ruben & the latin soul allstars
I started writing for this band about 2 1/2 years ago. I came across a Mongo Santamaria album, actually someone had put an old LP out in the trash and I found it there right on my street.
I have been a Mongo Santamaria fan for years, always liked the latin boogaloo feel, Eddie Harris is someone else who kinda copped that feel too.
Well at the time I was getting back into playing vinyl records and my beautiful wife Sally bought me a top of the line Technics SL1200 turntable. So I started listening to this Mongo album and also buying any other Mongo albums I could find. I decided that I was going to write a book and start a boogaloo thing, I thought OK , I’ll write out some of these Mongo tunes. The ones I picked were more obscure Mongo tunes.I mean there are the Mongo things people play like Afro Blue, Sofrito, Besame Mama and of course the Herbie Hancock standard Watermelon man that was a cross over hit for Mongo in the 60’s, but I was picking tunes that were less well known. There were songs on his albums that sounded dated but there were some that had a timeless vibe to them. Together,Ole Guajira, Do It To It , From Me To You All and many more. These are the songs I went for. Eventually I would like to move towards some funk and R&B and add a vocalist.
Victor Gonzales is a good friend of mine and the un-official band manager.He Is Puerto Rican and grew up in Brooklyn. A childhood friend of his from Brooklyn is world renowned percussionist Pablito “El Indio”Rosario. Victor is a huge fan of latin music. Not all of it but he knows what he likes and his taste in latin music is one of the few things we agree on.
Victor would spend hours listening to Pandora and Youtube searching for tunes that he thought I might like. Some of the best tunes in the book are ones that he turned me on to. A lot of them are Mongo tunes but he also found something by Charlie Palmieri called “ Either You have It Or You Don’t” a burning jam. Also something by Mario Bauza entitled Chucho. The song was actually written by Paquito D’rivera but is performed by the Bauza band.
A book is invalueable. It contains all the tunes charted out for each instrument. Mongo always used three horns in his band but I decided to write for four horns, trumpet, trombone, tenor saxophonist who doubles on flute and a baritone saxophonist who also plays alto sax. The rhythm section would consist of Bass, drums, piano and congas.
Now If you have a well written book you have a band IF you find the right players.
We did a rehearsal to read through the book.
I called an old friend Carlo De Rosa to play the bass book. I call him Carlo “the rock” DeRosa. In my opinion the bass defines the feel of the tune. The bass lines in my book are all written out. The bass player needs to sit down on it. Carlo does this like all day long and the band sounds so good when he is playing with us.
Some of my favorite songs have bass lines that stay constant. Listen to Lee Morgans “The Sidewinder” Bob Cranshaw lays it down and doesn’t go anywhere but groove. Or “I’ll take You There” by the Staple Singers. That bass player is Bob Hood from Muscle Shoals sound studio. He doesn’t budge from the groove. You don’t need a bass player to be wandering all over and changing up the feel. Inexperienced bass players do that. They don’t last, not in my band. The bass chair is the hardest seat to fill. Carlo is perfect. Carlo has played with some of the best. He is a regular with the Arturo O’farrill band and I am lucky when I can book him on my gigs.
The piano chair is hard to fill because piano players are most in demand and some are a pain in the ass. They are the divas. They can pick and choose their gigs. In their defense they do have to haul a lot of gear sometimes, keyboard and amp. But I have a keyboard and amp that I take to the gig so this makes it a little easier to get a piano player. Of course if the gig pays a ton of money it’s less difficult to get any players but at this point the gigs are not paying great.
I have used a number of piano players. Joey Lunsford is an old friend and I like to use him when he is available.He is not a diva and not a pain at all. He is not really a “latin player” per se but I like what he brings to the band. I am not trying to make this a traditional latin band, Sometimes I feel the tension with some of the guys because some want this to be a straight ahead latin thing but I don’t mind turning into its own special thing, My piano parts are written out and Joey for example is a very good reader so he gets it, he’s from Tennese has never played in a latin band. He’s played in mostly rock or funk groups he also is well versed in jazz. He has a regular road gig with “Bruce In The USA” a traveling Bruce Springstein Tribute band. That’s his bread and butter along with a very busy teaching schedule, I think he has 25-30 students. He’s the best on the boogaloo stuff.
I have used a half dozen other piano players some very good some not so good. On the last few gigs I have used Jack Glottman. He is not a diva or a pain. I rate him very highly. He knows the music and is easy to work with. Jack is a real pro. He plays around town I know he does a Jam session at Smalls.
On congas my first call guy is Louie Bauzo. Louie is a legend. He’s been running the Boys Harbor Latin Big Band for over 30 years. He is a fantastic congero. He is the real deal. He’s played with Mongo Santamaria , Tito Puente, Larry Harlow and many more.When he is not available I use another very fine musician named Renato Thoms. Renato had the gig with Gato Barbieri up until his death. Renato is a total pro and a pleasure to work with. He makes it groove.
On tenor sax and flute there is Mahlon”Buddy” Hoard, he plays with a lot of fire and takes solos to a whole new level. He’s done every gig with us. He is also a very close friend we go back a long long time.
Trumpeters I have had a few the last being Jesus Ricardo, a young kid from Cuba who blows his ass off. He did the Zinc Bar with us in March and April last year. Jim Seeley has played the book and he always sounds great. Shawn Edmonds and Kali Rodriguez have both played the gig, total pros.
I play alto/baritone sax. I am also directing the band, that keeps me pretty busy. We started out playing at Franks Lounge in downtown Brooklyn. We then played Sir D’s Lounge in Park Slope Brooklyn. We played the Zinc bar for a while then I had to travel to Los Angeles on family matters. We have been on a break but I want to get it going again. I was over at Sir D’s last week talking with Chris Dixon he said his brother Dave Dixon from Dixon Bicycle Shop who also manages Sir D’s got the down stairs club ready to go at Sir D’s. It’s a great big space, I think it used to be a speakeasy back in the day. I want to talk with Dave and get something going over there maybe in March or April.
I want to see where this goes maybe start throwing some R&B into the mix. Some James Brown or Eddie Harris. I want it to be danceable.We could use a singer. We did use Victoria Mayer a female vocalist from Argentina for a few gigs.She sang Besame Mucho and Dos Gardenias with us at Franks Lounge and Sir D’s .It went well I would like to use her again.
Look for us soon. I think we will be at the Speak easy bar under Sir D’s, Come on out and hear us. Email me at this site if you want to be put on our mailing list.