THE SAVANNAH JAZZ FESTIVAL brings a great variety of music to local stages over the next two weeks — not all of it the typical idea of what jazz is.
One of the festival’s many nods to the diversity of music happens Wednesday night, Sept. 26, when the Jacksonville, Fla., salsa band Latin People Time takes the stage at the Ships of the Sea Museum for a free show guaranteed to be a party.
We spoke to Latin People Time frontman/vocalist Josue Cruz and tenor sax man/vocalist Juan Rollan.
You put a big group of people on stage!
Juan: We started life about 2013 as a smaller group of about four people. It's really felt like Latin People Time for only the last two years. The stars aligned and a bunch of us in the Riverside area of Jacksonville brought together a bunch of horn players. What began as a four-piece quickly became a ten-piece.
Josue: The new look and sound came mostly from the horn section. We had a lot of percussion from the get-go. Now we’re just blowing out that ten-piece! It came from adding the horns.
Any time you’ve got a big horn section that usually means arrangements. Who does that for the band?
Josue: Most credit for that goes to Angel Garcia. We don't always have arrangements per se. He would transcribe horn lines from recordings of authentic salsa bands from the late '60s and '70s, straight from Cuba and Puerto Rico. We want to stay as true to the originals as possible. Latin People Time resonates because we stuck to our guns and play music hearkening back to the great salsa bands.
All this music is Afro-Cuban in origin, and comes from traditions of enslaved people brought from Africa. But what is the difference between Salsa and other forms of Afro-Cuban music?
Josue: I could talk for hours about this — I'm a real historian of this stuff! Mostly we do what's called "Salsa Dura" – hard salsa. We want to nail that sound and keep it true to the period.
A lot of salsa music sort of romanticizes the mambo/cha-cha era. That genre came north to the states from Cuba to Miami. Of course Cuban music was then basically cut off from here due to the Cuban Revolution. So a lot of kids that were first or second generation Cuban grew up listening to that old style.
Then they were exposed to the jazz rock and funk of the late ‘60s, which was a real confluence of events musically, from rock to jazz to R&B to funk.
You had the Boogaloo movement, which is a mix of R&B, cha-cha, and the rumba. And some of it did have that bad bubble-gum music feel.
But then came what’s called Descarga – “Unloading.” That’s what happens when you marry this sound with big bands whose whole purpose is to blow the back out of the building.
Juan: I’m a first generation Cuban-American. Due to my father’s profession, we didn’t even grow up in Miami. I grew up in the Carolinas. That’s one reason I love being in this band so much – I didn’t grow up already saturated in this music.
Being in Latin People Time has filled in a cultural gap for me. It’s opened up the whole world of salsa.
Jax is a big rock ‘n’ roll town, but what’s the Latin music scene there? You usually associate this music with South Florida, not North Florida.
Josue: We often play clubs designed for rock 'n' roll. We're not just going to every Latin club and that's it. We play places where this kind of music isn't necessarily expected. We've provided a real contrast to what usually goes on in local clubs.
We find ourselves playing to a bunch of young kids of all creeds and colors. The thing they have in common is they can’t stop moving to the music! They’re hungry for it. We’re amazed at the people who have come out of the woodwork. The rhythm is infectious. You can throw race, creed, and color out the window.
Juan: Jax isn’t really on the map for much more than an expansion football team which only recently made it to the NFL playoffs. That’s really about it. To the rest of the country, we are football and rednecks. And unfortunately, we were a hotspot during the Civil Rights Movement.
That is largely our legacy and it’s unfortunate, but what the rest of the country doesn’t know is how amazing an incubator it is for aspiring young musicians.
It starts on the middle-school level with wonderful arts programs like LaVilla Middle School for the Arts. Those kids then migrate over to an amazing arts high school, Douglas Anderson School for the Arts. After that, many of them choose to stay in town to attend the University of North Florida, which has a nationally recognized, flagship jazz program.
So you can see that in the middle of our “cultural desert” resides this community of world-class musicians that are passionate about being a light in the darkness. Groups like LPT are at the forefront of a much-needed cultural renaissance for the area.