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Spotlight on the Brown: Bob DeSena

California's king of Latin Jazz is helping put the West Coast on the world wide musical map.

By Frankie Firme ~ Contributing Editor
Published on LatinoLA: October 10, 2011


Spotlight on the Brown: Bob DeSena


Once again, the warm winds de Aztlan blow across the Land of 1000 Dances and the home of the Gente Brown, bringing with it the sweet sound of music, and keeping us all young, alive, and together, as we recognize yet another one of our own who has helped put the West Coast on the World Wide musical map.

This month, after many years of enjoying and appreciating his music, I finally got a chance to meet with an upcoming legend in the Latin Jazz scene who has made his mark on the West Coast as a major contender.

I've heard his name mentioned many times over the past couple of years, and have heard his music on brother East L.A. Revue Radio DJ CHICO MANQUEROS's sweet "Musical Pan Dulce" show over the years. I've even been gifted with his 2 CD's which I play quite often ....but nothing beats catching the man in action as I did a couple of weeks ago at Ray Carrion's Tito Puente Tribute Show in Hollywood.

This month's spotlight on the Brown: Master vibraphonist, trumpet & fluglehorn player, singer, and actor BOB DeSENA.

Born in Stockton, California in 1958, Bob was introduced to music at an early age.

"When I was about 8 years old, my mother was approached by a traveling salesman who tried to get me interested in accordion lessons...it didn't take long for my mom to see that wasn't going to work, so instead of wasting money on the lessons, she let me follow my interests in drums and guitar....and it payed off," Bob tells LatinoLA.com.

Bob tells me a funny story about his days in his high school marching band: "I loved music from an early age, and I played my heart out, whether it be drums, guitar, or trumpet. I was recognized for my trumpet-playing ability, and was chosen to play in my high school marching band, which I thought was pretty cool...but I got fired just before our first gig because I kept marching in the wrong direction every time the band made a movement..."

And Bob has marched to his own beat ever since, playing with TOP 40, big bands and jazz bands afterwards.

He formed a Latin Rock group after high school and performed in and around the San Francisco Bay Area, and got married a couple years later.

A successfully trained movie and television video editor who has worked for all the major studios, Bob became interested in Latin Jazz in the early 1970's, listening to such artists as Tito Puente, Cal Tjader, Herb Albert and Poncho Sanchez, after being inspired to play drums and guitar while growing up and listening to such groups as EARTH, WIND, and FIRE, TOWER of POWER, CHICAGO, and MALO.

"I went to a Latin Jazz concert featuring the great ROY AYERS. It was there that I saw my first ever vibraphone. I saw Roy playing it and performing Jazz and Latin Jazz, with a taste of R & B and Funk, and I was totally mesmerized at what this man could do with a vibraphone, and his enthralling stage performance...and I knew then that I wanted to be an entertainer in his mold."

Shortly afterwards, he attended a concert in Hollywood featuring Cal Tjader's band after Cal's passing. Minus a young conguero named Poncho Sanchez, this was Cal's complete group, called "Radcliff" ( Cal's middle name). "They played with such cool...such style...such class...I knew what my music genre was going to be...Jazz and Latin Jazz," Bob says with a smile of pride, while showing me a picture in his home studio of him and the legendary Tito Puente.

Bob moved to the Los Angeles area in 1984 during the Olympics, and never left, having fallen in love with the Land of 1000 Dances, and the musical opportunities he found.

He invested in his first set of vibes, and spent some time studying under Tony Kol, percussionist for the Doc Severinson band of the Tonight Show (Johnny Carson era) fame, and came away with an experience and an education.

He played with the popular Latin Rock/Salsa group NUESTRO for about 10 years before forming his own band. "Them were some good times," Bob says, "Ruben Palazuelos and NUESTRO are some very talented guys, and we had some good gigs."

Bob started his own band after that, experimenting and changing the number of members, as well as sitting in with other groups as a "hired gun" for a night.

After a successful gig with his group in 1996, Bob was approached by Bill Lazerus of Discos Dos Coronas, an L.A. based record label, and Bob's first CD "ALL That
(Latin) Jazz" was released to good success, prompting his 2nd CD "Going Latin on Jazz Street" in 1998. A 3rd CD is scheduled to be released soon.

Currently, there is a small number of true vibraphone artists in Los Angeles, and maybe 3 or 4 that play Latin jazz....Bob is right up there on top of the list.

"Unfortunately, Latin Jazz, in its own right, doesn't get a lot of commercial airplay. Maybe one or two commercial radio stations in L.A. know what's happening in this genre, so I'm really grateful for the world wide airwaves of Internet radio. I've also experimented with 'Latinizing' some favorite American standards, and found that this works in attracting a following."

"Sometimes when you study other artists, you either emulate something, or, you do just the opposite of what they do, depending on what works. The trick is to reach out and engage your audience, entertain your audience, make sure everyone has a good time, and leave them with an entertainment experience they will remember...and come back for more".

Whether he's singing, playing the vibraphone, trumpet, or fluglehorn , Bob DeSena definitely engages his audience and gives them an experience, as I enjoyed a great performance of his a couple of weeks ago, and I know I'm not the first, nor will I be the last.

The man was on his J-O-B!!!

Bob is also an accomplished actor, being picked to star in a leading role in an upcoming advant-garde movie "Quijote en L.A." soon to be released. ( More info on that in LatinoLA.com later!)

Along with his music, Bob still works full time, and lives with his family in a beautiful home in the hills of Santa Clarita, where I was most graciously welcomed to for this interview. Like a lot of artist friends I know, his home is decorated with memorabilia, instruments, and an impressive music collection, including a fully operational 1901 RCA speakerphone record player which he played for me.

(Guess he knew I love Oldies but Goodies! LOL!)

Besides being a regular attraction along Southern California's coastal marinas and villages, as well as the popular clubs in L.A. that love Latin Jazz, Bob is coming to the San Fernando Valley to perform in the upcoming Veteran's Day celebration at the historic San Fernando American Legion Hall on November 11th, donating his time and opening up to start the festivities after the San Fernando Veteran's Day Parade, an event that draws thousands every year.

"It will be a honor to perform for the Veterans and their families," Bob says proudly, " My older brother John served in the Army in Viet Nam, and we're all so proud of him...performing for the Veterans on Veteran's Day is the least I can do for the guys and gals who have given their all for our Country...this is my way of saying THANKS!"

And with that...LatinoLA.com proudly welcomes another Warrior de Aztlan to the Land of 1000 Dances...

BOB DeSENA...music performing & recording artist, singer, actor... LATINO !

Note: for more info on Bob DeSena check out his website: BobDeSena.com

For info on the upcoming Veteran's Day celebration concert on November 11th, check out the calendario section here in LatinoLA.

About Frankie Firme ~ Contributing Editor:
Frankie Firme is the Al Capone of the microphone and the Hitman of West Coast Chicano Soul heard daily on world wide Internet Radio.
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