Bobby Sanabria Multiverse Big Band Vox Humana


In the pantheon of Afro-Cuban music, when you want to summon the deities – the spirits of past, present and future – you engage in an incantation. Chanting, of a sort.

On Vox HumanaBobby Sanabria’s explosive, musically expansive new album, it’s the very first and last thing thing you hear. Sanabria himself, from behind his drum set, cuts loose with an invocation that to the untrained ear might sound like someone speaking in tongues. It is, in fact, a summoning of Elegua, the Afro-Cuban orisha (Holy Spirit, Super Being), guardian of the crossroads and avatar of achê – the cosmic positive energy force of the Multiverse. There is no written translation for what is being communicated. It is the rhythmic quality of this incantation that matters most.

On Vox Humana, it is as if Bobby is announcing, “Elegua is here; you have been warned. Now let’s go for a ride deep into the Multiverse.”

‘Multiverse’ is a term Sanabria seized upon a few albums back. By definition, it is the opposite of a universe, which is a cosmos with a single guiding principle. The Multiverse is comprised of a matrix of rhythms, which includes, in Bobby’s case, musical sounds from Mother Africa, Cuba and Puerto Rico; rhythm-and-blues from urban America; gospel from the African American church; and, of course, all genres and variations of jazz, from swing to bebop, and styles from Latin America.

Vox Humana has it all. “This is the most autobiographical album I’ve done so far,” says Sanabria. “It touches upon all the musical influences of my life in a way that I’ve never attempted before.”

Born in 1957, in the Melrose section of the South Bronx of Puerto Rican parentage, Sanabria came of age at a time when the borough was a musical microcosm of America. Within jazz, the Mambo era of Machito, Tito Puente and Tito Rodiguez, and the big band era of Count Basie, Lionel Hampton and others, had given way to small group configurations led by living legends such as Coltrane, Miles, Dizzy, Eddie Palmieri, and many others. Sanabria would formally study at the esteemed conservatory, the Berklee College of Music where he graduated with honors in 1979. But out on the street, or in the park and at church, there were other musical tributaries that he followed in his youth. Soul, boogaloo, R & B, Latin rock, and even the earliest strains of hip hop were all part of the Bronx stew of the 1960s, 70s and 80s.

Says Sanabria, “In my neighborhood, which was mostly African American, but also racially diverse, the neutral ground was the candy store, the pizza shop, or the church-sponsored dance that featured music and dancing. At a dance, you would see an Italian or Irish guy looking at the Puerto Rican and Black girls. Sure, there would be the occasional slur – ‘look at those greasy spics’ – or whatever, but there was always one or two guys who would say, ‘You know what? She’s fine. I’m gonna ask her to dance.’ The music was what brought people together.”

To the young boy who would go on to become one of the most acclaimed big band drummer-percussionists, arrangers and conductors of his generation, it all started in the hood. “The Melrose Housing Projects, where I grew up, was, and still is, a predominantly African American housing project. There was a gospel church down the block. I would walk by there and hear them getting down; it was a marvelous thing… And then, when I was twelve years old, I saw Tito Puente performing on the corner in front of the projects I grew up in. I saw and heard the Machito Orchestra. Also, Ricardo Ray and Bobby Cruz, the duo that formed in 1963 with their powerhouse band. Those three bands performed in front of my building on the corner of E. 153rd street and Courtlandt Avenue. That was the turning point in my life. I was twelve years old, and I said, I want to do this for the rest of my life.”

The shows were free as part of the New York City Parks Department, which received funding from private foundations. Countless lives were redirected and possibly saved through the power of music. Says Bobby, “I saw funk and soul bands. I vividly remember a band called the Soul Intentions. They played Motown and soul in the style of Tower of Power. And then I’d see various salsa bands. It was amazing. To me, I wanted to do all that kind of music. People would tell me, ‘You gotta pick one.’ I’d say, ‘What do you mean I gotta pick one?’ ‘You gotta’ either be a salsa musician, or a jazz musician, or funk musician…’ I said, ‘Well. Why can’t I do it all?’”

Although he became versed in Afro-Cuban percussion from the rumba park jams of his neighborhood, Sanabria would chose the drums as his principal instrument. “The drum set. Yeah. That is the one instrument that can fit into any musical context.”

There was the music, and then there was the spiritual core at the heart of the music. For Sanabria, this also had a biographical precedent. “When I was young, I caught pneumonia. I missed the first month of first grade. The doctor came to our house to examine me. I was incapacitated in bed. Afterwards, my parents didn’t realize that the bedroom door was ajar. I heard the doctor say to my father, ‘Frankly, Mister Sanabria, I think you should prepare yourself for the worst. Your son might not make it. He’s in bad shape.’ My father said, ‘What do you mean he’s in bad shape?’ ‘Well,’ said the doctor, ‘it’s not just a head cold. He has pneumonia. He could die.’ Hearing this, I was devastated. My mother heard me crying. She came into the room and said to me in Spanish, ‘Don’t listen to him. There is a higher power than the doctor, and that is the Holy Spirit.’ She showed me how to pray, using the rosary. ‘God will help you. Jesus will help you.’ She introduced me to the power of spirituality, a power that comes not from something you can see or touch, but from a higher power.”

The spiritual essence of Sanabria’s upbringing may have been rooted in his parents adherence to Catholicism, but as soon as Bobby got into music, he knew there was a broader context. The rhythms that came from Africa had derived further shadings from Cuba, Puerto Rico, Brazil, and other points of origin. In the United States, they became the Multiverse. Though some might think of this concept as a disconnected source of inspiration, for Sanabria, it has always represented a community not unlike his South Bronx neighborhood. “I joke sometimes that it comes from Star Trek, the TV show. Like the Enterprise, we’re on a mission to seek out new civilizations, to go where no human has gone before. That’s what we do in the Multiverse Big Band and all the other groups that I lead. The whole thing is to create a sense of community. My thing is, Look, if you have trepidation or fear, there’s nothing to be scared of because we have more things in common than differences. Man, look at it this way: There’s a bridge. I’m at the gateway to the bridge welcoming you. And the gateway is always open. It’s never closed. Come over to where we are and visit. Don’t worry. You can always go back where you came from if you choose. The other metaphor is that there is this big house called jazz. And it’s got all these different rooms. One of the rooms is rumba, and another is mambo. In another room is James Brown, funk, soul. Another is Tower of Power, they’re in that room. Another one is Coltrane, another is Mingus. Room after room. And then there’s the biggest room in the house. That’s the Multiverse, right? That’s the room where everybody congregates.”

None of this would be possible were it not for the band itself. The Multiverse Big Band is unique in its constitution and ability to swing hard and take no prisoners. Sanabria is known for conducting a large orchestra as if it were a small combo. Despite its size and multiplicity of instrumentation, the band can turn on a dime from a concert jazz orchestra to a swinging dance band that can roar and whisper. “We have some of the most powerful heavy hitters on the scene,” says Bobby.  “I call it the Multiverse because the members come from different racial and ethnic backgrounds and are multi-generational as well. They all have experience in every style of music imaginable. Most important is that they have experience with Afro-Cuban and Brazilian music, and other forms of Latin American music. Because the rhythmic vocabulary we use is very complex. If you’re not accustomed to that, as a jazz player, then forget it. The phrasing is going to be off, and that leads to a whole set of other problems as well.”

Perhaps the most distinctive feature of Vox Humana is its ambitious use of three vocalists. Sanabria has always liked to use singers with his big band, a tradition that goes back to the Swing Era when bandleaders like Tommy Dorsey, Benny Goodman and Duke Ellington all featured a female and, or male vocalist. Here, the Multiverse Big Band raises the ante by using three separate vocalists, all with their own unique interpretive style.

Perhaps the best known is Janis Siegel, because of her long, Grammy Award-winning career as lead singer for the Manhattan Transfer. Brooklyn born and bred, Siegel brings her inventive jazz phrasing to every style from doo-wop to torch songs, swing to bebop, and beyond. Jennifer Jade Ledesna is originally from the Bronx and is of Dominican, Puerto Rican descent. She can sing in various languages and has an affinity for Brazilian music with scatting capabilities that are nonpareil. Antoinette Montague hails from the great city of Newark, New Jersey. She possesses an acclaimed powerful vocal instrument that’s rooted in the soulfulness of the blues, gospel and classic R&B.

The Multiverse is a philosophical imperative. Vox Humana is the fruit of this musical foray into a cosmos that embraces the talents of a remarkable collection of musicians, as well as the accumulated biographical knowledge of a true American original. Bobby Sanabria may have been born and raised in the South Bronx, but he’s found his calling in the multiverse, and jazz lovers around the world are all better off for it.

— T.J. English, NY Times best-selling author and jazz aficionado



1. CARAVAN – composed by Juan Tizól – 7:08 (Irving Mills Publishing, ASCAP)

arranged by Jeremy Fletcher, background chants arranged by Bobby Sanabria

Solos: Bobby Sanabria – vocal exclamations, Janis Siegel – coqui whistle, Matthew Gonzalez – barril de bomba, requinto pandereta, David Dejesus – soprano sax, Max Darché – trumpet finale

2. CAPULLITO DE ALELI – composed by Rafael Hernández – 7:17 (Peer International Corp. Gema BMI)

arranged by Danny Rivera, background vocals arranged by Bobby Sanabria

Solos: Jennifer Jade Ledesna – vocals, Matthew Gonzalez – bongó, Darwin Noguera – piano, Andrew Gould – alto sax

3. PUERTO RICO – composed by Eddie Palmieri – 8:25 (Palma Floribe, Inc., BMI)

arranged by Takao Heisho, background vocals arranged by Bobby Sanabria

Solos: The orchestra: coqui whistles, Oreste Abrantes – melody and soneo (improv) vocals, Jennifer Jade Ledesna –  melody vocals, Ben Sutin – violin intro, Darwin Noguera – piano, Chris Washburne, Armando Vergara, Noah Bless, Dave Miller – trombones, Matt Hilgenberg – trumpet, Percussion Finale: Matthew Gonzalez – bongó, Oreste Abrantes – congas, Bobby Sanabria – drums

4. PARTIDO ALTO – composed by José Roberto Bertrami, Alex Malheiros – 7:23 (Far Out Music Publishing UK, BMI)

arranged by Takao Heisho

Solos: Jennifer Jade Ledesna – vocals, Jeff Lederer – tenor sax, Takao Heisho – cuica

5. LET THE GOOD TIMES ROLL – composed by Sam Theard, Louis Jordan, Fleecie Moore – 3:45 (Universal Music Publishing Group, BMI)

arranged by Jeremy Fletcher

Solos: Antoinette Montague – vocals, Armando Vergara – trombone with plunger

6. WHO TAUGHT YOU THAT – composed by Randy Klein, new lyrics by Antoinette Montague – 5:55 (Randy Klein Music, BMI)

arranged by Jeremy Fletcher

Solos: Antoinette Montague – vocals, Danny Rivera – bari sax, Andrew Neesley – trumpet w/ harmon mute w/ stem in and with plunger, Peter Brainin – tenor sax

7. I LOVE YOU PORGY – composed by George and Ira Gershwin – 5:25 (Gershwin Publishing Corp., ASCAP)

arranged by Jeremy Fletcher, based on a small group interpretation by Antoinette Montague

Solos: Antoinette Montague – vocals, Dave Miller – trombone

8. GENIE IN A BOTTLE – composed by Pam Sheyne, Steve Kipner, David Frank – 4:41 (Mothership Music Publishing, BMI)

arranged by Andrew Neu

Solos: Janis Siegel – vocals, Jonathan Challoner – trumpet, sax soli – David Dejesus – alto, Andrew Gould – alto, Peter Brainin – tenor, Jeff Lederer – tenor, Danny Rivera – bari

9. AMAZONAS – composed by Lysias Enio, João Donato – 5:43 (Monsapec Music Inc., BMI)

arranged by Jeremy Fletcher, background vocals arranged by Janis Siegel

Solos: Janis Siegel – vocals, Takao Heisho – cuica, Gabrielle Garo – flute, Ben Sutin – violin, David Dejesus – alto sax

10. SPOOKY –  Mike Sharpe (Shapiro), Harry Middlebrooks Jr., J.R. Cobb, Buddy Buie – 5:38 (Concord Music Publishing, ASCAP)

arranged by Jeremy Fletcher, background vocals arranged by Janis Siegel and Bobby Sanabria, based on a small group arrangement originally done by Christian McBride

Solos: Janis Siegel – vocals, Gabrielle Garo – flute intro and outro, Peter Brainin – tenor sax

11. TO BE WITH YOU – composed by William Manuel “Willie” Torres, Nick Jimenez – 4:21 (Aurea Music, BMI)

arranged by Jeremy Fletcher, background vocals arranged by Janis Siegel

Solos: Janis Siegel – vocals, Darwin Noguera – piano

12. DO IT AGAIN – composed by Walter Becker, Donald Fagen – 5:44 (Giant Music Inc., ASCAP)

arranged by Jeremy Fletcher, background vocals arranged by Janis Siegel and Bobby Sanabria

Solos: Janis Siegel, Jennifer Jade Ledesna, Antoinette Montague – vocals, Noah Bless – trombone, Gabrielle Garo – flute

13. MI CONGO – composed by Eddie Palmieri, arranged by Takao Heisho, background vocals arranged by Bobby Sanabria – 12:15 (Palmas Floribe, Inc., BMI)

Solos: Oreste Abrantes, Jennifer Jade Ledesna – melody vocals, Oreste Abrantes – soneo (vocal improv), Ben Sutin – violin, Danny Rivera – bari sax, David Dejesus – soprano, Peter Brainin – tenor sax, Andrew Gould – alto sax, Jeff Lederer – tenor sax, Max Darché – trumpet, Bobby Sanabria – drums, vocal exclamations

TOTAL TIME: 1 hour 24 minutes 19 seconds



Bobby Sanabria – musical director, drums, mounted bells, wind chimes, background vocals, vocal exclamations
Oreste Abrantes – congas, lead and background vocals
Matthew Gonzalez – bongó/cencerro (hand bongó bell), barril de bomba, requinto pandereta, ganza, Puerto Rican guicharo, agogo, background vocals
Takao Heisho – Cuban guiro, agogo bells, claves, cuica, pandeiro, maracas, shekere, tambourine, background vocals
Darwin Noguera – piano
Leo Traversa – electric bass

David Dejesus – lead alto, soprano
Andrew Gould – alto
Peter Brainin – tenor, also maracas on “Spooky” and “Do It Again”
Jeff Lederer – tenor
Danny Rivera – bari

Max Darché – lead
Matt Hilgenberg
Jonathan Challoner

Andrew Neesley 

Dave Miller – lead
Noah Bless
Armando Vergara
Chris Washburne – bass trombone

Ben Sutin

Gabrielle Garo

Janis Siegel, Antoinette Montague, Jennifer Jade Ledesna


Additional Credits

Recorded Live at Dizzy’s Club Coca Cola, NYC – June 18, 19, 2022

Executive Producers: Randy Klein for Jazzheads, Bobby Sanabria
Producer: Bobby Sanabria
Recording Engineer: Jamie Macomber
Assistant Engineer: Chris Gold
Mixing: Jim Gately, Valhalla Sound
Mastering: Gene Paul, G & J Audio
Announcer: Desmond Prass

Front cover concept: Bobby Sanabria
Front cover photo of Bobby with Nashville Giant Microphone by: Elena Martinez
Graphic Design: Chris Van Vooren – C.V. Design

Bobby Sanabria endorses TAMA drums (Starclassic Maple Drums used on this recording), Sabian cymbals, Latin Percussion Inc., Remo drumheads, Vic Firth sticks and mallets

Oreste Abrantes endorses Latin Percussion Inc.

Matthew Gonzalez endorses TOCA percussion

Takao Heisho endorses Latin Percussion Inc.