Michel Camilo at The B.B. King Blues Club

17 Piece Latin Jazz Orchestra

Michel Camilo


B.B. King Blues Club, August 10, 2002:


       I drive to Manhattan on this hot Saturday afternoon. I find a parking space on 48th & 8th Ave., just a few blocks from the club. I wait downstairs in the bar with some other Michel Camilo devotees. I meet a nice couple from Penn State University, they are students. This is the third group of people from Penn State, amazing. I meet another incredible Michel Camilo fan from Delaware. He drove up to Manhattan for this show.

       The doors open at 6:15 P.M. and I find myself sitting right in front again, at a table just below the piano.  I am on the guest list, thanks again to Ariel Publicity. I have actually joined a group of three others, who already got this great front table. These people are extremely friendly and turn out to be personal friends of Michel Camilo. They are: Chris, Steve and Carolyn.

       Steve and Carolyn drove down from Oneonta, New York. Steve is an Audi dealer and was delivering an Audi TT to a proud new owner in this area. Steve and Carolyn make a lovely couple together. Chris lives in Irvington, New York. He is the son of Julius La Rosa, and is an audio consultant for J & R Music World at 31 Park Row in Manhattan. These guys are all tremendous, and we hit it off right away. We have a great waiter tonight, Mahmet, from Istanbul, Turkey. The service is tremendous and the food is exemplary as usual. The B.B. King Blues Club has never let me down in either respect.

       Chris La Rosa has some great stories to tell and kept us all entertained as we waited for the show to begin. Chris was the best man at Charlie Benante's wedding, the drummer for the metal rock band, Anthrax. Chris sold a receiver to John Tempesta, of White Zombie, and John gave him an incredible acoustic/electric guitar in return. Michel Camilo and his wife Sandra live in Katonah, New York; my old stomping grounds. Chris could not say enough good things about Michel and Sandra. They are great, loving people, genuine and exceptional human beings. I love to hear this, as it comes across in Michel’s musical compositions. It is 8:00 P.M. and I take this picture of my new found friends: Stephen, Chris and Carolyn. We are all on the edge of our seats awaiting Michel Camilo’s 17-piece Latin Jazz Orchestra.


Steven, Chris, Carolyn


Photo: ©A.J. Alfaro

       At 8:06 P.M. Michel Camilo and his Jazz Orchestra takes the stage, much to the enthusiastic joy of the packed audience. The opening tune, “One More Once,” is a lively, Latin, syncopated 4/4-time opening kicker. The band’s ensemble attack is big and fat. The baritone saxophone, Gary Smulyan, takes the first solo. He is amazingly good, right away. The entire orchestra is fully involved from the start, and they are: hot, hot, hot!! The next outstanding solo is one of the trumpeters, Michael Mossman. There are four trumpeters in all. I can feel immediately that this is going to be a complete blow out. Simply Incredible!! The trumpet section does an answer/response form to show their incredible virtuosity. All the trumpets wail inspiring high notes that are immediately thrilling. The drummer and percussionist lock into interlacing polyrhythms that compliment each other completely. Michel Camilo takes an incredible piano solo. His melodic and rhythmic attack is incredibly percussive, with his amazing right-handed arpeggio runs. Michel stands up to conduct the musical ensemble. This is an amazing orchestral arrangement. Michel introduces the soloists after each song and his excitement and enthusiasm is very evident in each of his individual introductions.


17 Piece Latin Jazz Orchestra


Photo: ©A.J. Alfaro

       The next musical entry is, “Why Not.” Michel plays a soft intro on piano, with a delicious left-handed chord melody combined with right hand arpeggios and flourishes. There is a flavorful touch of the blues here. This delicate intro evolves into a marching feel, then further on into a jazzy ragtime musical mood. This continues to move further on to a hot Latin Big Band breakout; a hot Latin 4/4-time with brassy staccato horn accents. The tenor saxophone solo, Ralph Bowen, is exceptional. The drummer and percussionist are extremely tight, featuring amazing rhythmic accenting abilities. This is really cookin’. Michel’s piano solo is super percussive, featuring octaves with the right hand. Michel Camilo is so involved he is jumping right off the piano stool with excitement!! The entire arrangement is super together and tight, with tremendous accents galore.


Michel Camilo


Photo: ©A.J. Alfaro

       The third musical presentation begins with a percussion intro. This virtuoso percussionist, Guarionex Aquino, plays: chimes, whistle, shaker (gathered shells), and then a bongo rhythm pattern. The musical mood created, is mysterious. The excellent contrabass figure, played by Anthony Jackson, is very prominent in this arrangement. The soprano saxophone re-states the musical theme. The song is slower, moody and sublime. Two tasteful flutes add grace to this already intriguing melodic exercise. The orchestral ensemble strikes on big fat accents, brassy, ballsy and loudly contrasting the understated melodic feel. Musical crescendos lead up to high dynamic peaks. Michel’s piano solo is eloquent and deep, with a slow beginning building to a rapid melodic development. He employs very creative and inventive melodies with the left hand, while featuring incredible arpeggios with the right hand. The dynamic range is extreme from low to high and back down again. The percussionist, Aquino, plays the various ends of the dynamic range with the shaker (shells), chimes and guiro. When the musical dynamic surge is calmed again, the soprano sax, Chris Hunter, solos with perceptive sensitivity to the musical moment. Michel signals and muted trumpets join in the orchestral painting of sound.

       Song four starts with Guarionex Aquino taking a conga solo. Aquino is playing four congas, with the middle conga tuned to a higher pitch. Aquino takes an extended solo. His percussion playing is expressive, inventive and emotional, and his facial gestures give an inner glimpse to his musical soul.


Guarionex Aquino


Photo: ©A.J. Alfaro

       Michel joins in on piano and accompanies the conga solo by himself. Aquino uses a mallet with the right hand for effect and rhythmic accentuation. This interesting song is called, “Suite Sanderine Pt. 3.” Aquino utilizes the shaker, whistle, mouse effect and chimes. Michel conducts the orchestra. There is an incredible trumpet solo by Jim Seeley. A very distinctive and unique bass presentation is delivered from Anthony Jackson. The full orchestra begins in a cut time 4/4-meter. The drummer, Cliff Almond, is amazing. Now, we have a musical mood change to a full Latin feel with tremendous melodic emphasis in unison playing. The drums and congas are super succinct behind an amazing sax solo by Antonio Hart. Cliff Almond executes distinctive polyrhythmic accents on the crown of the ride cymbal. The full orchestra plays a super tight chart with unison arpeggios that are scintillating and give me goose bumps all over. I am so excited by this incredible display of musicianship that the hairs stand up on my arms and I get rather light headed. The trumpet soloist wails away, and then comes an even more unusual and stupendous alto sax solo. The rhythms are all chopped up Latin funk. Michel’s piano solo is amazing with his right hand whizzing away in rhythmic elation. The entire band is blowin’ like hell!! The conga solos again, reaching higher and higher levels of musical virtuosity.

       Song number five is, “Suntan.” This tune starts with a percussion intro. Aquino plays the shells, whistle, shekere and a plastic sheet for an extra unusual percussive effect. The song continues with the piano and shekere alone together. Suddenly, the band kicks in full blast. Michel’s piano sizzles arpeggios with Aquino blowing the whistle, shaking the shekere and shells, and additionally blowing something like a train whistle. Then comes a quiet passage for a piano solo with that mouse sound for accompaniment; both quiet, peaceful and blissful. The lights dim, the mood is contrastingly contained and quiet, but you can feel it building again. Michel’s right hand again pounding percussive phrases and melodic arpeggios abound.

       Song number six is, “Just Kidding.” This arrangement contains the huge full orchestra sound in an amazing band chart. Both drummers are blaring in a controlled barrage of sound, reaching wild crescendos with brassy blasts of incredibly strong high notes. There is a tremendous tenor sax solo from Ralph Brown, exclaiming and screeching unbelievably high notes. Michel plays an amazing piano solo. Both his hands are flying all over the keyboard. This is the most amazing solo of the night. His hands are a complete blur!! Several trumpets blast in unison.


Michel Camilo


Photo: ©A.J. Alfaro

       The last number begins with a piano solo. The musical approach is quiet, dissonant and moody, with melodic chord melody intrigue. Michel paints a gorgeous musical impression. This is quite a contrast in sound texture and mood. Michel plays an extended piano solo here. He soon slaps the piano with two-handed chords in between wild emotional, almost off the edge and seemingly losing control, melodic arpeggios. This is the most complex melodic attack I have ever seen on piano. Michel’s energy, tempo and intuitive feel is amazing, with blazing accents throughout. There is an incredible trombone solo from Art Baron. Next is a show-stopping tenor solo from Bobby Franceschini. This solo starts out very delicate, spacing out the notes with well placed rests, then evolves to include amazing arpeggios and note flourishes and screeching on the tenor with the piano and conga mirroring in un-flinching unison. Then a change comes to a cut time Latin rhythm and a unique cut time drum solo by Cliff Almond. This trap playing is super-tasteful in its control, polyrhythms and space. Cliff executes drum flourishes on both the drums and cymbals. Soon the drums and congas solo together totally complimenting each other in amazing rhythmic control. Soon its Michel on piano, with the drums and congas, solid and unified together. Michel is again slapping the piano in percussive empathy and sympathetic expression to the two drummer’s complex rhythmic patterns.

       This was an incredible display of musical genius!!!!!!! Michel and the 17 piece Latin Jazz Orchestra amazes and dazzles the audience with each and every song. Michel humbly thanks us all and all these amazing musicians who have joined him here tonight. We are all completely blown out in amazement!!


Michel bows graciously


Photo: ©A.J. Alfaro

       After the show Chris La Rosa takes our table: Steven, Carolyn and myself, to meet Michel Camilo. The feeling he expounds is of grace and love and genuine humble happiness. I meet him and we talk briefly. I pose for several pictures with the genius Latin composer, arranger and performer, and I get his autograph. I also meet and talk to the virtuoso percussionist Guarionex Aquino. We look at each other, clasping our hands together, and scream wild exclamations in unison. This is as good as it gets!!!


A.J. Alfaro & Michel Camilo


Photo: ©Chris La Rosa

       Chris, Steve and Carolyn also meet and talk to Michel Camilo. I take a few photos of them together as well. Michel is the kind, unique and loving human being that Chris described him as. I am so pleased and honored to hear him perform and meet and talk to him after the show. It was also so great to meet my new found friends: Chris, Steven and Carolyn. I really hope to see them all again sometime soon. Thank you Michel Camilo and thank you Latin Jazz Orchestra.


Michel Camilo, Chris, Steven, Carolyn


Photo: ©A.J. Alfaro

       WOW, WOW, WOW, WOW!!!!!! I float out of the club and dance all the way to my car, amazing!

       Please click the link below for Michel Camilo’s autograph.

Michel Camilo's Autograph

       Please click the links below for the large photos of this amazing event.

Large Photo - A.J. Alfaro & Michel Camilo

Large Photo - Michel Camilo, Chris, Steven, Carolyn

       It don’t get any better than this!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


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A.J. Alfaro