Coming up with the concept for a band might not be that difficult, but putting a group of musicians together and keeping it intact for an extended period of time, well, that’s another story. Just ask Salvador Santana, pianist, vocalist, and leader of Salvador Santana Band.
“I’ve been lucky just to get the lineup I have for right now,” he admits. “I think that [the band members] are really happy to be here and make music with me also, and for that I’m grateful.”
Since the 25-year-old formed the group several years ago, musicians have come in and out of the fold with such frequency that Santana was essentially holding auditions after every tour. The bandleader scored big, though, when he auditioned and hired Jose “Crunchy” Espinosa (saxophone, flute, vocals, percussion), a founding member of Ozomatli. Since then, Espinosa has been “almost like an assistant coach,” tipping off Santana to the perfect musicians to help build the band’s Latin jazz, funk, and hip-hop influenced sound.
For the past year, the Salvador Santana Band has been functioning with a solid lineup of accomplished musicians, which includes bassist Emerson Cardenas, guitarist/vocalist Woody Alpalnap, drummer Tony Austin, and vocalist/keyboardist Quincy McCary.
“Basically, I look for consistency, integrity, and, mostly importantly, a fresh mind,” says Santana of his criteria for collaborators, “and, when that comes, willingness and the will to take musical risks to help make the music sound not necessarily better or worse, right or wrong, but helping it sound fresh and up to date.”
He continues, “Also, the musicians themselves have to be as amazing and talented off the stage as they are on the stage. That’s not very easy to find nowadays. Usually you get one or the other. “
And even though the band is Santana’s brainchild, he does rely on this team to help flesh out musical ideas.
“Being the bandleader and also being the youngest, the band has also helped me step up a little bit, both musically on stage and off the stage as well,” he explains.
Santana himself is a third generation musician (his father is Carlos Santana and his grandfathers are mariachi bandleader Jose Santana and blues artist Saunders King) who, like several of his bandmates, studied at the prestigious California Institute of the Arts. Having gravitated towards the piano at an early age, Santana helped compose the 1999 Grammy-winning track “El Farol” with his father. But, despite his upbringing, he hasn’t limited himself to the influence of his forbears.
For the Salvador Santana Band, this means involving hip-hop styled vocals and production techniques so that the intricate rhythms and lively horn elements often appear as though they have been sampled. This groove-heavy sound has made the group quite popular on the music festival circuit, where the band members have a chance to let their individual talents shine on stage while gaining new fans. In this setting, Salvador Santana Band has cultivated a sound that is as timeless as it is modern and as rooted in Latin America as it is in the United States.
“I’m just trying to adapt to my surroundings and use my ears and listen to what is going on right now, comprehend it, process it, and say what I need to say in my own words.”
The Salvador Santana Band plays the Temple Bar on February 23.