Sanabria is a modern day musical hero to today's
aspiring young jazz talents. He and his
band, Ascensión, celebrate the rhythmic
gifts of many artists such as Dizzy Gillespie,
Puente, Harry Belefonte, Count Basie, Mongo
Santamaria and the legendary Godfather of Afro-Cuban
jazz, Mario Bauzá, with whom Bobby performed
and recorded. Sanabria credits the influence of
these artists and his own father in shaping his
Growing up in the Melrose projects of the South
Bronx, Bobby Sanabria's rich and diverse musical
exposure was a result of his fathers' pastime.
His father, a hard working machinist, taught Bobby
the value of work, commitment, achievement and
music appreciation. After a daily 4-hour
roundtrip commute to work in Long Island, Bobby's
father would kick back in his easy chair, with
a beer and cigar in his hand, escaping into the
worlds of Jazz, Rock, R&B, Soul, Big Band,
Afro-Cuban and Brazilian Jazz. Bobby sat
quietly by his dad's side, soaking up the sounds.
These music-filled hours ignited Bobby's passion
for music, and music makers.
an early age, Bobby learned that education, excellence,
and distinctive skills could take him out of the
projects and propel into his future as a musical
performer. As early as Catholic grammar school,
he was influenced and motivated by the unique
achievements of others. He recalls a young
classmate in the first grade who showed off his
skills by reading fluently from the newspaper
out loud in front of the class. At this age, most
kids were still reading only "see spot run"
books. Bobby recognized the rewards
of setting yourself apart through excellence.
He said to himself "Wow, I already
do that too!" This small revelation
sparked a desire for distinction through learning,
and opened the door to opportunity. Bobby
began to challenge himself to read more, do more,
and be more.
the 5th grade his "Anglo" honor student
classmates were invited to take an entrance test
for admission to Monsignor William R. Kelley school
in Manhattan, a progressive, experimental institution
for gifted students. This invitation was
not extended to Bobby who is Puerto Rican.
His mother, when learning about this injustice,
met with the school principal, presented her son's
competitive and honorable grades, and demanded
equal opportunity. Bobby took the exam and was
interviewed -- and was the only one of his classmates
who passed the test and was accepted. This incident
helped build Bobby's character and shaped his
future success. In order to attend classes, at
only 12 years old, Bobby traveled via subway downtown
and was "challenged to compete" at a
high school level.& He developed independence,
self-reliance and the fortitude to master whatever
challenges life presented.
musical interests and proficiency on drums and
percussion continued to expand and develop. He
stayed up late at night listening to the legendary
jazz DJ Symphony Sid, Latin DJ's like Joe Gaines
and Dick "Ricardo" Sugar, and progressive
rock DJ's like Allison Steel and Jonathan Schwartz.
But his main influence was Felipe Luciano, who
had a radio show called Latin Roots. "Felipe
treated the music as high art and would play classic
recordings as well as the latest progressive artists."
the 8th grade, Bobby elected to attend Cardinal
Hayes High School, which was close to home, had
a good music department and fueled his other passions;
football, baseball and basketball and track and
field. It was at Cardinal Hayes that a classmate
told him about the prestigious Berklee College
of Music, the same school attended by the great
Quincy Jones. "This became my dream
and focus." While working hard to prepare
himself and to develop his skills by practicing
drums and percussion, studying harmony and theory,
he also started his own band called "Orquesta
Suprema." He and his band members imitated
or "tried to cop" from their favorite
groups and their heroes that they heard on the
Palmieri, Malo, Santana, Azteca, Cal Tjader,
Tito Puente, Mongo Santamaria and Machito.
the aid of loans and scholarships, he attended
the Berklee College of Music where he studied
orchestration, harmony, sight singing, drums,
percussion and conducting. In 1979
he graduated with a Bachelor of Music degree and
was honored with the Faculty Association Award
for his outstanding instrumental abilities.
grew up with the Black experience in the projects
of the South Bronx. It was a predominately
Black neighborhood. There were Puerto Ricans,
most of them from my fathers side of the family."
This multicultural upbringing and his love for
a variety of musical styles helped Bobby to realize
"the heart has no color; everybody's blood
Bobby draws on these rich experiences and the
lessons taught by his musical mentors, while embracing
a wide variety of influences. "My calling
card has always been my talent and the music I
produce." Bobby also extends his "calling
card" to teaching and serving as a mentor
to the youth of today. He inspires young talents
to fulfill their greatness, as his own mentors
were an inspiration to him.
a youngster, Bobby collected LP endorsement pictures.
He covered the walls of his room with photos of
such greats as Willie Bobo, Carlos
'Patato' Valdez, Bob Rosendarden, Ralph
MacDonald and Tito Puente.& His
heroes used LP products in their bands. As a boy
he remembers saving up his money to purchase an
LP cowbell through the mail. "The LP
product line set the standard for quality percussion
instruments." Bobby and his Afro-Cuban jazz
ensembles continue to use LP products as their
standard of excellence.
Bobby considers Tito Puente as his biggest influence.
"Although Buddy Rich, Art Blakey, Airto,
Billy Cobham, Cal
Tjader and Mongo Santamaria have had a great
impact on my playing, Tito, as a band leader,
composer, arranger and player has had the most
significant influence on my music. He is
my mentor -- a total musician."
recorded, performed and toured the world over
with a veritable "Who's Who" in music,
Bobby is considered one of the most accomplished
players and articulate spokespersons for the jazz
and Latin music traditions.
best thing is that I've performed and recorded
with many of my heroes and I'm part of a great
legacy. I will continue to pass that on,
and LP will be right there to help me do that,
just as they were when I was a kid."Bobby
Sanabria's new CD Afro-Cuban Dream, Live &
In Clave!!! will be released by Arabesque Records
on June 1st. It's a slammin' recording; live from
Birdland with Bobby powering a 20-piece big band
made up of NYC's finest, featuring the legendary
conga master Candido
Camero as special guest. Bobby is also the
author of the critically acclaimed three-part
video series Getting Started on Congas (Warner
Brothers/DCI) available from LP.
and watch Bobby perform a congahead tribute.
learn more about Bobby Sanabria, CLICK
out Bobby's website at www.bobbysanabria.com
Aché! Bobby Sanabria & Ascensión
with special guests Tito
Nominated in 2001,
Dream: Live & In Clave!!!
Bobby Sanabria Big Band
My Time Is Now
944 Columbus Ave.
Mario Bauzá and his Afro-Cuban Jazz Orchestra
quotes from the above translation are from an
interview with Martin Cohenof MPR radio.