Bobby Sanabria - drummer, percussionist, composer, arranger, recording artist, producer, filmmaker, conductor, educator, multi-cultural warrior and multiple Grammy nominee has performed with a veritable Who's Who in the world of jazz and Latin music, as well as with his own critically acclaimed ensembles. His diverse recording and performing experience includes work with such legendary figures as Dizzy Gillespie, Tito Puente, Paquito D'Rivera, Charles McPherson, Mongo Santamaría, Ray Barretto, Marco Rizo, Arturo Sandoval, Roswell Rudd, Chico O'Farrill, Candido, Yomo Toro, Francisco Aguabella, Larry Harlow, Henry Threadgill, and the Godfather of Afro-Cuban Jazz, Mario Bauzá.
Bobby, the son of Puerto Rican parents, was born and raised in the "Fort Apache" section of New York City's South Bronx. Inspired and encouraged by maestro Tito Puente,another fellow New York-born Puerto Rican, Bobby "got serious" and attended Boston's Berklee College of Music from 1975 to 1979, obtaining a Bachelor of Music degree and receiving their prestigious Faculty Association Award for his work as an instrumentalist. Since his graduation, Bobby has become a leader in the Afro-Cuban, Brazilian and jazz fields as both a drummer and percussionist, and is recognized as one of the most articulate musician-scholars of la tradición living today.
He has been featured on numerous Grammy-nominated albums, including The Mambo Kings and other movie soundtracks, as well as numerous television and radio work. Mr. Sanabria was the drummer with the legendary “Father of the Afro-Cuban Jazz movement,” Mario Bauzá’s Afro-Cuban Jazz Orchestra. With them he recorded three CD’s (two of which were Grammy-nominated) which are considered to be definitive works of the Afro-Cuban big-band jazz tradition. Mr. Sanabria was also featured with the orchestra in two PBS documentaries about Bauzá and also appeared on the Bill Cosby show performing with the orchestra. He also appeared and performed prominently in a PBS documentary on the life of Mongo Santamaria and on camera in the CBS television movie, Rivkin: Bounty Hunter.
In 1993 Bobby and his octet Ascensión released ¡NYC Aché! on Flying Fish Records (now available on Rounder Records). It received worldwide acclaim and garnered four and half stars in Down Beat magazine, as well as receiving a nomination for Best Record of the Year by the National Association of Independent Record Distributors (NAIRD). In June 2000 Bobby released Afro-Cuban Dream... Live & In Clave!!! on the Arabesque label. Recorded live at Birdland in New York City, it features Bobby powering a big band of twenty all-stars. Critically acclaimed worldwide, it has been hailed by both the jazz and Latin music cognoscenti as a masterpiece, and was nominated for a mainstream Grammy as the Best Latin Jazz Album of 2001. Afro-Cuban Dream...Live & In Clave!!! was also nominated for the Jazz Journalists Association 2001 Award for the Best Afro-Cuban Jazz Album of the Year.
His next recording, ¡Quarteto Aché!, released in 2002, on the ZOHO label, documented Bobby's virtuosity in a small group setting and was hailed a "classic" by Modern Drummer magazine and critically acclaimed by the New York Times. It was also nominated for Best Latin Jazz recording of 2003 by the Jazz Journalists Association. He also received a second Grammy nomination in 2003 for, 50 Years of Mambo - A Tribute to Damaso Perez Prado.
Bobby and his Quarteto Aché toured Armenia in June of 2007 being personally invited by the U.S. Embassy to represent the United States in a a series of concerts. Headlining in the final event, The Cascade Jazz festival in Yerevan, Armenia’s capitol, the group received a thunderous ovation from the estimated 8,000 person audience which was broadcast throughout the country. In a pre-concert press conference when asked what jazz represented, Bobby simply stated, “Freedom.“ His group has the unique distinction and honor of being the first ensemble ever to perform Latino oriented jazz in this country and spread clave consciousness in a unique master class that he held at the Yerevan Conservetory. If this weren’t enough, the ensemble performed a private concert for Armenia’s Heads of State, and President Robert Khachaturian who stated that, “I simply love jazz! Its spirit of improvisation in a collective democracy is the inspiration for my vision for Armenia.”
Bobby’s latest recording project, Big Band Urban Folktales, on the Jazzheads label, was nominated for a mainstream Grammy in 2008 for best Latin Jazz recording. It is proving to be his most lauded work and has been garnering critical acclaim for its futuristic approach to the Latin jazz big band canon. Big Band Urban Folktales also has recently won the 2008 Jazz Journalists Award for Best Latin Jazz Recording of 2008.
"...(Mr. Sanabria) expands the possibilities, moving the sound of bands like that of (Puente, Machito), with all the heft and intricacy and clave-based dance rhythm, into the harmonically oriented sophistication of current New York jazz players. It’s New York up and down, and back and forth across the last century, from the street to the mambo palaces to the conservatories."
- Ben Ratliff, The NY Times
Also out is the DVD of Bobby and his nonet Ascensión’s scorching appearance at the 2006 Modern Drummer Festival currently released by Hudson Music and the new release of the CD, El Espiritu Jibaro, a collaboration between legendary trombonist Roswell
Rudd, Puerto Rican cuatro virtuoso Yomo Toro and Bobby with his nonet Ascensión is available on the Sunnyside label. Also forthcoming (November 2008), the release on DVD “FROM MAMBO TO HIP HOP” A South Bronx Tale, produced by City Lore, on which Bobby was an Assistant Producer and which broadcast on PBS in 2006 and won the 2007 ALMA Award for Best Television Documentary.
Mr. Sanabria has been the recipient of many awards, including an NEA grant as a jazz performer, various Meet the Composer awards, the INTAR Off-Broadway Composer award, and the Mid-Atlantic Foundation Arts Connect Grant three times. In 2003 he was presented with an "Outstanding Achievement Award" by Ivan Acosta of Latin Jazz USA, in recognition of Bobby's extraordinary creative contribution to Latin jazz. Mr. Sanabria has recently been awarded the 2008 Lifetime Achievement Award by KOSA for his outstanding accomplishments in jazz and Latin music both as a performer and educator and the 2008 Martin Luther King Jr. Mentor Award presented to him by the Manhattan Country School for his work in the world of jazz.
Mr. Sanabria co-produced the nationally broadcast documentary, THE PALLADIUM - Where Mambo Was King,” for the BRAVO network which received the award for Best Documentary for a Cable TV in 2003. Mr. Sanabria was a consultant in the Smithsonian’s historic four year traveling exhibit, Latin Jazz: La Combinación Perfecta and also featured in two of the exhibits short films.
Mr. Sanabria was voted “Percussionist of the Year" for 2005 by the readers of DRUM! Magazine, a worldwide publication devoted to drums and percussion. His three part video instructional series, “Getting Started on Congas,” originally released by DCI way back in 1995, now available through Alfred Music, set an industry standard by which all other instructional percussion videos must be judged by.