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MSM Afro-Cuban Jazz Orchestra Pays Tribute to ‘West Side Story’

Jazzed Magazine • News • February 24, 2017

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On February 24, 2017, the Manhattan School of Music Afro-Cuban Jazz Orchestra, under the baton of Musical Director Bobby Sanabria, will pay tribute to the Broadway show that redefined the American musical, West Side Story, reimagined with an all new instrumental Latin jazz score.

Based on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet but re-contextualized in the turbulent gang culture of 1950s New York City, West Side Story broke every rule in the book.

According to Leonard Bernstein, the late great composer of this iconic musical, “They said there’s nothing in it anybody can sing. It’s too depressing, it’s too advanced, it’s too crazy, there are too many tritones, there are too many words in the lyrics; nobody can remember them. It’s too rangy.”

But after some initial setbacks during the original production (the lead producer pulled out just before the start of rehearsals), the show that almost never came to the stage premiered on September 26, 1957 at New York’s Winter Garden Theater to tumultuous applause and critical acclaim. Its amazing combination of progressive jazz-oriented music, lyricism, emotional impact, and amazing choreography, showcasing dance movement that had never been seen before on the Broadway stage, reinforced the emergence of a new kind of musical theatre performer: the triple threat, who could sing, dance, and act.

Now multi-Grammy-nominated MSM faculty member Bobby Sanabria and the MSM Afro-Cuban Jazz Orchestra celebrate the 60th anniversary of this masterwork with an all-new Latin jazz treatment of Maestro Bernstein’s original score. This exciting reimagining showcases the internal kinetic energy of the music with exciting arrangements featuring various rhythms from Latin America written by current and former students of Maestro Sanabria at MSM.

“Maestro Bernstein’s genius of utilizing the tritone (the opening whistle), the interval of modern jazz harmony, set the stage for something that had never been heard on the Broadway stage,” said Maestro Sanabria. “Several Latin music genres were also used in the show. But in this new updated version, the full palette of jazz and Latin American styles will be featured – from Venezuelan joropo, Puerto Rican bomba and plena, Dominican merengue, Brazilian samba and samba cansao, Cuban mambo, cha-cha-cha, bolero, son montuno, West African rooted bembé, and American funk and swing – providing the musicians an explosive platform as jazz soloists.”

Tickets for this historic tribute are not required. The concert is free to the public, and seating is available on a first-come-first-served basis.

Manhattan School of Music is located at West 122nd Street and Broadway in New York City.

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