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Harlem Stage Presents HABANA/HARLEM May 15

Presented in partnership with Center for Jazz Studies at Columbia University & the Columbia/Harlem Jazz Project and Produced by Neyda Martinez and Onel Mulet
This performance features the Spanish Harlem Orchestra and Oscar Hernández

Two performances on Sun, May 15th at: 5:00 pm & 7:00 pm


With a special addition of our semi-annual Habana/Harlem series, produced by Neyda Martinez and Onel Mulet, we would pay tribute to the influence of Afro-Cuban music as it made its way to New York and defined an era. The Park Palace, once located on the northwest corner of 110th Street and Fifth Avenue, was one of East Harlem's hottest dance clubs, serving up boleros (romantic ballads), guaracha (a Cuban form with a chicka-chicka pulse), and charanga (Cuban-style music that accompanied the suave dance called the danzón) from the 1920s through the 50s. A large music hall upstairs could hold 1,500 people, and there was a smaller hall downstairs. This was just one of the venues where some of the best musicians from Cuba came to perform, and where New York Cubans and Puerto Ricans went to perform. They became the places where the New York Latino community created a sound based on the roots of the music, but relevant to their contemporary world. With this concert, we will explore the innovations of the music that made history and that are taking it into the future.

Featured Artists:

Oscar Hernandez - Piano/Leader

Ray De La Paz - Vocals

Marco Bermudez - Vocals

Carols Casante - Vocals

Mitch Frohman - Sax/Flute

John Walsh - Trumpet

Hector Colon - Trumpet

Doug Beavers - Trombone

Reynaldo Jorge - Trombone

Luis Quintero - Timbales

George Delgado - Congas

Jorge Gonzalez - Bongos

Hector Rodriguez - Bass

Artists Bios:

Spanish Harlem Orchestra

Now in its tenth year, the Grammy-winning Spanish Harlem Orchestra is one of the most formidable and authentic Latin jazz combos of the present day. Yet for all of its appeal and success with contemporary audiences, SHO's success is actually rooted in the past. The 13-piece collective owes its front-line status to an unwavering respect for the music's rich history and a tenacious adherence to the music's enduring traditions.

Spanish Harlem Orchestra celebrates that musical and cultural legacy with Viva La Tradición, their new album set for release on Concord Picante on September 28, 2010. A mix of fiery salsa and a few moments of melodic balladry, the album's 12 tracks hearken back to a time of Latin big band recordings populated by seasoned musicians who assembled in the same room at the same time, brought their best to the table and generated a spontaneous, natural energy all their own.

"I've played and recorded with a lot of great artists from different eras," says pianist, bandleader, producer and SHO founder Oscar Hernandez, who began his career as an arranger and musical director in the 1970s for artists like Tito Puente, Ray Barretto, Celia Cruz and many others. "And Spanish Harlem Orchestra, since its earliest days ten years ago, has accompanied many great artists as well. So the title of the album is a statement about a group of musicians who understand first-hand the tradition of this music and all the great artists who were responsible for the tradition."

Indeed, Hernandez is all about tradition. Although born into a large Puerto Rican family living in the Bronx, it was the nearby Spanish Harlem neighborhood that shaped his cultural musical sensibilities. The soundtrack to this bustling enclave in the ‘60s was a mix of Latin jazz and American pop radio emanating from any given window on any given day.

Hernandez started playing the trumpet at age 12, then switched to piano shortly after. By the time he finished his teen years, he was making a living as a professional musician and gigging with some of the most talented Latin jazz artists of the ‘70s. He spent much of the ‘80s producing, arranging and playing piano for Panamanian vocalist Rubén Blades while simultaneously leading his own band, Seis del Solar.

After two decades of session work, composing, arranging and producing, Hernandez was approached by producer Aaron Luis Levinson in 2000 about the idea of assembling and recording a Latin jazz orchestra. The result was Un Gran Dia en el Barrio, the 2002 debut recording from Spanish Harlem Orchestra that scored a Grammy nomination for Best Salsa Album and a Latin Billboard Award for Salsa Album of the Year. The Grammy win came with the followup album,Across 110th Street (a reference to Harlem's southern boundary), released in 2004. United We Swing followed in 2007.

Viva la Tradición, the orchestra's fourth effort, takes up where it's three predecessors leave off - stirring the pot of mid-20th century influences and keeping the salsa simmering for current and future generations.

The album opens with the lively "La Salsa Dura," a lighthearted and energetic song originally penned by Cuban salsa composer and bandleader Manuel Simonet that "really captures what we're about," says Hernandez.

Elsewhere, Hernandez enlists the aid of veteran arranger Gil Lopez on three of Lopez's own songs: "Son De Corazon," "Nuestra Cancion" and "Regalo De Dios." The 80-year-old Lopez, who was writing and arranging before many members of Spanish Harlem Orchestra's lineup were even born, has lost none of his original edge. "I get the biggest kick out of being able to tap into a musical brain that's still so vital," says Hernandez.

He admits that Lopez's "Nuestra Cancion," a ballad amid a series of spirited salsa tracks, is an unlikely addition to the sequence, but it's there for good reason. "A ballad like this is not really what we're known for, but I put it on here to make a point," he explains. "It's our way of saying, ‘You need to listen to this, because this is how it was done back in those days. It was just beautiful music.'"

The orchestra rides hard into the home stretch with the percussive and syncopated instrumental, "Rumba Urbana," - a piece written and arranged by Hernandez, with plenty of intriguing dynamics throughout it's six and a half minutes - followed by the rollicking closer, "El Negro Tiene Tumbao," a tune that derives much of its bravado from the expressive delivery by guest vocalist Isaac Delgado.

Front to back, Viva la Tradición is very much a nod to the countless artists - well known and obscure - who helped usher salsa music into the cultural mainstream several decades ago. Preserving that legacy and introducing it to new audiences in a new century, says Hernandez, is more important than being the musical flavor of the month.

"When people tell me we should do it this way or that way in order to make it more commercially successful, I just don't think that way," he says. "I don't function on that level. That's not to say I don't want to be commercially successful. Of course that's very important, but it's not the primary driving force behind what we do. These musicians are all people who care very much about what we're doing as a group."

What's more, they understand what it means to play under the banner of Spanish Harlem Orchestra. "Spanish Harlem is kind of a microcosm of Latinos in New York," says Hernandez. "It's an important place culturally for our people and our music. Just like Harlem was extremely important culturally for African Americans, so was Spanish Harlem for Latinos. We're not a bunch of flyweights who took the name as some kind of ethnic gimmick. We're the real deal, and we earned the right to take that name."

Oscar Hernández

Oscar Hernández has long been considered one of the most gifted and prominent pianist/ arrangers on the contemporary latin,latin-jazz and salsa music scene. Since its inception in the early 1980's, Oscar has been responsible for charting the musical course of the Rubén Blades Band. Increasingly in demand as a pianist, arranger and producer ,the Bronx native has produced such artists as Ruben Blades/Willie Colón "Carabali", Daniel Ponce, Rafael Dejesus, Eddie Torres, Phil Hernandez, Steve Kroon,etc. and has made a more personal statement with the debut CD's Decision and Alternate Roots by his band Seis Del Solar the Rubén Blades Band sans Rubén, and now with his Grammy Award nominated band The Spanish Harlem Orchestra.

In addition to being Rubén Blades pianist, arranger and musical director, Oscar Hernández has enjoyed a prolific musical career recording and performing with such world renown artists as Latin music king Tito Puente, Queen of Salsa Music Celia Cruz, Latin Pop Star Julio Iglesias, Juan Luis Guerra, Ray Barreto, Earl Klugh, Dave Valentin, Johnny Pacheco, Ismael Miranda, Pete "Conde" Rodríquez, Oscar De'leon, Luis "Perico" Ortiz, "Libre' "Grupo Folkorico Experimental", Willie Colón, Kirsty MacColl, etc..... More recently, Oscar's musical exploits include working as Musical Director/Conductor, arranging and producing the music for "The Capeman," pop-rock icon Paul Simon's Broadway musical. In addition, Oscar is also the music producer of "The Capeman" cast recording. Oscar was Musical Director/Arranger for the hit shows "Quien Mato A Hector Lavoe" and "La Lupe" at the 47th Street Theatre. He was also, Music Supervisor/Arranger for the show Four Guys named Jose & Una Mujer named Maria. He is currently working on the Broadway bound version of Mambo King.

Oscar's work as a studio session player can also be heard on numerous commercial jingles, some of which he has written and arranged. Among those are The hit show Sex and the City, Dunkin Donuts, Waldbaums, General Motors, Cover Girl etc.

In addition to having firmly established his reputation as an excellent musician and producer/arranger, Oscar has been recently expanding his horizons into composing music for film having recently completed the music for the film documentaries, If The Mango Tree Could Speak by Pat Goudvis & Angela Tiene Un Bebé by Paula Heredia, and Cuban Roots/Bronx Stories by Pam Sporn.

Presented in partnership with Center for Jazz Studies at Columbia & the Columbia/Harlem Jazz Project


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