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Enjoy 'Salsa Music in the Pacific NW'

courtesy of Salsaneo Records
The cover of the new album

We're featuring some homegrown music this week on Jazz Caliente. Here's an interview with Steve Guasch, the producer of the grand compilation called "Salsa Music in the Pacific NW: A Collective Memoir."

Robin Lloyd Tell me how this this huge project came together.

Steve Guasch This is the brainchild of Dr. Oswaldo Lucca; he's a doctor in literature at Edmonds Community College. This started as a literary endeavor for him. He wanted to basically document the history of salsa and Latin music in the Pacific Northwest. It's actually a book that he's writing. I've known him since I first got to to Washington state. He's one of the first persons that that I met, and we stayed in contact.

He reached out to me and told me what he was doing in salsa, and he'd always been involved with salsa music and Latin jazz here in the Northwest for so long. He showed me the project and then he said, "Hey, since you have a record label, why don't you help me by being the curator of finding these recordings?"

And so what started as a book became a CD project, too, a double-CD release project. The book is going to come out either the end of this year or maybe early next year. We're working on a Volume Two of the CD project, because we were not able to include all the recordings that we found. We are in the process right now of mastering "Salsa Music in the Pacific Northwest: A Collective Memoir, Volume Two," which is going to include another 11 songs or more.

RL What you've got here on Volume One goes back to 1985. Is there anything available before that?

SG As far as we looked, that's everybody who has recorded Latin jazz or salsa music that has been published. There are some live recordings that never got published. There's also one recording that was not included in this project, Mongo Santamaria recorded at Jazz Alley in 1990. But we were unable to work it out with the rights and licensing. It's a very important recording for the Pacific Northwest. It's not going to be in my compilation, but not because we didn't try.

RL Did you find anything that surprised you?

SG Well, not really. I arrived in Seattle in 1987. I've been involved in some way or another with 90 percent or more of these bands.

What surprised me is that there was so much of this great music. When you go back, trying to find these recordings, it's, "Oh, I remember this guy!” and "Oh, wow, I remember this great song," and "Oh, I didn't know this guy did that."

At first, I made a mental count, I thought we probably would have 20 recordings. Right now, we have almost 30, plus the 11 that are coming in Volume Two. So I was pleasantly surprised and honored to have been given this opportunity for Salsaneo Records to be involved in such an important project for the for the Latin music scene in the Pacific Northwest. I think this is something that needed to be told.

I've been working with salsa music here since 1987, and my mission has always been to try to progress the local talents. I wasn't a label at that time. I was just one musician doing my thing. I had the opportunity to become a record label and, with that, came responsibility. Now I feel like I have a social responsibility in trying to further all my colleagues’ work and let them be known.

RL Tell me about your background.

SG I'm a percussionist from Puerto Rico. Well, I actually was born in New York. At the age of 3, my parents moved back home to Puerto Rico, and that's where I grew up. It's not where you’re born, but where you're raised, right? I grew up around music because it's my culture.

In my house, there was always music, and I was blessed to have had the opportunity to see a lot of bands. At very young age, I started studying the bongo. After that, I developed the conga skills and played timbales and all the other percussion instruments, as well as drum set.

Then I joined the U.S. Army after being in college at University of Puerto Rico. They stationed me at Fort Lewis. That was back in 1987, and that's when I started my first venture into playing music here, because I was kind of starting to feeling that itch, you know, for the music of my country. There were a few bands working at the time. And I decided I could do it, too.

I got out of the Army in 1990. That's when I formed my first band called La Clave, at the University of Washington, with my good friend Ricardo Morla Rios. Then from there, I moved to Portland, Oregon. I was there for about five or six years, and I formed the band La Mayor Salsa. We used to travel all the time from Portland to Seattle, and we played the whole Northwest, even went to San Francisco. We were playing the whole West Coast at that point. That band had Manuela Figueroa, a great singer from Mexico who lives here in Seattle. That's when we did our first recording, called "Canto Mi Corazon."

Here in Seattle, I started the band La Nueva Era, which is a band that has been a staple of the salsa scene here in the Northwest since 1997. Orquesta Nueva Era has been like a repertoire band for touring solo singers from Puerto Rico. We're still active to this day.

RL I'm going to put you on the spot. What are your favorites on "Salsa Music in the Pacific NW"?

SG Oh, that's going to be so hard! I think they're all great. But one of the most notable pieces here has to be the one from Carlos Cascante y su Tumbao, “Hablando en Serio,” by my good friend and brother-from-another-mother, Julio Jauregui. They put this band together and they did a phenomenal job on that piece; arrangement, composition, execution of the instrumentation and the overall feel, it really captures the band. I've had the opportunity to play with them, and when you hear the recording, it's like hearing the band live right there. You know with some groups, they make a great recording, and then when you go see them live, it's not the same. This album is a great album. And when you hear them live, they're even better than what they recorded.

You made me choose one! But they're they're all great: Kiki Valera, and a great song by Johnny Conga, “Mambo for Tjader.” So many great songs here.

So this is quite the work, and I'm really proud of what we ended up doing. I think this music needs to be heard and what we have been able to accomplish here, I believe, is for the benefit of the art form, because we want to leave something to transcend, you know.

Oswaldo Lucca, the editor of the book, his main goal was to have something as a resource for students, so whoever buys the book will also get a copy of Volume One and Volume Two. The goal is to put it in every library, university and college, as a resource. And of course, it will also be available on Amazon, and people can buy the book and the music together or separately.

It was more a labor of love and trying to have something for posterity, for the people who will come after us. When Oswaldo asked me to be involved in this thing, it was a no-brainer.

RL So after Volume Two comes out, what's your next project?

SG I’ve got several projects that I'm working on right now.

One of them is also one of the groups that I am a member of, called Buena Vibra. It's a vibraphone sextet, Cal Tjader style, but instead of jazz, it's salsa. This will be the second release from that group. The album is called "Flora Verano," Flower of Summer.

Salsaneo Records has been involved in not only releasing music from talent from here in the Pacific Northwest, but also now releasing and producing music for talent from other countries like Colombia and England as well as Puerto Rico. One of the projects coming up is the solo project from Rico Walker, a singer from one of the busiest and most prestigious bands in Puerto Rico, Don Perignon y La Orquesta Puertorriqueña. He also sang with the great Willie Rosario, an icon in Puerto Rico. Rico Walker got in contact with me and asked me to be his producer. So imagine the honor! Right now we are working on his solo debut, his first-ever solo album.

We will be releasing something from Papo Rosario, who is a former singer from El Gran Combo de Puerto Rico. He's been in the band for 40 years. He’s leaving the band, and he's going to do his first solo album on Salsaneo Records.

We just released an album from a band in London called Dorance Lorza and Sexteto Café. They won the Lucas Award, which is like a Grammy, for Album of the Year in 2018. Dorance Lorza is from Colombia. I was able to release his new production under our label; it just came out two weeks ago.

I'm also working on a new one for Orquesta Nueva Era, a follow-up album which has been 15 years in the making.

RL Has this pandemic time been a good time for you to work, or has it made things more difficult?

SG I wasn't playing much, right? And neither was anyone else. So I went to work recording. Actually, the pandemic is what allowed me to be able to start working on my own projects. I completed five full CD projects because I had nothing else to do.

Obviously, this is a horrible time for everybody, and my heart goes out to everybody who has had to endure such hardships. I mean, there's nothing good that we can say about the pandemic, and I don't want to.

I want to also thank people who get to read or hear this, everyone who has done their part, to get us back to being like we were before. I want to thank everybody for all their efforts in continuing to get rid of this COVID-19.

But I try to do the best that I can in these times, and I decided to just go to work and keep my sanity in music.

For a long time, I've been working kind of like the Wizard of Oz, behind the curtain. But I want people to know that there's a record label that is furthering the music of the local talent of the Pacific Northwest and abroad. There are solutions out there, and in this terrible time, I'm out here and I want to listen to anyone who has a project, and they feel like they have no recourse, they have no support. They don't know how to get around, don't know how to record their music. They don't know how to release it.

Well, I am an avenue for that. I want to hear what you have. And if there is anything that I can do to help further your music careers and your dreams, we have the full platform to release music on digital streaming, also on CDs and vinyl.

Local music from Seattle and the Pacific Northwest, that's what I'm all about, and I appreciate you.

Listen for selections from "Salsa Music in the Pacific NW" on Jazz Caliente this week!

Jazz Caliente airs Saturdays at 5 p.m. The show is hosted by Robin Lloyd and produced by KNKX Public Radio.

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