Artist Profile: Spanish Harlem Orchestra

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Spanish Harlem OrchestraSpanish Harlem Orchestra, the two-time Grammy winning Salsa and Latin Jazz band, sets the standard for excellence for authentic, New York style, hard core salsa. Live or recorded, it doesn’t get any better.

Whether a concert hall or an outdoor jazz festival, there is no easing you in, they are coming at you full force from start to finish. Their energy on stage, rich sound and musical precision leave audiences mesmerized until the last note is played. With an unwavering respect for the musics rich history, thirteen world-class musicians and vocalists come together to create an unparalleled musical experience.

Now in its fourteenth year,  SHO, as they are known to fans, is dedicated to the sounds of the barrio. Their music is characterized by the raw, organic and vintage sound defined by the genre. They are on a mission to keep the musical legacy of salsa dura “hard salsa” alive and expand its audience to those who love great music, not just Latin music. Grounded in the past, while focused on the future, they strive to keep the music relevant, while creating a unique and fresh approach.

With four albums, and as many Grammy nominations, this Latin Jazz powerhouse knows it is crucial to continually push themselves and raise the bar.  They recently released their fifth album, featuring two of America’s great jazz icons, Chick Corea & saxophonist Joe Lovano.  Oscar Hernandez and Spanish Harlem Orchestra continue to raise the bar of excellence in their music.

History

Spanish Harlem Orchestra - Un Gran Dia en El BarrioAfter two decades of session work, composing, arranging and producing, band leader Oscar Hernández was approached by producer Aaron Levinson in 2000 about the idea of assembling and recording a Latin jazz orchestra. The result was Un Gran Dia en el Barrio, the 2002 debut recording from Spanish Harlem Orchestra (SHO) that scored a Grammy nomination for Best Salsa Album and a Latin Billboard Award for Salsa Album of the Year. Based on the success of their first CD, Hernández and SHO began touring and wowing audiences all over the world.

Spanish Harlem Orchestra - Across 110th StreetRecordings

Their first Grammy win came in 2004 with their follow-up album, Across 110th Street, a reference to Harlem’s southern boundary. Featuring Ruben Blades as guest artist, the combination proved to be explosive and featured Blades singing in the style of Salsa Dura that many of his fans longed to hear.

Spanish Harlem Orchestra - United We SwingReleased in 2007, United We Swing earned yet another Grammy nomination. The album features Paul Simon as special guest singing a burning rendition of his hit “Late in The Evening” — SHO style.

Their second Grammy winning album, Viva La Tradición, was released in 2010. It is a 12-track collection that takes up where its three predecessors left off – stirring the pot of mid-20th century influences and keeping the salsa simmering for Spanish Harlem Orchestra - Viva La Tradicióncurrent and future generations. A lively and energetic affair, Viva la Tradición draws on inspiration from the music’s history and enduring traditions.

In 2014 the celebrated ensemble released the eponymous album Spanish Harlem Orchestra. A a superb album with twelve exquisitely arranged and performed songs, not only by the instrumentalists but also by the vocalists, who often tend to get by without a mention. A superb album with twelve exquisitely arranged and performed songs,Spanish Harlem Orchestra not only by the instrumentalists but also by the vocalists, who often tend to get by without a mention. Chick Corea on piano and mini Moog and the tenor saxophone of Joe Lovano grace the only English chart on the album, “You and the Night and the Music,” providing delightful twists and turns to the song’s narrative.

Spanish Harlem Orchestra - AnniversaryIn April 2018, and in celebration of their 15-year anniversary, Spanish Harlem Orchestra released their aptly titled sixth album Anniversary. The powerhouse 13-piece all-star salsa big band demonstrates why they are the “the leading light of the salsa reconstruction movement” (Newsday) by doing what they do best: hard-hitting, no-holds-barred New York salsa that is both contemporary and reverent to its rich musical history.

Band Leader

Oscar Hernández is all about tradition. Born into a large Puerto Rican family living in the Bronx, it was the nearby Spanish Harlem neighborhood that shaped his cultural musical sensibilities. The soundtrack to this bustling enclave in the ‘60s, emanating from any given window on any given day, was a mix of Latin Jazz and American pop radio.

Hernandez started playing the trumpet at age twelve; he switched to piano shortly thereafter. By the time he finished his teen years, he was making a living as a professional musician and gigging with some of the most talented Latin Jazz artists of the ‘70s. He spent much of the ‘80s producing, arranging and playing piano for Panamanian vocalist Rubén Blades while simultaneously leading his own band, Seis del Solar. In the 90’s Hernandez produced a recording titled “Dance City” which received a rave review in the NY Times and led Paul Simon to call him as arranger/producer & musical director for his Broadway show “The Capeman.”

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