John Santos Finds His Groove


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...for a lot of artists, our backs are up against the wall. We don't have any choices. Our music will not get out if we don't put it out ourselves. —John Santos
John Santos is riding high these days. His most recent album, S.F. Bay , was nominated for a Grammy Award as Latin Jazz Album of the Year. He has received increasing notice from critics, and is a recognized leader not only in the Bay Area's Latin scene, but in jazz as a whole. This spring, Santos is leading a series of talks and concerts at La Pe'a Cultural Center in Berkeley, focusing on the issues and experiences of local musicians. I caught up with Santos shortly before the Grammy Awards ceremony in February.

All About Jazz: Let's start with the obvious: you've been nominated for a Grammy. How does that feel?

John Santos: Oh, it's fine (laughs). I haven't had much time to really trip on it. I've been really, really busy with a lot of things, so I haven't had a lot of time to let it sink in. Which is good, because I don't want to get nervous about it. In reality it doesn't change things too much. We've been getting a lot of good congratulatory messages, and calls from friends, but once they announce the winners, nobody's going to remember who the nominees were. [The Caribbean Jazz Project eventually took the prize, for their 2002 album, The Gathering.] It looks good on the resume, though, so that's nice. But seriously, it really is an honor to be recognized. And for us that means a lot. I feel happy for the players in the group. We've been together for a real long time. Our group has been together 17 years, and this is the first time we've had that type of recognition.

AAJ: Your friend Omar Sosa was also nominated. How does it feel to go up against a friend and collaborator like that?

JS: You know, the whole field is kind of like that. Of the five people and groups that were nominated, four of the groups are all friends! I was playing with Jane Bunnett just a few weeks ago in Havana, sitting in with her band. We're good friends. Omar and I have a long history of collaboration. Omar is a guest on my album, and I'm a guest on his album. And the Caribbean Jazz Project is full of players we've known for many years, so it is a very family, in-house kind of feel. The only artist in there we're not real familiar with is this cat from Brazil, Duduka da Fonseca.

It's kind of funny to find ourselves in this position, where we're all competing against each other, but whoever wins, it's going to be cool, because it's going to be somebody from within the family, and somebody who's not one of those persons who always gets nominated and always wins. Not that those guys don't deserve it, but it's good that whoever does it this time is one of the small guys, so to speak.

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