experience it you just have to have listen to my latest double CD, West Side Story Reimagined, or any of my other previous solo CDs. In terms of sound? My sound is always evolving, adapting. It does have an identity, but the sound changes according to the style of music I’m playing. The sound also changes with the types of cymbals and bells that I may use as well as the drums, be they maple or bubinga. For example I like the depth and muscle of bubinga wood for my big band, but for smaller group playing I like the high end response of maple. It also changes with how many drums and pedals I decide to use. The cymbals? I prefer hand hammered ones, they’re darker and have more tonal variety. I have a variety that I chose from depending on the situation. I also have to play multi-percussion setups incorporating congas, timbales, bongo, assorted hand recession and bells operated by foot pedals. When I play drumset I incorporate all of that hand percussion and cultural knowledge that I have and when I play in a multi-percussion situation I draw upon all the co-ordinated independence skills I learned from Keith. I still play in hardcore salsa situations with artists like pianist Larry Harlow and there I play timbales. I’m fortunate that I’m a TAMA drumset and Sabian cymbal endorser. I also endorse Latin Percussion, Vic Firth sticks and mallets and Remo drumheads.

JBN.S: – WHAT PRACTICE OR EXERCISE ROUTINE DO YOU HAVE TO MAINTAIN AND DEVELOP YOUR CURRENT MUSICAL ABILITY?

BS: – It’s very hard to practice at this stage of my career because I’m so busy. But oddly enough my teaching and other activities contribute to not only maintaining ones technique but also advancing it. You come up with different ways of getting a student to perform, come up with different exercises and always exposing yourself to good books, food, movies, art, theater, music from different genres and parts of the world really inspires your creativity. Plus band leading, composing and arranging is also a source of creativity that can’t be beat.

JBN.S: – WHAT HARMONIES AND HARMONIC PATTERNS DO YOU PREFER NOW?

BS: – Anything and everything. One of the things that I love about Maestro Bernstein is that he never looked down at folk music or pop forms. He embraced it all an saw the intrinsic beauty in them. You can tell a story just as beautifully with a simple melody or harmony as you can with something that is complex. But I’ll tell you one thing, the blues holds a special place in my heart that moves me as well as Cuban son, mambo and funk.

JBN.S: – WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT YOUR CURRENT ALBUM WEST SIDE STORY REIMAGINED? 

BS: – That is was recorded live. The musicians in the band outdid themselves, I’m very proud of all of them as well as all of the arrangers. Many of them were former students of mine and they displayed supreme virtuosity. It also is a socio-political statement. NYC’s Puerto Rican community transformed the city into a cauldron of rhythm with our culture, music, art, poetry, theater, activism, dance, food and we’ve never gotten credit for it. This album acknowledges all of those contributions as well as paying tribute to the greatest musician the United States has ever produced, maestro Leonard Bernstein. The other thing is that most of the money from the album goes to the Jazz Foundation of America’s Puerto Rico Hurricane Relief Fund for Musicians on the island.

JBN.S: – WHAT’S THE BALANCE BETWEEN MUSIC, THE INTELLECT, AND THE SOUL?

BS: – When they are in perfect harmony you get great works of art like West Side Story Reimagined.

JBN.S: – ANY GREAT MEMORIES FROM GIGS, JAM SESSIONS, STUDIO SESSIONS, ETC. 

BS: – I have many. When I was with Mongo Santamaria we were at the Nice Jazz Festival in Southern France in 1983. Lionel Hampton’s big band was on before us and he took three encores. The audience wouldn’t let him leave, the band was swinging so hard. The crowd was literally roaring like if it was the Rolling Stones performing at a stadium. He played three improvised blues in a row and the audience was possessed in ecstasy. That’s when I realized the power jazz could have on an audience if it was presented with the right music and attitude. It was amazing. Mongo was pissed because Hampton had taken some of our time and  it was obvious he wanted to burn us. It was like a war.  Of course now we had to get the crowd on our side. So we opened with one of his signature tunes, Mambo Mongo, an exciting jazz mambo that featured him on congas and me on timbales. Before we went onstage he told me when it was my turn to take a long solo. When Mongo started to solo the crowd started roaring like when ‘Hamp was on before us and then I had to follow that. I was in heaven.

JBN.S: – HOW CAN WE GET YOUNG PEOPLE INVOLVED IN JAZZ WHEN MUCH OF THE STANDARD TUNES ARE OVER FIFTY YEARS OLD? 

BS: – Great compositions will always be timeless. It’s not the music, it’s the way it’s presented by the artist. The example I gave with Hampton was an example of presenting the music in an exciting way. He played three encores, each one was a blues, the fundamental form in jazz. But they were swinging their asses off and people started to dance because the groove was so hard. We were able to get the audience back on our side with Mongo because of the exciting mambo rhythm and hipness of the tune, as well as the exciting percussion solos. Presentation is everything. The music back in the old days was presented in an entertaining way with showmanship. Louis Armstrong was a great example of this. So was Dizzy who would talk to the audience make double meaning jokes, commentary, in a hip way. I do the same thing by talking to the audience about what the tune is about, maybe giving a simple explanation about the style, rhythm, introducing the soloists, etc. You connect with the audience. When The Modern Jazz Quartet and Miles came on the scene they destroyed that artist, audience connection. The arrangements also have to have what I call an “Oh shit!” moment. In other words it has to have an exciting climax or dramatic moment that keeps the audience in awe. Many times that gives the soloist a jumping off point for them to get you to that point. Sometimes it just the beautiful harmony like in a ballad. The music also has to relate to the audience in some way. You have to program sets in the same way you program a play with a beginning, middle, and end. Many times jazz musicians fall into the trap of trying to impress other musicians and they forget about the audience. That’s selfish. The advantage that pop, rock, and other forms outside of jazz have is their intimacy and immediacy because they use lyrics – songs that tell stories that audiences can relate to. The music isn’t as sophisticated as jazz but remember, the standards we draw upon were the pop music of their day and they certainly were sophisticated lyrically, harmonically, and melodically. It can be be done today with good arranging, programming, presentation, and of course performance, as well as composing new works. Don Ellis was great example of this. I know personally it can be done because I prove it time and time again in our live appearances.

JBN.S: – JOHN COLTRANE SAID MUSIC WAS HIS SPIRIT. HOW DO YOU UNDERSTAND THIS SPIRIT AND THE MEANING OF LIFE? 

BS: – It just means that his work was his being, as it is mine. The meaning of life is simple – experience it to the fullest, be kind to others, teach and inspire, and finally make a contribution to society. In other words make the world a better place. So far I think I’m doing a good job at it.

JBN.S: – IF YOU COULD CHANGE ONE THING IN THE MUSICAL WORLD AND IT BECOME A REALITY WHAT WOULD IT BE? 

BS: – Personally? The opportunity to perform this music to a wider audience, tour more. In general terms? That young people would get to experience the incredible diversity of flavors that there is to experience in jazz. They don’t know what they’re missing out on because they don’t get the chance to be exposed to it. The only way that is going to change is to make jazz a requirement in every history course in every public school in the United States. There’s no reason it shouldn’t be, it’s America’s greatest art form. That means it is the right of every citizen to be exposed to it because It is the thing that best represents us.

JBN.S: – WHAT DO YOU FIND YOURSELF LISTENING TO THESE DAYS?

BS: – Everything and anything from the Grateful Dead, to Machito, to Don Ellis, to Mahler, to the Chieftains, to Santana, to the avant garde, to good comedy CDs.

JBN.S: – LET’S TAKE A TRIP IN A TIME MACHINE. SO WHERE OR WHEN WOULD YOU LIKE TO GO AND WHY?

BS: – Right now! The intersection of music, technology, video is very exciting and in the hands of the right musicians some exciting things can be done in the world of jazz. The world is also becoming smaller because of all the cultures that now exist in the U.S. and the intersections of those cultures will produce new exciting fusions. That means the world is finally catching up to the type of music we do.

Interview by Simon Sargsyan

Картинки по запросу Bobby Sanabria

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