Sondheim was a young man and Bernstein wrote on November 14, 1955, “"A young lyricist named Stephen Sondheim came and sang us some of his songs today. What a talent! I think he's ideal for this project, as do we all. The collaboration grows."
The music and the story—after all, it is a retelling of Shakespeare’s Rome and Juliet—have not grown stale despite the passage of over 50 years.
The setting for West Side Story is New York City in the 1950s. The turf war between the Sharks and the Jets was about the newly arrived Puerto Rican kids and the more “American” kids. But what’s missing, if anything can be said to be missing from a Bernstein masterpiece, is the Latin rhythms that would have been so familiar to the “Nuyoricans”, as they would come to be called.
Enter Bobby Sanabria.
Sanabria is a brilliant Jazz composer and percussionist. He thinks in rhythms as much as he thinks in terms of keys and scales. Chembo Corniel once said, “Most musicians think in terms of wanting to compose in a specific key. Percussionists think in terms of composing something in 6/8 or 9/8.” Bobby brings that and more to a new music project that is certain to set things on fire.
In July, Bobby will release West Side Story, Reimagined. It is the music of Bernstein with the rhythms of Puerto Rico and other Latin styles. The project is not only about the music; it is about Puerto Rico.
Puerto Rico has been devastated by hurricanes over the last two years. I talked to Bobby on the phone about the music and the situation in Puerto Rico.
“Where my mom grew up, there was the best baseball field that was used for the Puerto Rican leagues. It was the best ballpark found anywhere. It was destroyed by the hurricanes. Just gone,” he described. “Not only that, but the musicians have lost their venues for playing. Some have lost their instruments. Man, they are out in the streets playing in front of kiosks, playing on street corners with buckets for spare change and these are accomplished musicians!”
Worst of all, “there is still no power and it has been a year,” Bobby added. “People say, ‘Why don’t they move away?’ You can’t just move away from where you’re born! There is a spiritual connection to the place of your birth, man.”
And Bobby himself feels that spiritual connection to the land of his parents and his family. Because of that, Bobby has put the West Side Story, Reimagined project on Kickstarter for the purpose of raising money for the relief of Puerto Rican musicians left wrecked by the storms Irma and Maria.
The Kickstarter project can be found at www.kickstarter.com/projects/845666182/west-side-story-reimagined-bobby-sanabria-big-band. Watch the video and see Bernstein’s daughter, Jamie, sing the praises of Bobby Sanabria and the Reimagined project.
The fundraiser is scheduled to end on Monday, June 4. There is still time to make a donation and pick up a donation reward of a signed CD or signed poster or even a drum lessor with Bobby.
On the Kickstarter page, Bobby writes: West Side Story is as timeless and timely now as it was back when it was first created. We’re still struggling with the same question: “How does one fight hate and how does it not consume us?” The work is a true masterpiece by probably the greatest musician this country has produced, Maestro Leonard Bernstein. This project is being produced with the blessing and support of the Leonard Bernstein Organization. Bernstein's daughter Jamie remarked: "What I love about Bobby Sanabria's take on "West Side Story" music is that it's a kind of rhythm fission: my dad's music is already so drenched in rhythm. Then along comes Bobby and explodes it to an even richer rhythmic level!"
In April, Bobby was one of the headliners at the Eau Claire Jazz Festival. UW-Eau Claire Jazz Studies director, Bob Baca, wanted Bobby Sanabria to headline this year’s festival, even though Bobby had been there several years ago. Baca got his way and Bobby returned for the best event of the last many years.
Bobby raved about the Eau Claire music department and had high praise for Baca’s leadership and inspiration.
“That festival was on fire!” Bobby said. “Eau Claire has got to be the best kept secret in all of Jazz,” he went on. “I mean, I kind of want to keep it that way because I don’t want people pouring into Eau Claire, messing it all up!”
Bobby Sanabria is an astonishing artist with a heart of compassion and understanding that makes his music irresistible.
If you want to hear the seven-time Grammy nominated artist, come over to the office and I’ll play you some CDs. We’ll crank it up.