Kansas City’s Latin tempo is rising. That can largely be attributed to Pablo Sanhueza and his seven-piece ensemble, The KC Latin Jazz All-Stars. Marking its 15th anniversary in 2018, the area’s premier salsa and Latin jazz orchestra has cut a broad swath through the city, performing at The Blue Room, Vox Theatre, the Gem Theater, Union Station, the Nelson-Atkins and Kemper museums, and many other local venues, along with out-of-town shows in Omaha, Wichita and Topeka.
Building on that success, Sanhueza will launch a new band this fall, coinciding with National Hispanic Heritage Month. The Kansas City Latin Jazz Orchestra, an 11-member ensemble which includes core performers from the All-Stars, is organized in the big-band format and is incorporated as a non-profit with an educational mission: “to preserve, foster and advance Latin Jazz, Salsa music and dance, and Latin American folklore, through cultural immersion, community engagement and outreach, education, performance and international exchange.”
KCLJO’s board currently has four voting members. Sanhueza is the organization’s artistic director; All-Stars manager Cynthia Ammerman is executive director.
A ticketed inagural concert is planned for the fall. Also in the works is the group’s first major fundraising event and the debut of a short documentary about the band.
“It is imperative for the projection and integrity of the culture,” Sanhueza says, “that its primary Latino and local artists and organizers — those who created the conditions for this music to take root in the Kansas City region during the late 1980s and early 1990s — are acknowledged and provided support, in order for them to continue projecting this culture into the 21st century.”
He adds, “The Kansas City Latin Jazz Orchestra is an evolution of this tradition and will continue to honor this work by expanding our cultural and educational offerings to youth, working musicians and the community.”
Sanhueza moved to Kansas City in 1996 to join his parents, who came to the U.S. in 1977 to escape the Pinochet dictatorship in Chile, where they had been political prisoners. Three years later he moved to Albuquerque, where he attended the University of New Mexico, and then to California, where he became involved in the music scene. In 2003 Sanhueza returned to Kansas City and enrolled in the Jazz Studies Program at UMKC with Bobby Watson. That same year, he formed the KC Latin Jazz All-Stars, in partnership with the American Jazz Museum.
Sanhueza toured the U.S. and Europe with Watson in 2006; he’s also studied under Afro-Cuban, Congolese, Brazilian and Senegalese masters. In 2014 he took a research trip to Chile, Peru and Bolivia to more fully develop his repertoire.
Passionate and committed to the music that he plays, Sanhueza is a bona fide, formally trained bandleader. He is a mentor to his multi-ethnic band members, who come from Chicano, Peruvian, Colombian, Filipino/Italian and Guyanese backgrounds. He collaborates with them to compose original music, a predominant component of the band’s shows. They study and practice classics, and then improvise.
An accomplished songwriter as well as a percussionist, Sanhueza is the band’s source for truth in musical and cultural elements. That has always been his goal as part of the first wave of Salseros and Latin jazz artists in the Midwest.
The past year has been a busy one for Sanhueza and the All-Stars, with private events, ongoing work in the recording studio, campus visits and a youth workshop at the Boys and Girls Club. In January, as part of a series of exchange events with Chilean musicians, Sanhueza organized a percussion performance accompanied by 28 dancers in one of the oldest working-class neighborhoods in Santiago. The rousing performance was met with wild enthusiasm.
Thanks to the All-Stars — which drew 20,000 people to 80 KC performances last year alone — Sanhueza’s new Kansas City Latin Jazz Orchestra will begin with a solid fan base.
The Kansas City Latin Jazz Orchestra will perform at the Blue Room on the last Thursday of every month from August through December 2018. For more information about the ticketed inaugural concert planned for this fall, visit www.kansascitylatinjazzorchestra.com or www.pablosanhuezamusic.com.
Above: Pablo Sanhueza of the KC Latin Jazz All-Stars and the band’s manager, Cynthia Ammerman, have launched a new band, The Kansas City Latin Jazz Orchestra, which will make its public debut this fall. (photo by Brad A. Kinnan)