Justice Sotomayor Celebrates Bronx Kids Who “Dream Big”

On Saturday, August 4th, my old friend and colleague Bobby Sanabria was honored in the Bronx. For those who may not know him, Bobby has been a long time advocate for Jazz and Afro Caribbean music and the legacy of Puerto Ricans and their contribution to music in New York City. In addition to being a great musician with extensive credits and a Grammy award nominated band leader, he is also known for being an educator not only in universities but in classrooms where he exposes young students to the history and sounds of Jazz and Latin music. This only begins to describe him, but suffice it to say, he is more than worthy of the honors bestowed upon him by his hometown, the Bronx, N.Y.  It was great to be there to play with him on this special day.

Saturday was also a special day because one of the attendees at the event was Supreme Court Justice and Bronx native Sonia Sotomayor who was there to celebrate The Bronx Children’s Museum’s third annual Dream Big initiative. She has been a strong supporter of the Bronx Children’s Museum and its many programs for years. The BCM was present at the event and the kids prepared dance routines to perform with Bobby’s big band. It was a thrill for me to meet Justice Sotomayor. She couldn’t have been more gracious, approachable and sincere in her desire to help out this important cause and give back to her community. Very impressive.


                                                                                       Review of Bobby’s Grammy nominated CD “MULTIVERSE”    The rhythmic drive on this recording is life-affirming and, when you add the rock-solid bass of Leo Traversa, sitting still is not an option. “Multiverse” hits the streets on August 14 – do not pass it by.
– Richard B. Kamins, Step Tempest




Playing in Zimbabwe at HIFA







These past months, I’ve been back at work with the people of Carnegie Hall’s Weill Program, performing community service which took us (Chris Washburne and the SYOTOS band) into a juvenile detention center in Brooklyn for another songwriting workshop. Although it was a completely different experience with a completely new set of challenges, once again, the resulting songs were pretty incredible, written by kids 12-16. We got to spend a good amount of time with these kids and it was as much a learning experience for us to live in their world and get to understand their situations as it was for them to learn about songwriting, collaboration and working with live musicians. It’s amazing what’s inside people who have no experience writing songs or music, once you can draw it out of them. I’d really like to credit Chris Washburne and Claudette Sierra for doing a great job under difficult circumstances.
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Carnegie Hall Musical Connections

As a member of Syotos, I have been a part of Carnegie Hall’s Musical Connections Program, which offers diverse musical experiences for people in healthcare settings, correctional facilities, and homeless shelters across New York City. This is an article about a concert we performed with some very talented people following a three month songwriting workshop.


Songs of Their Lives: Uptown Seniors’ debut as composers

How do you get to Carnegie Hall?

Published: Wednesday, January 11 2012, 7:03 PM

If you’re a senior from Washington Heights or the Valley Lodge homeless shelter uptown, Carnegie Hall comes to you.

This past Tuesday night, the stirring music and lyrics of 17 budding songwriters were performed before a cheering crowd at the Harlem Stage Gatehouse on Convent Ave., the culmination of a unique collaboration sponsored by Carnegie Hall’s Musical Connections.

“I was floored,” said Chris Washburne, whose eight-piece Latin jazz band SYOTOS helped make the elder composers works come alive with fabulous harmonies and rhythms during a three-month workshop.

“I was skeptical at first,” he added. “The result was way beyond my expectations. In the end, I think I learned more about music going through the process than maybe even the participants.”

Under the direction of composer and Juilliard instructor Thomas Cabaniss, and a women’s pop and cabaret trio “The Lascivious Biddies,” seniors from the ARC Ft. Washington Senior Center on 174th St. and the Valley Lodge shelter on W. 108th St. met weekly since October for the songwriting workshop.

They wrote about love (Rhoda Weston’s “The Warmth of Your Love”) ; about growing old and invisible to men ( Ruth Baez’s “They Don’t Look At Me Anymore”); about punishing pace of New York ( Ronald Cavallo’s “I Need to Leave the City; ) about happy childhood memories (Emalyn Caliva’s “116th Street – Shuff-a-lin Fast”).

In one number, what began with the simple instruction “Complete the sentence: If I Could……” evolved into “Si Yo Pudiera” a rousing group song with a gorgeous melody written and sung onstage by the nine Ft. Washington seniors: “If I could get into your heart, I would dare to live that passion…”

Wearing a black and red pinstriped suit and red bowler hat, David Broxton, 74, of Valley Lodge, kicked off the evening with a standard he wrote called “Autumn Love.”

“A lot of people have the idea that shelters are dope dens, but most people are trying to turn their lives around,” said Broxton. “I’ve gained inspiration and self worth that I can do something good in this workshop. I have a talent to produce music people would enjoy.”

If critics had come, they would have declared the evening a triumph. More than 200 people gave the debuting songwriters a standing ovation by evening’s end.

“It’s an ignition of joy,” said Cabaniss, of the experience for the seniors and musicians alike.

Miriam Canaan, a retired and widowed social worker, wrote a swinging, salsa number that Washburne said his band will take on tour: “Temor a Amar – Afraid to Love.” While her son, Hassan, looked on proudly, Canaan took center stage to sing and sway to her creation.

“Oh my God, did I write that ? said an incredulous Canaan, 67, when she first heard the arrangements of horns and harmonies. “I’ve been wanting to do something like this for such a long time. I hope to God it continues.”