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Tito Puente Tribute

Bobby Sanabria

Bobby 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, Tito 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 musical career.

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.

At 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.

In 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.

His 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."

After 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 radio: Eddie Palmieri, Malo, Santana, Azteca, Cal Tjader, Tito Puente, Mongo Santamaria and Machito.

With 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.

"I 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 is red."

Today 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.

As 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.

Today 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."

Having 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.

"The 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.

Listen and watch Bobby perform a congahead tribute.

To learn more about Bobby Sanabria, CLICK HERE.

Check out Bobby's website at

Suggested listening:

¡N.Y.C. Aché! Bobby Sanabria & Ascensión
with special guests Tito Puente and
Paquito D'Rivera,
Flying Fish

Grammy Nominated in 2001, Afro-Cuban Dream: Live & In Clave!!!
Bobby Sanabria Big Band
Arabesque Records

My Time Is Now
944 Columbus Ave.
Mario Bauzá and his Afro-Cuban Jazz Orchestra
Messidor Records

The quotes from the above translation are from an interview with Martin Cohenof MPR radio.