by Gary Axelbank
December 10, 2018
The remarkable reimagining of West Side Story by Bobby Sanabria and the Multiverse Big Band has been nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Latin Jazz Album. On Friday, the morning after the nomination was announced, the Bronx band leader spoke with thisistheBronX about what the nomination means to him (it’s his eighth, the band’s fifth), the recent death of the band’s lead trumpeter, previous Grammy nominations, proceeds from the album, and more.
thisistheBronX – How does it feel to have this album in particular nominated for a grammy.
Bobby Sanabria – It’s fantastic because this album is my homage to the Puerto Rican people of New York City. Obviously I’m Puerto Rican and the community of Puerto Ricans in New York City has transformed this city musically, dance-wise, through art, poetry, activism, theater, in every which way and we’ve never get gotten credit for that.
TTBX – So it’s not only nice that you got nominated, which of course everybody would love to do, but this one in particular is a really special thing.
BS – Yes, and hopefully we’ll bring the Grammy Award back to where it belongs. The Bronx! It’s also very heartfelt because our lead trumpet player, Kevin Bryan passed away from pancreatic cancer about two weeks ago. It was so sudden. He was diagnosed about a month ago and it just happened so fast. I told him before he passed, “we will get nominated and win this for you, Kevin.”
It’s amazing because all the nominees are fantastic, but this album was in front of a live audience at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola so what you see is what you get and Kevin as the lead trumpet player didn’t miss a single note. So this is testimony to the musicians on the album, their virtuosity and Kevin’s virtuosity.
TTBX – And especially that piece of music, for a trumpet player of all things.
BS – It’s the most difficult music that has ever been written for a Broadway stage and what we did was ramp it up even more so.
TTBX – You’ve had other nominations, right?
BS – This will be the eighth nomination in total for me as a bandleader. For the band itself, this is the fifth nomination because we were nominated for Afro-Cuban Dream: Live and in Clave in 2000 and in 2007 Big Band Urban Folktales. Then in 2012 we were nominated for two Grammys for an album called Multiverse.
TTBX – Does it make you really hungry? Like ‘gee, I would like to win one already’ or are you just kind of making the music regardless what happens.
BS – We’ll always make the music regardless of whatever happens, but this would be very heartfelt because the orchestra, and I say this with all due respect to every other big band that’s out there, I think that our big band is really something special, out of the norm in terms of the bands that are out there.
By the way, the reason I call it the Multiverse Big Band is not only because the band is multi-generational, multi-racial, and multi-ethnic, but it’s also the variety of music that we encompass in what we do. Everything from hardcore salsa, authentic Brazilian samba, and all the rhythms of all of Latin America, and even inclusive of the avant garde and classical music, etc. I mean it’s all in there, as we would say in the Bronx, and a bag of chips.
TTBX – West Side Story in particular is perfectly suited for that approach to music.
BS – Yes. Because the genius of West Side Story and Maestro Bernstein’s score is that he had all of those elements in there. The beginning starts with those haunting three notes that you hear whistles, which are from the shofar, the ram’s horn in Jewish culture. It’s an eerie feeling of suspended animation and it takes you to another place. I always say that West Side Story is the greatest episode of the Twilight Zone that’s ever been done.
In July, 2018 Bobby Sanabria and Jaime Bernstein appeared on BronxTalk to talk about West Side Story Remiagined
The music is getting out there and my hope is that everybody gets this recording because the majority of the money goes to Puerto Rico to the musicians there to help them with their struggles after the two hurricanes.
Bobby Sanabria and the Multiverse Big Band performed their re-working of Leonard Bernstein’s masterpiece over the summer at Lincoln Center, at the National Museum of Mathematics over this past weekend, and on January 18th, 2019 they’ll have a command performance at the Kennedy Center in Washington , D.C.