When Carlos Henriquez, bassist for the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis, got the call to music direct the band's performance with Rubén Blades, it felt like a kind of homecoming. He'd grown up in a Bronx apartment filled by Blades's music and the sounds of salsa, and narrowing the setlist down from Rubén's vast repertoire of beloved hits was perhaps the hardest part of preparing for the shows.
On October 19th, those concerts will be released on Blue Engine Records asthe scintillating Una Noche con Rubén Blades, available now for pre-order. Read Carlos's liner notes for the album, which delve into how he blended straight-ahead and Latin jazz traditions and his own personal history with the salsa legend:
I’ve known Rubén Blades since I was two years old—or at least I feel like I have. His albums—and the sound and the warmth they generated—filled my family’s apartment at 146th and Brook Ave. in the Bronx, and his music was one of my earliest influences. I recognized even as a child that the social messages that lie at the core of his songs resonated with my parents. Rubén has always known how to distill his heart and values into his music, how to exhort listeners to fight for equality and break down racial barriers.
Rubén himself knows the power of encountering music at a young age. The musical lessons his mother (a pianist) gave him as a child and the life lessons that famed Panamanian trumpeter Víctor “Vitín” Paz offered him as a teen were just the foundations for his future musical adventures. Salsa in the 1970s could probably be described as the Blades Era: his collaborations with artists like Willie Colón, Ray Barretto, and the Fania All-Stars helped redefine the genre. He is also at least partially responsible for putting Héctor Lavoe on the map with his own “El Cantante,” a song Rubén wrote while working in the mail room of famed salsa record label Fania.
No matter what sounds Rubén encountered—be it jazz, Latin, or the indigenous music of Panama—he made them his own. His wide-ranging musical fascinations are why it’s so easy to call his own music mixtura—it’s one grand mixture, after all—and one of his great talents is understanding the power of integrating different genres. In November 2014, Rubén joined the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis for several beautiful performances. I had the privilege of being the show’s music director and developing the show’s concept, which showcased the JLCO's expertise in unifying different musical traditions as one.
Our Orchestra is living proof of just how much harmony you can create by joining different strands of music together. Jazz stands as the true American art form precisely because it’s a musical melting pot, bringing many generations and cultures and ethnicities together in the pursuit of unity. From Manuel Perez to the Tio family, from the 18 Puerto Ricans who made up the Harlem Hellfighters to Benny Goodman’s integrated band, from tubist Ralph Escudero to Jelly Roll to Mario Bauzá to Dizzy Gillespie and beyond, jazz is the story of taking old parts and building something new.
When Rubén joined us for our performances at Rose Theater, we did exactly that using the Great American Songbook and the Afro-Cuban rhythms that propel all the wonderful music that Rubén sang that evening. The music I arranged for Rubén Blades to perform with the Orchestra sounds like Panama, New Orleans, and New York all mixed into one. Those sounds form the heart of all of our stories as musicians, and in combining them we reaffirmed that we’re all in this together.
Available now for pre-order, Una Noche con Rubén Blades finds the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis onstage with a legend of song and takes you on a journey from swing to salsa. Take home a performance that the New York Times called "radically beautiful" today!