Free Downtown Festival Makes Hartford Dance to Latin Jazz and Salsa Rhythms | Connecticut Public Radio

Free Downtown Festival Makes Hartford Dance to Latin Jazz and Salsa Rhythms

Aug 26, 2015

"The festival is a reflection of Latinos' most precious artistic expression."
Marcelina Sierra

Renowned region-wide since 2007 for its abundant servings of savory, red-hot Latin sounds and friendly, festive communal vibe, the free, outdoor Ray Gonzalez Latin Jazz and Salsa Festival presents its annual sizzling summer celebration in downtown Hartford on Saturday, August 29, from 5:00 to 10:00 pm at Mortensen Riverfront Plaza.

Ray Gonzalez is a legendary, Hartford-based trumpeter, bandleader, pioneering educator, and empathetic mentor for many aspiring Latin and jazz musicians. He leads his 25-piece Big Band Orchestra in a tribute to the internationally celebrated, Puerto Rican entertainer, Bobby Capo (1922-1989).

Capo, who emigrated from Puerto Rico to New York City in the early 1940s, first seized wide attention as a singer with such popular bands of the time as the Xavier Cugat Orchestra. One of his most famous hits was his Piel Canela (Cinnamon Skin), which was recorded by the American-expatriate and superstar singer/entertainer Josephine Baker, who sang the lyrics in French.

Other Capo hits were recorded over the decades by a diverse array of artists, including Tito Puente, Nat Cole, Celia Cruz, Ruben Blades, Placido Domingo, and Eydie Gorme. Inspired by his great love for Puerto Rico, his composition "Sonando con Puerto Rico (Dreaming of Puerto Rico)" is said to be revered as an anthem by Puerto Ricans on the island, particularly by those who live abroad.

Among performers sharing the bill with Gonzalez’s mega band is percussionist Eguie Castrillo and the Latin Jazz Connection. The Connection’s international cast features conga player Takafumi Nikaido from Japan, bassist Flavio Lira from Brazil, pianist Santiago Bosch from Venezuela, and saxophonist/pianist Edmar Colon, a native of Puerto Rico.

Percussionist Eguie Castrillo will be one of the performers at a free, outdoor festival August 29 from 5:00 to 10:00 pm at Mortensen Riverfront Plaza in Hartford.

An acclaimed mambo master, Castrillo has performed with such musical giants as Arturo Sandoval, Paquito D’Rivera, and Michel Camilo. The globe-trotting musician and Puerto Rican native is a faculty member of Berklee College of Music in Boston.

The festival’s special guest artists include singer/percussionist Manolo Mainera from Costa Rica, singers Raul Santos, Jesus Pagan, and bassist Maximo Rodriguez, all from Puerto Rico. Mainera, a specialist in Afro-Caribbean and Latin American rhythms, has performed around the world and recorded with top artists and ensembles.

Conjunto Antillano, another dynamic ensemble on the bill, specializes in Caribbean salsa.

The festival is presented by Guakia, a non-profit, community-based educational organization in Hartford dedicated to the reaffirmation and preservation of Latino art, music, culture, and heritage.

Guakia’s Latin jazz youth orchestra, Guakibomjazz, is the festival’s opening act. Guakibomjazz was founded by Gonzalez, a native of Gurabo, Puerto Rico, who has served as music director for Guakia. The musical maven has toured with his Latin jazz and salsa orchestra throughout the United State and Puerto Rico. As a noted instrumentalist, he has also worked with a litany of international stars and ensembles, including Tito Puente, Charlie Sepulveda, and Giovanni Hidalgo, among many others.

Marcelina Sierra, Guakia’s executive director, summed up the universal appeal of the urban festival as a point of connection for Latin music lovers of all nationalities.

“The festival is a boost to Hartford business, the Connecticut music scene, and a reflection of Latinos’ most precious artistic expression. Viva la Musica!” Sierra said.

Co-sponsored by the City of Hartford, the event is hosted by Riverfront Recapture. In case of rain, the festival will be postponed until the following day, Sunday, August 30, from 5:00 to 10:00 pm at Riverfront Plaza, 300 Columbus Boulevard, Hartford. Information: Guakia at and (860) 548-9555, and Riverfront Recapture at

Firehouse’s Fiery Fall Season

Covering the cutting-edge scene from A to Z with premier performances ranging from the acclaimed Iraqi-American trumpeter/composer Amir ElSaffar to the legendary avant-garde composer/multi-instrumentalist/producer John Zorn, Firehouse 12 marks the tenth anniversary of its critically acclaimed Jazz Series with a dozen concerts this fall, opening with pianist Jon Cowherd on September 18 at its downtown New Haven digs.

Amir ElSaffar's new album Crisis has been described as a "cry from the heart."

After Cowherd’s opening night appearance, The Fall 2015 Series continues every Friday thereafter through December 11, with the single exception of Zorn’s SIMULACRUM appearance. Billed “as the most extreme organ trio ever,” with Zorn himself as the conductor, SIMULACRUM will be unleashed in the Elm City bastion of the avant-garde on Saturday, November 14.

Each of the concerts features individual sets at 8:30 and 10:00 pm. Tickets for all events are $20.00 for the first set and $15.00 for the second set. A limited number of season passes good for admission to both sets of every concert are also available for $200, a giant discount for the most devout Firehouse fans.

ElSaffar, a master melder of jazz and Arabic music, performs September 25, celebrating the release of his new album, Crisis (Pi Recordings), with his Two Rivers Ensemble. He and his band explore the juncture at which the streams of jazz and music of the Middle East converge, digging deep into the centuries old tradition of the Iraqi maqam genre. ElSaffar’s synthesis of West and Middle East, yields his highly original work, a worldly wise, 21st century third-stream confluence of styles that, for all its diverse sources, has a mind and soul all its own.  

Amir ElSaffar
Credit Ed Berger

Described as a “cry from the heart,” Crisis is ElSaffar’s reflection on a region ripped apart by turmoil and horrific violence, and on its ancient culture’s struggle for survival among the carnage and unending internecine wars. The work was commissioned by the Newport Jazz Festival where, at its world premiere in 2013, it was greeted with a standing ovation. With ElSaffar on trumpet, the ensemble features Ole Mathisen on tenor saxophone; Carlo DeRosa, bass; Nasheet Waits, drums; Tareq Abboushi, buzuq and percussion; and Zafer Tawil, dumbek, oud and violin.

ElSaffar also plays santur -- Iraqi hammered dulcimer -- and vocalizes when performing in the now-endangered Iraqi maqam tradition. A classically-trained trumpeter, he has created techniques to play microtones and ornaments idiomatic to Arabic music, enriching his melodic and harmonic palette in his innovative pieces.

The music of SIMULACRUM is fueled with everything from atonality and minimalism to jazz and metal.

Zorn, a voracious seeker of the new and super strongman bender of all genres, presents SIMULACRUM on November 14 at two shows that might well sell out in the cozy 75-seat house. With Zorn as conductor, the power trio features John Medeski of Medeski, Martin, and Wood fame, on Hammond organ; Kenny Grohowski on drums and Matt Hollenberg on guitar. As through-composed pieces and improvisations unfold, the music is fueled with everything from atonality and minimalism to jazz and metal, and other additives and high-octane experimental elements.  

The series, which likes to mix familiar faces and first-time performers at Firehouse 12, features newcomers Jon Cowherd and Bryan Copeland. Among those back for an encore are ElSaffar, Mat Maneri, Peter Evans, and Ralph Peterson, whose trio features Hartford’s musically gifted brothers, pianist Zaccai Curtis and bassist Luques Curtis.

Here’s the complete lineup:

Jon Cowherd Mercy Project, September 18; Amir ElSaffar and Two Rivers, September 25; Bryan Copeland and the Aardvarks, October 2; Mat Maneri & Lucian Ban, October 9; Tony Malaby’s Tubacello Quartet, October 16; and George Colligan Trio, October 23.

Also, Ralph Peterson Trio, October 30; Andy Milne & Dapp Theory, November 6; John Zorn’s SIMULACRUM, November 14; Satoko Fujii’s Tobira, November 20; Peter Evans-Zebulon Trio, December 4; and Ned Rothenberg-Inner Diaspora, December 11.

A serious listener’s delight, each performance takes place in the intimate setting of Firehouse 12’s state-of-the-art recording studio, an acoustically balanced, soundproofed space with installed sound reinforcement and stage lighting systems. Tickets may be purchased online at, by phone at (203) 785-0468 or in person at the box office beginning at 7:00 pm on the night of the show. Firehouse12 is both a recording studio and performance space for original creative music, with a full- service bar and lounge located at 45 Crown Street.

DeRose Blooms in Chic Wine Bar

Not only is the remarkable Dena DeRose a hip, hard-swinging jazz pianist, but -- as if that weren’t more than enough of a musical gift for one human being-- she’s also a bona fide, expressive jazz singer as well, a musician’s musician, a singer’s singer who also composes and arranges.

Dena DeRose.
Credit Courtesy Dena DeRose

Her piano playing resonates with a wonderful singing quality, lyrical lines that ring with a luminous touch due to the crystal-clear articulation learned perhaps from her classical studies.

Free of the toxic overkill of faux emotionalism and forced fortissimos -- faults often praised today as wondrous virtues -- DeRose's vocals are inventive, vital and crackle with a rare musical intelligence. United together, her piano playing and singing are a peerless pairing that nourish one another in an ideal symbiosis of swing and smarts, executed with fluent ease and consummate grace.

Celebrating her new release on HighNote Records -- a vibrant homage to the late singer/pianist Shirley Horn -- DeRose leads her classy working trio on Sunday, August 30, at 6:30 pm at Sarah’s Wine Bar, located upstairs at Bernard’s Restaurant at 20 West Lane in Ridgefield. Her trio mates, both at the chic, accolade-laden Wine Bar and on her new, artful album, We Won’t Forget You… An Homage to Shirley Horn, are bassist Martin Wind and drummer Matt Wilson.

DeRose's special guest for the live performance is flugelhornist Marvin Stamm. On her new HighNote homage to Horn, her trio is complemented on several selections by excellent cameo appearances by saxophonists Eric Alexander and Gary Smulyan and trumpeter Jeremy Pelt.

Dena DeRose.
Credit Courtesy Dena DeRose

Perpetually filled with light, DeRose’s illuminating solos glow with an especially effervescent sound whenever she sings in unison with the bright, fleet linear lines she’s laying down on the keyboard. Cover: $27.50/$15.00 minimum. Reservations: (203) 438-8282.

Slugger’s Big League Guitar Chops

Bernie Williams, the great slugging, center fielder emeritus for the New Yankees, displays his Big League guitar chops as he returns to The Ridgefield Playhouse on Sunday, August 30, for a double-header of sorts, participating in a charity softball game in the afternoon and later playing guitar with his all-star jazz band in a concert in the evening.

Bernie Williams

Probably everybody knows about Williams’ litany of personal triumphs and championship seasons as a beloved Bronx Bomber -- his avalanche of achievements including everything from five Gold Glove Awards to an American League batting crown. But perhaps not enough jazz and pop fans know about his musical prowess and lifelong passion for guitar, his first-string skills that have even earned him a nomination for a Latin Grammy Award.

Williams has carved out a whole other field of dreams through his recordings.

After years of playing guitar in the locker room and on planes and trains for his teammates, Williams, who’s as serious about his music as he was about patrolling center field in Yankee Stadium, has carved out a whole other field of dreams for himself through his recordings, solid hit singles on the Jazz Billboard charts and five for five performances with such heavy hitters as Bruce Springsteen and the Allman Brothers.

His Ridgefield doubleheader opens at 1:00 pm on Sunday as he captains his team, Bernie and Friends, on a ball field adjacent to The Playhouse. WHUD radio personality Mike Bennett gives a play-by-play account of the game.

Later that evening, Williams morphs into his maestro role on stage at 8:00 pm to play musical hardball with his band at The Playhouse. The indoor festivities begin at 6:45 pm in the Playhouse lobby with a wine-tasting reception with National Art Museum of Sport Artist Bernie Hubert. Over pre-concert wine and cheese, patrons can view Hubert’s paintings in an exhibit called “Mickey, Willie and The Duke,” a celebration of the golden era of three center field immortals.Tickets: Gold Circle Meet and Greet, $90.00; orchestra, $65.00, mezzanine and balcony, $55.00. All tickets include admission to the softball game; $20.00 game only. Information: and box office, (203) 438-5795. The Playhouse is at 80 East Ridge Road in Ridgefield. 

Homage to Women in Jazz

Vocalist Nicki Mathis’s long-running The Many Colors of a W*O*M*A*N Jazz Festival pays tribute to Sarah Vaughan, Abbey Lincoln, Nina Simone, Nancy Wilson, Gloria Lynne, and Etta Jones on Saturday, September 5, at 8:00 pm at the Hartford Seminary at 77 Sherman Street in Hartford.

Nicki Mathis.
Credit Jat Sottolano/Images by JAS / AIDS Connecticut

Tapping into original material and standards, Mathis, an elegant stylist and interpreter, will be accompanied by pianist Paul Arslanian’s Green Street Trio with George Kaye on bass and Jon Fisher on drums.

Others featured in the festival include: Joey, djembe/writer/spoken word; Nyesha McCauley, actor/spoken word; Michelle McFarland, emcee; and Kate Rushin, poet. Donation: $10.00; seniors/students, $5.00. Information: (860) 231-0663.

So Delicious Songs Served with “Sodalicious!” Pop Art

Jazz vocalist June Bisantz performs with her trio on Saturday, August 29, at 9:00 pm at Sodalicious!, a pop art show celebration that runs from 8:00 pm to midnight at The Dirt Salon, the art and performance space at 50 Bartholomew Avenue in Hartford.

June Bisantz in a cover image for her new CD.
Credit Background photo Bob Willoughby of June by Harrison Judd / Chet Baker's image courtesy of the Chet Baker Foundation

As the evening’s featured performance, Bisantz, who also happens to be a noted visual artist in her own right, will be backed by pianist Alex Nakhimovsky and guitarist Norman Johnson. Photographic work by artist and recycling champion Beth Phillips and the emerging artists Katie Fogg and Thomas Radovich provide the evening’s visual fare. Admission: $15.00 in advance; $20.00 at the door. Information: and (860) 978-9345.

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