The Spanish Harlem Orchestra (SHO) plays New York salsa for dancing in the style of the 1970s Salsa Golden Age. Almost every song on their albums is great and danceable from beginning to end. Put on the record and let the party begin. A Spanish Harlem Orchestra party no paré. As salsa dancers in Puerto Rico, they are one of our favorite salsa bands.
It also should be said that the Spanish Harlem Orchestra swings in Latin jazz territory. Are they more jazz or salsa? They really are both. But even playing jazz, SHO is still danceable for salseros.
- Multiple Grammy winners Spanish Harlem Orchestra with Oscar Hernández, featuring singer Ray de la Paz and saxophonist Miguel Zenón; play Puerto Rican salsa and Latin jazz at Hostos Center in Mott Haven, The Bronx; on Saturday, May 13, 2023 at 8pm. From $30. hostos.cuny.edu 🇵🇷
- Multiple Grammy winners Spanish Harlem Orchestra with Oscar Hernández play the Ballet Hispánico Legacy Gala honoring The Miranda Family; at the Plaza Hotel in Midtown, Manhattan; on Thursday, January 1, 2023. From $1,500. nycitycenter.org 🇵🇷
The Spanish Harlem Orchestra formed in 2002 which was after the Golden Age, but many of the band members were sidemen for the legends. That means they were kids. That means they were really good young talents. Most of the salsa legends are gone or getting old, but those kids who were their sidemen have come into their own.
Some of the band members play in the legacy bands of artists like Tito Puente and Machito, but SHO isn’t a legacy band in the traditional sense. It’s a legacy of the style. SHO makes its own music in the 1970s hard salsa dura (salsa gordo) style, and has itself become one of the great bands of the genre.
The Spanish Harlem Orchestra’s son montuno is higher than Mt Everest and cooler too. They make you dance.
For the Spanish Harlem Orchestra, the 1970s Never End
In Santurce, Puerto Rico (the island next to old San Juan), we talk to lots of people on the street. The guy who runs the chinchorro (roadside resto/bar) near our office, Sergio, has turned us on to a lot of good music. When we were asked to write about the Spanish Harlem Orchestra (SHO) for Bryant Park and Carnegie Hall Citywide, we went back to Sergio to ask why he recommended them. Sergio recommends SHO because they preserve the real sound of hard salsa dura of 1960s-1970s New York City.
This is the salsa. It’s somewhere between New York’s Tito Puente and Fania sounds. It’s a mix of Cuban rumba and son, with Puerto Rican bomba (sicá) and plena, with Dominican merengue, and lots of New York swing. Swing is Creole and Creole is code for Haitian and the diaspora. That mixing happened all over the Caribbean and in New York City too. Esta es la salsa.
Many people say El Barrio is mine, but the barrio is ours. It’s our common heritage, the place where we mix together in New York City. You can see it in the band which has players from all over. And la salsa isn’t just for Latins anymore. Many artists, but especially Celia Cruz made it global.
The Spanish Harlem Orchestra doesn’t try to do anything but old school salsa dura because they don’t need to. From Caribbean roots, the music of El Barrio and the South Bronx is the sound that made New York City get up and dance, then spread to Colombia and around the world. We haven’t stopped dancing yet, and hope we never do. Spanish Harlem Orchestra Forever!
A Line-up of Great Musicians
The Spanish Harlem Orchestra is led by pianist Oscar Hernández. He was born in El Bronx, but discovered his inner music in El Barrio. Hernández was the longtime pianist for salsa legend Rubén Blades. Oscar also directed the music for Paul Simon’s Broadway show “The Capeman” and was the arranger for the Gloria Estefan hit Broadway musical “On Your Feet.”
Many great artists have performed with this band. Today’s lineup includes:
- Oscar Hernández – piano and leader 🇵🇷
- Marco Bermudez – vocals 🇪🇨
- Carlos Cascante – vocals 🇨🇷
- Jeremy Bosch – vocals 🇵🇷
- Manuel “Maneco” Ruiz – trumpet 🇵🇷
- Alex Norris – trumpet
- Doug Beavers – trombone
- Juan Gabriel Lakunza – trombone
- Mitch Frohman – baritone saxophone, flute
- Luisito Quintero – timbales 🇻🇪
- George Delgado – congas 🇵🇷
- Jorge Gonzalez – percussion
- Gerardo “Jerry” Madera – bass
You may or may not know their names, but you know their music. These guys have played with a who’s who of salsa and Latin jazz royalty. Some are the sons of famous musicians. Latin families are tight and music runs in families.
Spanish Harlem Orchestra Albums
The band has produced six albums that earned five Grammy nominations and three wins. This great band just keeps getting better.
Their latest album expands the band’s range from salsa into Latin jazz. Salsa is to Latin jazz as swing is to jazz. Salsa is dance music with a well-defined structure. Latin jazz goes all over the place. It’s free because jazz is about freedom.
- Un Gran Dia en el Barrio (2002), earned a Grammy nomination for “Best Salsa Album,” and won Billboard Magazine’s “Salsa Album of the Year.”
- Across 110th Street (2004) featuring Rubén Blades won the Grammy for “Best Salsa/Merengue Album.”
- United We Swing (2007) featuring Paul Simon, Grammy nomination for “Best Tropical Latin Album.”
- Viva La Tradicion (2010) won the Grammy for “Best Tropical Latin Album.”
- Spanish Harlem Orchestra (2015) featuring Chick Corea and Joe Lovano.
- Anniversary (2018) won the Grammy for “Best Tropical Latin Album.”
- The Latin Jazz Project (2020) featuring Kurt Elling, Miguel Zenon, Tom Harrell, Dave Liebman, Bob Mintzer, and Joe Locke.
- Imágines Latinas (2022) featuring Paquito D’Rivera (Irakere) and Hermán Olivera (Eddie Palmieri Orchestra).
Dancing to the Spanish Harlem Orchestra is something you should do at least once in your New York life.
Spanish Harlem Orchestra plays New York City’s best music venues.