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On Center: Spanish Harlem Orchestra

by on October 02, 2017 3:04 PM

Spanish Harlem Orchestra, a big band led by pianist Oscar Hernández, sets the standard for authentic New York City-style salsa dura music.

“Salsa may have its origins in Puerto Rico, Cuba, and Latin America, but it was forged in New York City and that at least is where its heart survives,” writes a BBC reporter. “The lifeblood comes from the Spanish Harlem district and right in its center is 100 St. Below that is Tito Puente Blvd. By naming your band … in such a way you are putting out a statement of intent that you’ll be playing hard or Dura salsa, a classic sound which is steeped in the music of the Latin greats, from Tito Puente and Machito to the Fania All Stars.”

Featuring an ensemble of world-class musicians and vocalists, the orchestra will perform November 9 at Eisenhower Auditorium as part of a 15th-anniversary tour that promises a precise, fresh, and exciting take on salsa.

“The best thing at the Newport Jazz Festival was the Spanish Harlem Orchestra,” writes a critic for The New York Times.

SHO, as the band is known to its fans, is dedicated to the sounds of the barrio. Its music is characterized by the raw, organic, and vintage soul of the genre.

“Watching the Spanish Harlem Orchestra in action … at the Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild Jazz Concert Hall you couldn’t tell whether you were supposed to listen or dance,” writes a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reviewer. “After all, the thirteen-piece band that performs traditional salsa music puts on a show the likes of which hadn’t been seen there in a while, if ever, and the entire performance, which included appropriate choreography, was tight as a drum (pun intended). It was easy to hear why every CD that the band has recorded has received a Grammy nomination.”

The band’s fifth album, Spanish Harlem Orchestra (2017), features guests Chick Corea and Joe Lovano. Each of the band’s previous recordings earned a Grammy nomination, with wins for Across 110th Street (2004) and United We Swing (2007).

 “Spanish Harlem Orchestra will be a bounty for both wallflowers and hipshakers,” writes a reporter for Time Out New York.

The presentation is part of the Center for the Performing Arts Diversity and Inclusion Collaborative. Funds from across Penn State and throughout the community support the initiative. The university’s Equal Opportunity Planning Committee provides lead funding. Sandra Zaremba and Richard Brown provide support. Learn more about the collaborative at

Foxdale Village, A Quaker-Directed Continuing Care Retirement Community, sponsors the concert. The Glenn and Nancy Gamble Endowment provides concert support. For concert tickets and information, visit or phone (814) 863-0255. John Mark Rafacz is the editorial manager of the Center for the Performing Arts.



John Mark Rafacz is the editorial manager of the Center for the Performing Arts at Penn State.
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