Live jazz returns to Cleveland this week with free concert from the Roberto Ocasio Foundation

With America returning to normal following the pandemic the return of live entertainment in Cleveland is music to many people’s ears. 

Staff at the Roberto Ocasio Foundation hopes to lead this musical return with a concert this Wednesday, July 21 at the Gartner Auditorium.

Bobby Sanabria Performers at this concert will include seven-time Grammy nominated drummer Bobby Sanabria, who is also an event director,  and vocalist Janis Siegal, who won 10 Grammys singing with the jazz group The Manhattan Transfer.

Audiences at this event can expect to hear music from the Great American Songbook, a canon of popular songs and jazz standards of 20th Century America.

Sanabria says the concert will also feature cross-sections of jazz like the Braziallian samba and the Cuban Mambo, which have west and central African rhythms like Bembé—a pattern that features striking a hollow metal instrument like a cowbell.

Sanabria says that he can’t wait for the public to see this concert—especially those who are new to jazz and Latin jazz—and he promises that everyone in attendance will have an enjoyable experience.

“I guarantee you'll become lifelong fans,” Sanabria says, “It’ll blow your mind and curve your spine.” 

Roberto Ocasio Foundation’s Latin jazz campThe Roberto Ocasio Foundation is a nonprofit organization based in Strongsville dedicated to educating the youth on music, especially Latin jazz.

So, teens and young children are especially encouraged to attend this concert.

“Bring a young person because this is the perfect opportunity for them,” Sanabria says. “It'll be a great evening for everyone, for the whole entire family.”

This year’s concert originally wasn’t going to happen, says foundation president Bev Montie. But she made the argument to foundation trustees in June that there was a need for live music.  

Within a week we had compiled availabilities and costs, and our grantors were on board, so we decided to go for it,” she says.  “It’s been a whirlwind ever since—designing promotion, booking musicians, and confirming facilities.”

The staff quickly secured the Gartner Auditorium at the Cleveland Museum of Art and found guest artists like Siegal and trombonist Paul Ferguson from the Cleveland Jazz Orchestra.

The details were finalized earlier this month. “What we’ve accomplished is not the ideal,” Montie says. “But not bad for three to four weeks’ time.”

Along with the guest artists, an orchestral ensemble made up of alumni of the Roberto Ocasio Foundation’s Latin jazz camp will also join the performance.

Vocalist Janis SiegalThis overnight camp is held annually at Case Western Reserve University during a five-day period in which teens in grades eight through 12 learn the history of and how to play the various styles of Latin jazz. 

Roberto Ocasio was a jazz musician who played eight instruments, primarily the piano.

Following his death in 2004, the foundation was created by Montie and current trustee Susan Stone with the hope of teaching new generations the value of music in any community.

For the past 17 years, the foundation has tried to honor the late Ocasio’s legacy by holding the Latin jazz camps and annual concerts.

For Sanabria, there are two things that keep him coming back to the Ocasio Foundation year after year: “My love for the students, to the art form,” says Sanabria, “and my supreme respect for Bev [Montie] for what she's accomplished over the years.”

Aside from his work at the Ocasio Foundation, Sanabria also hosts a show called "Latin Jazz Cruise" on the national WBGO radio network.

The concert was funded in part by a $4,000 Cuyahoga Arts and Culture project support grant. 

Masks are recommended, but not required to attend this event. 

The concert begins at 7 p.m. on July 21. Best of all, Sanabria says, this concert that would normally cost upwards $25 dollars will be free. “The tickets would be probably in the $50, $25 range, $35range,” says Sanabria. “But they’re completely free, so you can’t beat that.”

Reservations are not required and seating is on a first-come, first-serve basis. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. The livestream also begins at 7 p.m.

Read more articles by Danny Fogarty.

Danny Fogarty is a journalism major at The Ohio State University. As a journalist, he loves the opportunities to meet a variety of different people. He especially likes that any story can captivate the audience, no matter the scale. He has worked with his college newspaper at Ohio State, "The Lantern," and also works for 270 Gridiron sports league in central Ohio. With Freshwater, Danny hopes to meet many new people and bring life to all the amazing stories throughout Cleveland. 
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