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Spanish Harlem Orchestra Celebrates Salsa

The Grammy-winning Spanish Harlem Orchestra is named for a little slice of New York City that gave rise to Tito Puente, the king of Latin music, and crowned Celia Cruz from Cuba as the queen. When Bronx-based pianist Oscar Hernandez entered the scene in the 1960s, salsa was the new wave. Oscar says that the term "salsa" was coined in the 1970s, but that people forget how many rhythms — not just one — make up this wonderful music. The Spanish Harlem Orchestra revels in those rhythms. It's ideal for both dancing and listening.

The salsa sound comes from trumpet, trombone and a baritone sax/flute combination. It's open where the alto and tenor saxes would be, open for the full percussion section and three vocalists. Leader Hernandez is at the piano.

In early 2008, the Orchestra played outdoors for 100,000 people in Sydney, Australia. On our JazzSet from February 2008, they're at the Portland Jazz Festival, following stops in Vancouver and Seattle. And this spring, they head to halls and opera houses in Ireland and northern Europe. Their latest CD is United We Swing.

A word about the Portland Jazz Festival: It's a five-year-old mid-winter celebration, and it stages events like this one at the historic McMenamin's Crystal Ballroom, said to have the only remaining floating dance floor in America.


Recorded live by Ron Davis of A Wing and a Prayer Productions in Central Point, Ore., with Rob Mackinnon and Tyler Davis. Mixed at Oregon Sound Recording in Central Point, Ore. Downmixed at WBGO in Newark by Yujin Cha. Thanks to Portland Jazz festival director Bill Royston.

Copyright 2008 WBGO