June 2005 CJA Network Newsletter Feature Interview II

Band Leader/Arranger for The 911 Mambo Orchestra

Angel Melendez

What was the main factor in you being attracted to a "Big Band"?

Angel: After I got fired from my own band. I saw the movie “The Mambo Kings”, and thought to myself I could put together a band that could be better than anything I have done before.

The Mambo Orchestra is known for its high energy and very dynamic "live" performances. Where does all the energy come from?

Angel: It primarily comes from the 13 brass players. Then you ad the Afro- Cuban polyrhythms and you may come out with an explosive result.

I read somewhere that a local Mission in Chicago helped you get pointed in the right direction enabling you to focus on music instead of gangs. Share with us how that came about.

Angel: When I was 12, I saw my cousin playing in a band that was part of the Puerto Rican Congress of Mutual Aid. Then when I was 14, I was hanging out with my regular friends (gang bangers) and decided that I could either be on stage playing in a band or getting shot at with my “friends”.

Do you find a connection between music and spirituality? What are your thoughts concerning this?

Angel: Music makes me feel happy. It’s my life. I thank God that music is a part of me and that I can make people happy with it.

There is momentum building all over the world for Christian jazz artists who love jazz to celebrate their musical gifts by playing more jazz at churches (even in Sunday morning worship!) and at special jazz concerts sponsored by churches, etc. Have you and your band had opportunities to play at churches? If so share with us some details.

Angel: I personally have played with several Christian Salsa Bands. As my own band, we have played at several fundraiser events for Christian schools and organizations. We have done events with Baptist churches and catholic organizations as well. There is a deep and special combination of joy and thankfulness I get when playing at Christian events. When I can express myself through my music and thanking God at the same time…. It is a special kind of fulfillment at that moment.

It takes courage to stick to the more traditional Afro-Cuban music when most Latin music has gone in an entirely different direction. What is it about the Mambo, rumba, cha-cha-cha, merengue, and salsa music that you love it so much?

Angel: Is the music I grew up listening to. In the 60s we had Mambo, Cha Chas & trios. In the 70s Salsa & Fania.

Who are some of your main musical influences? What other types of jazz do you listen to?

Angel: I really admire Tito Puente, Tito Rodriguez, Machito, Ruben Blades, Eddie Palmieri & Willie Colon. Jazz trombonists such as Carl Fontana, Frank Rosolino, JJ Johnson, Jimmy Cleveland, Steve Turre, Robin Eubanks and many others. Some other instrumentalists include  John Coltrane, Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, Jaco Pastorious, Chick Corea, etc,…

Who does the arranging and charts for your Big Band?

Angel: I do it all myself. It is a long process, but when the product comes out… it’s priceless.

You teach music at a local college in the Chicago area...do you teach jazz, arranging, or what?

Angel: I teach High School Band at an inner city Chicago Public School. I also direct a High School Jazz Band. I teach students from scratch…. It includes playing, reading music & music appreciation.

I know many would love to hear your Big Band do some Afro-Cuban jazzed up arrangements of church hymns! Have you done any arrangements like this or are there any plans to do so and record them as well?

Angel: We did Havah Nagilah as a Merengue and it has turned out to be a great success. We are currently thinking of including another religious type song on the next album. Any ideas would be well received.

Angel, I hope I get a chance to hear your Big Band in person in the near future... maybe I can schedule a Christian Jazz Artists Network concert in Chicago and get your group to participate!

Angel: We would love to participate. Get a hold of my agent Andres and lets go with it!

I really love your CD and can easily see why it was nominated for a Grammy Award (audio samples here) The high level of musicianship, precision, and overall Afro-Cuban feel was brilliantly captured. You used all local musicians from the Chicago area for your Big Band...who makes up your rhythm section?

Angel: On the album Norman Mason was on Piano, Jose Porcayo on Bass, Danny Feliciano on Congas, Herbert Perez on Bongos, George Gonzalez & Javier Gonzalez on Timbales

Your piano player is an expert with montunos...has he played on other CD's?

Angel: He recorded on our first EP called “A Taste of Salsa”, and some other local projects.

What is your vision for the future of your Big Band?

Angel: Keep recording, Keep writing & keep making people dance.

 More information on Angel Melendez & The 911 Mambo Orchestra can be found here: