Swing University Bobby Sanabria Biography

BOBBY SANABRIA – drummer, percussionist, composer, arranger, recording artist, producer, filmmaker, conductor, educator, activist, multi-cultural warrior and multiple Grammy nominee – has performed with a veritable Who’s Who in the world of jazz and Latin music, as well as with his own critically  acclaimed ensembles. His diverse recording and performing experience includes work with such legendary figures as Dizzy Gillespie, Tito Puente, Paquito D’Rivera, Charles McPherson, Mongo Santamaría, Ray Barretto, Marco Rizo, Arturo Sandoval, Roswell Rudd, Chico O’Farrill, Candido, Yomo Toro, Francisco Aguabella, Larry Harlow, Henry Threadgill, and the Godfather of Afro-Cuban Jazz, Mario Bauzá.

Bobby, the son of Puerto Rican parents, was born and raised in the “Fort Apache” section of New York City’s South Bronx. Inspired and encouraged by maestro Tito Puente, another fellow New York-born Puerto Rican, Bobby “got serious” and attended Boston’s Berklee College of Music from 1975 to 1979, obtaining a Bachelor of Music degree and receiving their prestigious Faculty Association Award for his work as an instrumentalist. Since his graduation, Bobby has become a leader in the Afro-Cuban, Brazilian and jazz fields as both a drummer and percussionist, and is recognized as one of the most articulate musician-scholars of la tradición living today.

He has been featured on numerous Grammy-nominated albums, including The Mambo Kings, as well as numerous television and radio work. Mr. Sanabria was the drummer with the legendary “Father of the Afro-Cuban Jazz movement,” Mario Bauzá’s Afro-Cuban Jazz Orchestra. With them he recorded three CD’s (two of which were Grammy-nominated) which are considered to be definitive works of the Afro-Cuban big-band jazz tradition.

In 1993 Bobby and his nonet Ascensión released ¡NYC Aché!. It received worldwide acclaim and garnered four and half stars in Down Beat magazine, as well as receiving a nomination for Best Record of the Year by the National Association of Independent Record Distributors (NAIRD). In June 2000 Bobby released Afro-Cuban Dream… Live & In Clave!!! on the Arabesque label. Recorded live at Birdland in New York City, it features Bobby powering a big band of twenty all-stars. Critically acclaimed worldwide, it has been hailed by both the jazz and Latin music cognoscenti as a masterpiece, and was nominated for a mainstream Grammy as the Best Latin Jazz Album of 2001. Afro-Cuban Dream…Live & In Clave!!! was also nominated for the Jazz Journalists Association 2001 Award for the Best Afro-Cuban Jazz Album of the Year.

His next recording, ¡Quarteto Aché!, released in 2002, on the ZOHO label, documented Bobby’s virtuosity in a small group setting and was hailed a “classic” by Modern Drummer magazine and critically acclaimed by the New York Times. It was also nominated for Best Latin Jazz recording of 2003 by the Jazz Journalists Association. He also received a second Grammy nomination in 2003 for 50 Years of Mambo – A Tribute to Damaso Perez Prado.

Bobby’s second big band CD, Big Band Urban Folktales, on the Jazzheads label, was nominated for a mainstream Grammy in 2008 for best Latin Jazz recording, his third nomination. Big Band Urban Folktales also won the 2008 Jazz Journalists Award for Best Latin Jazz Recording of 2008. Mr. Sanabria co-produced and was in the nationally broadcast documentary THE PALLADIUM – Where Mambo Was King for the BRAVO network which received the award for Best Documentary for a Cable TV in 2003. Mr. Sanabria was a consultant in the Smithsonian’s historic four year traveling exhibit, Latin Jazz: La Combinación Perfecta and also featured in two of the exhibits short films.

Bobby has been the recipient of many awards, including an NEA grant as a jazz performer, various Meet the Composer awards, two INTAR Off-Broadway Composer awards, and on several occasions the Mid-Atlantic Foundation Arts Connect Grant. In 2003 he was presented with the “Outstanding Lifetime Achievement Award” by Ivan Acosta of Latin Jazz USA, in recognition of Bobby’s extraordinary creative contributions to Latin jazz. Bobby was voted “Percussionist of the Year” for 2005 by the readers of DRUM! Magazine, a worldwide publication devoted to drums and percussion. His three part video instructional series, Getting Started on Congas, originally released by DCI way back in 1995, now available through Alfred Music, set an industry standard by which all other instructional percussion videos must be judged by. Mr. Sanabria has written numerous articles in nationally and internationally read publications and websites.

Bobby was the chair of the International Association of Jazz Education’s (IAJE) Afro-Cuban Jazz Resource Team, a position he held for six years. He is as an Associate Professor at the New School University’s Jazz & Contemporary Music Program and a Professor at Manhattan School of Music since 1999 where he conducts Afro-Cuban Jazz Orchestras at both schools preserving and passing on the tradition as well as premiering new works moving it forward. He is a member of NARAS, LARAS, AF of M, BMI, SAG and the Universal Jazz Coalition and is on the board of The Duke Ellington Foundation and the advisory board of WHEDCO (Women’s Health and Economic Development Corporation), a leading builder in the revitalization of the South Bronx. He proudly endorses TAMA drums, Sabian cymbals, Latin Percussion Inc., Remo drum heads, Vic Firth sticks and mallets and Factory Metal percussion. Bobby’s commentary on classic Latin and jazz albums can be occasionally heard on NPR’s Weekend Edition with Scott Simon. He appears in the groundbreaking 4 hour documentary on Latin music aired nationally on PBS in the U.S.A. entitled LATIN MUSIC U.S.A. in October 2009. Mr. Sanabria was a presenter at the prestigious 2009 Aspen Ideas Festival speaking about this ground breaking series.

His recording, KENYA REVISITED LIVE!!!, a masterful tribute and re-working of Machito’s legendary KENYA album features him conducting the Manhattan School of Music Afro-Cuban Jazz Orchestra. Nominated for a Latin Grammy for Best Latin Jazz recording of 2009, it gave him his fourth nomination. Mr. Sanabria’s big band has performed at numerous festivals including the Chicago Jazz Festival, The Verona Jazz Festival in Italy, the Charlie Parker Jazz Festival in NYC, to name just a few. In August of 2010 they played for over 17,000 people for Lincoln Center’s Out of Doors Festival shattering the attendance record for any concert ever performed there. Not only was their own forward thinking repertoire featured, but with the addition of a string section, extra percussion, and six background vocalists, they performed the NYC premiere of Larry Harlow’s monumental SALSA SUITE which featured vocalists Ruben Blades and Adonis Puente. Not to be outdone, Mr. Sanabria and his Quarteto Aché recently accompanied World renowned poets Martin Espada (N.Y.C./P.R.) and Cuba’s legendary Nancy Morejón at the Geraldine H. Dodge Poetry Festival. Filmed at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center, excerpts of the performance have appeared on PBS.

As an activist he has long been a champion for the recognition of Latin jazz as a legitimate art form and its proper place of recognition in the history of the jazz continuum. In 2006 he spearheaded the campaign to restore the Latin Jazz Cruise, a weekly 2 hour radio program on Jazz 88 WBGO FM, Newark, NJ after it was suddenly taken off the air without an explanation. Organizing politicians like New York Congressman José Serrano and Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez as well as fellow musicians and fans of the music, the show was successfully brought back on the air. The result has been that the station has also made Latin jazz an integral part of all of its regular day to day programming, thus expanding the audience for the genre as well as jazz in general. In April, 2011 when NARAS, the governing body of the Grammys summarily cut 31 categories, including Latin jazz, from the awards process with no rhyme or reason or any input from the 21,000 membership, Mr. Sanabria spearheaded a campaign uniting well known musicians from both the west and east coasts. It also included the general public and internationally known personalities like Paul Simon, Bonnie Raitte, Herbie Hancock, Carlos Santana, Jessie Jackson, Dr. Cornell West as well as national Latino organizations like Presente, National Institute of Latino Policy, National Hispanic Media Coalition, National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts, several unions and others against this injustice. A subsequent law suit filed by Mr. Sanabria and fellow plaintiffs Eugene Marlow, Ben Lapidus and Mark Levine in New York State Supreme Court finally pressured NARAS into reinstating the category this year. For his role as an activist and his efforts in restoring the category to the Grammys Bobby has received the BORIMIX Award from the Society of the Educational Arts and the prestigious Puerto Rican Heritage Award from Comite Noviembre, the leading Puerto Rican organization in the country.