Bobby Sanabria Infuses Latin Jazz Into Perennial Favorite "West Side Story"

West Side Story Reimagined Bobby Sanabria

Photo credit: Sarah Escarraz




Sanabria relates to the shows theme revolving around the fears, anxieties and insecurities of people

Sanabria relates to the shows theme revolving around the fears, anxieties and insecurities of people having to face others from a different culture and how these fears are dealt with.

Sanabria embraces all of these differing cultures and states that even within Latino culture, there are many different backgrounds, particularly in the Caribbean a sheri are mixtures of European, Asian, African, and Amer-Indian cultures. He symbolically equates our world’s population to a salad bowl. “If you only have lettuce in a bowl, it’s quite boring.  You add different ingredients - tomatoes, peppers, onions, etc., and a bit of dressing and when it’s all mixed together, it tastes and looks great.

The individual pieces are all still recognizable and have their own unique flavor, but the mixture is what gives the final creation a better tasting result.” 

Back in the day when West Side Story took place, he states, “…the neutral ground was always the dance hall, pizza parlor, candy store, church. If someone had a beef, they took it up afterward away from everyone else in a fist fight. The victor as well as the vanquished were always respected and the brawl was over. There was sense of fair play, nobility to it. That still may not be the best way to settle a dispute, but in today’s society, we see that the levels of violence are so much more elevated and race relations are at an all time low.

We need to find a way to combat that. We need to be more open-minded and not deny ourselves access to other people’s beautiful cultures and ideas. West Side Story challenges us to face the problem head on.”

Bobby Sanabria in Store

Sanabria’s reimagining of the shows music had its original incarnation in February of 2017 when he directed his students in the Manhattan School of Music Afro-Cuban Jazz Orchestra in a concert.

From this test drive, he made some modifications. “It was great but just too long, almost two and a half hours of music. That’s a lot for an audience to sit through and brutal for the musicians, particularly the brass players and if you were to do it in a night club setting it would be impossible. So I shortened it by about an hour, cutting out the chafe, without losing its intensity.” Its next outing was at Dizzy’s Club Coca Cola in New York City this past November of 2017 over a three night run, but this time with his own multi-Grammy nominated Multiverse Big Band. “Although my students performed it well, it’s a totally different thing with seasoned professionals and the music demanded that attention.

The three night run was great because by the third and final night the orchestra was firing on all cylinders and that’s the night we recorded it live. It was also simulcast by Jazz at Lincoln Center all over the world on the internet.”

The subsequent recording will be released on July 20th as a commemorative box set to celebrate the Maestro’s centennial. “What’s great about the process is that both Alex and Jamie Bernstein, Maestro Bernstein’s children, have both heard the music and are in love with the approach I took. Jamie said, ‘My father wasn’t proprietary like some composers are.

He liked that people would interpret his work in different ways, which certainly West Side Story has been. But what Bobby has done by adding all of the extra rhythmic elements, well he’s brought the music to a new level of excitement that’s astounding. It’s beyond anything that has ever been done before.

I only wish my father was still alive because he would have loved it!” 

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About the author

Tina Trevino

Tina Trevino is the Senior Design Director of KBL Group Intl. Ltd. in NYC and manages their large creative design team. Partner and Director Community Relations for Latin Business Today. She shares all of her insight on upcoming fashion trends for the season with her team to start the collaborative design process. The company specializes in sweaters, knits and wovens. It provides product for ladies, men, contemporary, jr, and children. Tina specializes in coordinating directly with large US retailers to design exactly into their targeted customer needs. With many years under her belt in the industry, she has also gained the ability to go beyond the fashion component and help to work through sourcing, fitting, production and merchandising issues as well.