Musician Bobby Sanabria is a New York institution and a musical polymath. In addition to his considerable rhythmic skills, he is also a bandleader, composer, arranger, conductor, producer, educator, and documentary filmmaker. He is one in a long line of Nuyorican (New Yorkers of Puerto Rican descent) musical innovators that brought the city's Latin jazz scene to an international audience. Sanabria is a seven-time Grammy nominee for albums such as 2004's big-band outing 50 Years of Mambo: A Tribute to Perez Prado and Big Band Urban Folktales in 2007 — the first Latin jazz CD to chart at number one on the Jazz Weekly National Chart — followed by 2009's Kenya Revisited Live!!! and 2011's Tito Puente Masterworks Live!!!Sanabria set the modern standard for hard-swinging, Latin progressive jazz, and along with has band has proven influential with younger generations of jazzheads. Sanabria has also appeared as a soloist with the WDR Big Band, the Airmen of Note, the U.S. Jazz Ambassadors, and the University of Calgary Big Band, among others. His polyrhythmic approach to swing has brought him opportunities to record and tour with a who's who of jazz stars, including Dizzy Gillespie, Candido, Chico O'Farrill, Henry Threadgill, Roswell Rudd, and Michelle Shocked, to name a scant few.
The multi-talented Sanabria grew up in the tough South Bronx. While attending a Tito Puente concert at age 17, he slipped backstage and asked the legendary percussionist if he could sit in. He did, and this experience spurred him on to make Latin jazz his career. He attended the Berklee College of Music in Boston, graduating in 1979. Shortly after graduation, Sanabria formed his group Ascensión. Ascensión was honored with a National Endowment for the Arts grant in 1983 while working with Mongo Santamaria. He was a featured performer on the Mambo Kings movie soundtrack, and recorded with Tito Puente and with Mario Bauzá & His Afro-Cuban Jazz Orchestra on two Grammy-nominated recordings, including the classic Tanga album.
While continuing his teaching, drum/percussion clinics, and touring, Sanabria also performed and lectured for thousands of New York City public school students, teachers, and families as part of the city-run Arts Exposure Program, and penned several articles for Modern Drummer magazine. In the summer of 2018, he and his Multiverse Big Band issued West Side Story: Reimagined as a celebration of the show's 60th anniversary and composer Leonard Bernstein's centennial. Partial proceeds from the sale of the recording benefited the Jazz Foundation of America's Puerto Rico Relief Fund. ~ Richard Skelly