Spanish Harlem Orchestra performs on Saturday. To learn more about the group, visit coltranejazzfest.com.

Oscar Hernandez, the co-founder and leader of Spanish Harlem
Orchestra, grew up taking in the kaleidoscope of sounds that New York City has
to offer.

“I’ve been into music since I was a youngster,” Hernandez
says. “I started playing instruments when I was 12. Our parents are Latino so
most music we listened to was from the top Latin music from the day, but being
in New York, you can’t help but being exposed to all types of music.”

Hernandez founded and has been leading Spanish Harlem
Orchestra since its founding in 2002. Since then, the 13-piece salsa and Latin jazz
band has won three Grammys and has been nominated for five. This year, the
group took home the prestigious award in the category of Best Tropical Latin
Album for their 2018 release, Anniversary. Hernandez, who plays the
piano, says that SHO’s music is different from other types of jazz because of
its roots in Latin rhythms and sensibilities.

“We add a different touch,” he says. “In terms of the
harmonies and the positions of the instrumentalists. We perform salsa-style
jazz. There’s an organic raw jazz sound to it. We represent a certain style
that brings to the forefront the best of what Latin music is.”

Still, he says that SHO is more than capable of performing
jazz standards like songs by John Coltrane, just with a slight twist. Instead
of guitars, you’ll find congas. Instead of a traditional drum set, you’ll find
bongos, timbales and the occasional cowbell.

“We’re Latinos and we were influenced by our Spanish roots,
but we’re also jazz musicians,” Hernandez says. “For me, I want people to see
the love and the passion that we have for this music.”

 

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