Ed Fast can’t technically call himself a Latino, so instead, he calls himself a “Latino at heart.” Heart is all the drummer needs to share his love of Latin Jazz with the world.
Spurred by the growth of the Latin music genre in Connecticut, and hoping to expose a younger generation to the unique sound, Fast is serving as director during the inaugural year of the Latin Meets Jazz summer program at The Hartt School,
The Hartt School, the performing arts conservatory of the University of Hartford, which will run for a week this July.
Just over a year ago, Fast also created the Latin Jazz percussion program for the school, which had a successful first year.
Inspiring Youth with Latin Jazz
Exposing young musicians to the genre is key in keeping the tradition of Latin music alive, Fast said, and the response to the summer program has been overwhelmingly positive.
“I would especially like to have the younger kids become more aware of how great and how fun it is,” he said. “Introducing more folks to such vibrant music. . . I don’t think it gets heard enough, actually.”
As a drummer, he said he is particularly drawn to the rhythms of Latin music. “I love jazz but with the Latin jazz, you have. . . all kinds of percussion and it’s this rich source of Afro-Cuban rhythms,” he said.
He adds that the draw of Latin music doesn’t just strike a chord with Latinos. Fast recounted a stay in Russia, while he was touring with a Broadway show, and playing for an audience that took a particular liking to his music.
“Even when I toured with shows, I brought my Latin jazz tunes with me and we would go find other venues to play after the shows,” he recalled. “One New Year’s Eve we played at this nightclub in Moscow. They were really into it.”
Fast said he was exposed to Latin music in college. The great thing about about Latin jazz, he explained, is the diversity of musicians throughout the genre.
From Swedish musician Cal Tjader to Tito Puente, who had root ins Puerto Rico, “there’s been contributions from every type of person across the planet.”
Hartford resident shares his Latin sound
Dave Giardina grew up in Westport, Conn., but he says he prefers the lively sounds of mariachi over the peaceful lapping of waves on the shores of his picturesque hometown. Now a resident of Hartford, he plays lead guitar in his Latin fusion band Goza and his mariachi band Fiesta del Norte, both of which play in many clubs and restaurants around the state.
Giardina is another champion of the Latin music movement, his music and passion sustaining the proliferation of the genre in Connecticut.
“Latino music is growing, Gringos and Latinos alike love it,” he said. “People love to go and dance and salsa is the most popular dance music in the world. There’s nothing like a live band. Latinos love to dance and everyone gets up in their culture and does it more naturally.”
Goza plays Latin jazz, salsa and samba and features guitar, violin, trumpet, percussion and bass.
He changed the name of his first band, Tequila to Fiesta del Norte, which plays at schools, town concerts and all kinds of functions. The band features guitar and other stringed instruments, including a vihuela and a guitarron, as well as violin, trumpet, marimba and harp. Karina Hernandez sings lyrics in Spanish.
He said, “I learned mariachi living in Texas in the late ‘70s, I loved the food and the tequila and the Mayan empire.”
Seeking Latin Music in CT
For residents looking for a way to enjoy Latin music in Connecticut, there is no shortage of options. It has become almost ubiquitous locally, pumping through the radio, playing in the background at restaurants and pulsing throughout night clubs. You can dance to the infectious beat or sing along to the captivating lyrics – in Spanish or English – thanks to crossover artists who appear on mainstream as well as Latin stations.
One of the best parts about the Latin music movement in Connecticut is that the sound is so diverse and varied, there is something for everyone to enjoy.
“The good thing about Spanish music is it’s a little bit of everything, four or more genres with crossover variety,” said Joel Claudio, program director at Bomba FM, Connecticut’s only Spanish FM station. Bomba simulcasts its Spanish programming on stations in Hartford, Bridgeport, Meriden and Waterbury.
The station launched its Latino format in 1999 and it now entertains more than 150,000 listeners, Claudio said, adding that their goal is to reach a variety of listeners. “It’s a Caribbean mix of all cultures, not just listeners from Puerto Rico or Central America. It’s a little flavor from all different countries.”
WPKN, Bridgeport’s renowned community radio station, features three Latino music shows, according to station general manager Steve di Costanzo: La Esquina Latina on Sundays, Barricuda on Saturdays, and Salsa Drive Time on the second and fourth Friday of each month.
La Esquina Latina is the most popular show, entertaining listeners since 1974 with music from Tito Puente, Celia Cruz, La Lupe, Reuben Blades, Willie Colon, Willie Bobo and many others, according to Luis Pomales, who started the show and co-hosts it with Edwin Muniz.
Pomales said the state of Connecticut recognized the show with an award for community leadership, due to the fact that the music is carefully chosen to send a specific message to listeners.
“I use salsa to get the point across. No music demeans women, all lyrics have a social significance and a redeemable message,” Pomales explained. “Let’s send a solid message to our youth. Embrace education, reject crime and drugs and always try to do the right thing.”
For the late-night crowd, opportunities abound around the state to hear live Latin music at clubs and restaurants. Casona, a Hartford restaurant, Restaurante Mezcal in New Haven and Barcelona in West Hartford are just a few establishments that frequently put on Latin acts and music.
Barcelona offers Goza, Giardina’s Latin jazz fusion band every Thursday night, which attracts 170 to 400 patrons every week, manager Greg Martell said.
(Photo by Elvert Barnes via Flickr)