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.”