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Go Behind the Scenes

Artists: Bobby Sanabria & Machito

Essay | Video Transcript

The Best Seat in the House: Bobby Sanabria & Machito's Kenya
by Producer Daniel McCabe

Early in the project, producer Pam Aguilar and I traveled to New York to meet percussionist and teacher Bobby Sanabria. We were invited to his Latin Big Band class at the Manhattan School of Music. (Bobby later explained that these kids were "thoroughbreds," some of the best musicians at the school.) They were rehearsing for a concert with an unusual conceit. The band would play Machito's complete Kenya album, track for track.

When we got to class, Bobby introduced us as "from the IRS." That caught their attention. One musician leaned over to ask if we really were from the IRS. His dad worked there and did we know him?

Bobby then invited us to sit--right in the middle of the orchestra, between the percussion and the horns. This is exactly where Dizzy Gillespie liked to sit when listening to Machito and His Afro Cubans. As musician Frank Colón later told us, Dizzy wanted "the music to go right through him."

When the band started playing, the music went right through me. Unbelievable.

As a rock fan, I'd felt bone-rattling music before, but this made me realize that, in all the years I'd listened to Big Band and Jazz records, Latin or otherwise, I had never really experienced the music. Recordings just can't capture that the visceral sound that was heard at the Palladium night after night.

When Bobby's concert came around a few weeks later, Pam and I pulled together a team to shoot it. We weren't sure if it would ever make it into the film; in many ways it was out of character with what we were doing, and we lacked the money to do it "right" ... but, it would be another chance to experience that sound. We had to make it happen.

That night the hall was filled to capacity, Bobby was on fire, the band played their hearts out, and I had the best seat in the house, onstage with a camera, right in the middle of it all.

Purchase the CD recording of Bobby Sanabria's Kenya Revisited, Live! or

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