Winter 2011 saw my first winter in New York after being away for 5 years - it seemed that New York had something brutal in store..the worst winter that New York had ever seen in terms of snowfall. Every weekend it was “well folks, another 27 inches of snow will drop on Jersey City” an so on and so forth. Braving the elements, however, my Harlem School of Urban Music and Recording Arts gained some real traction when we got the pro recording studio set up.
February gave me the opportunity to escape from Old Man Winter’s wrath, fleeing the city for a couple of stints with Pete Escovedo & Sheila E. at Yoshi’s San Francisco and Jazz Alley, Seattle. While in Seattle, I got to join my good friend Thomas Marriott for a joint gig of ours at Tula’s and a concert with Michael Feinstein at Seattle’s beautiful Benaroya Hall.
March gave further respite from the historical winter in NY, allowing me to join Pete Escovedo Latin Jazz Orchestra for a gig in Los Cabos, Mexico, of all places. My Conjunto Rovira band was also asked to headline the 2nd annual San Francisco Salsa Festival.
Back at the Harlem School of Urban Music, we auditioned and recruited our very first student class and began running classes in music theory, production and recording. The Harlem School Live! series also got underway and we were able to bring world-class NYC musicians into the facility to rehearse, record, and work with the students:
They say things really change in Spring, and that held especially true for me in April. I found myself single after six years of a relationship, four of them while being engaged. This naturally really made me think about my life, goals and direction in a purely introspective way. Even at this writing I can’t help but think about what a different path I am currently on. This is a good thing.
With May arrived better weather and some more action on the music scene. I was able to perform with Spanish Harlem Orchestra at Erie, PA and in Harlem NYC for the annual Harlem Jazz Shrines Festival. On the 28th, I rejoined Eddie Palmieri La Perfecta II for a gig at Jacksonville Jazz Festival. After the awesome gig, I found myself on an elevator with two people whom you might know:
June 2011 saw the arrival of the Summer touring season in full swing. In my view the Puerto Rican Parade in NYC as the non-official start to this touring season, and I was able to perform on a float with “El Loco” Willie Alvarez for 2011’s version of the parade. My memory of this parade is somewhat fuzzy - but that which I do remember was great fun!
June also saw the end of the first official semester at Harlem School of Urban Music. I was extremely proud of what the students accomplished and all of the work they put in. In collaboration with the video team at HSUM, we were able to put together this short EPK for the school:
From the school, it was back on the plane for more touring. I joined Sheila E. for her gig at The Hague Jazz Festival in Amsterdam on the 18th and then immediately flew back to Chicago, where I joined SHO for a gig in that great city’s Puerto Rican day celebration on the 19th. I also appeared with SHO at the Toronto Jazz Festival and then Eddie Palmieri La Perfecta II played for the hometown crowd at BB King’s, NYC in Times Square.
It was more of the same in July where I played with the Pete, Sheila, and the E Family at the Salt Lake City Jazz Festival (meeting some great friends in the process - like this legend and at the Montalvo Arts Center in Saratoga, CA (south of San Jose). A week later, we did our summer stint at Yoshi’s Oakland.
It was at this point that I was notified that I was a full-fledged member of Spanish Harlem Orchestra and that I would be joining them for their Euro Tour 2011, which ended up being a blast and an experience. Here’s the schedule from that tour and accompanying video from some of our gigs:
7/28 SHO Vence, France
In August I got to fly back to my “homeland”, the SF Bay Area and perform with my ensembles. A highlight was definitely my band’s appearance at San Jose Jazz Festival featuring Wayne Wallace and Abel Figueroa in a 3 trombone front line. Here’s video from that performance:
September was full speed ahead as well, and I was able to join Eddie Palmieri La Perfecta II for some historic gigs in Medellin & Barranquilla, Colombia. Here’s some video from those amazing concerts:
Spanish Harlem Orchestra also toured the West Coast towards the later half of the month, and I was able to spend my birthday with them on stage at La Granada in Los Angeles. Here’s SHO’s itinerary from that tour:
9/21 SHO LA
9/22 SHO LA Granada
9/23 SHO San Jose Cultural Arts Center
9/24 SHO Albuquerque NM
9/25 SHO San Antonio TX
October saw the pace notch down a step, but it wasn’t without an exciting trip to St. Petersburg, Russia with SHO. Some places we never dream of going when we are young, but as it were I found myself with a ticket on Aeroflot to Moscow. We transferred on to St. Petersburg for an amazing gig at the St. Petersburg Salsa Festival with some wonderful people.
The end of October threw a total screwball - a full fledged Nor’ Easter on the 29th. The same day that SHO was to leave for Boston for a concert that evening. Half the band was diverted on to Amtrak and we arrived in Boston 30 minutes before the showtime. “But I thought you said you wanted to be a musician.”, said Mother.
November finally slowed down and allowed me to focus on the Harlem School and on composing my next recording. One gig that was a total treat was performing with Terese Geneco and Shaynee Rainbolt at Yoshi’s Oakland CA for a tribute show for the legendary arranger Russ Garcia. Russ was supposed to be there but he had to stay back in New Zealand due to doctor’s orders. Terese and Shaynee skyped him in on video and we were able to play his arrangements for him and for the audience live. Sadly, Russ passed a mere week later. Some gigs you never forget.
2011 ended with a bang with a stint at Yoshi’s San Francisco with Eddie Palmieri and a show in Folsom CA (close to Sacramento). Besides having a great time, I learned some definitive lessons from these particular shows.
A day after it was a rush up to Eastern Canada for tour with Spanish Harlem’s “Salsa Navidad” show, where we performed in St. Catherines, Kingston, and Toronto. The Toronto show in particular was special with an amazing venue in the Royal Conservatory of Music’s Koerner Hall.
Finally, 2011 winded down and I was fortunate enough to be able to vacation with my family in Maui HI. It made me realize the time you spend relaxing and seeing the world is just as important as the time you spend hustling and working. They are truly yin and yang.