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Jonathan Goldman: Bump and Let It Slide

Chris M. Slawecki By

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Boogaloo welcomes everyone, whatever degree of familiarity you have with Latin music and culture. —Jonathan Goldman
On Saturday February 29, Spanglish Fly will celebrate completing their tenth full year as America's leading producer and exporter of the wicked hot musical sauce known as Latin boogaloo with a special anniversary performance hosted by the legendary Brooklyn hotspot Barbes.

The quintessential musical melting pot Spanglish Fly features musicians with roots in Puerto Rico, Ecuador, Venezuela, Japan, Argentina, Colombia, and Upper Manhattan, all brought together in New York City by trumpet player and DJ Jonathan Goldman in 2010. Through ten years of incendiary live performances and two studio albums, they've earned the title "The New Kings of Boogaloo" (Felix Contreras, NPR's Alt.Latino).

You may very well ask what boogaloo is. You may very well not get the same answer twice. But one thing's for sure: If it doesn't make you groove, it's not boogaloo. Boogaloo's got that thing, that thang, that funky shing-a-ling—whatever name you put on your groove, boogaloo's got it by the ton.

In 2015, Spanglish Fly successfully transferred its potent groove from the stage to the studio with the release of their full-length debut New York Boogaloo (Chaco World Music). "So many elements can be brought into boogaloo because the musical platform gives you plenty of room to do things. The spirit of the music is intensely inviting," Goldman explained at the time. "I felt when I first got into the music that I was invited to a party. Boogaloo welcomes everyone, whatever degree of familiarity you have with Latin music and culture. It's a wide-open door that says, 'Come on in here and dance with us. Have fun.'"

"Brooklyn Boogaloo" brought Spanglish Fly's New York Boogaloo full circle with its shout out ("Just like we did back in the day/ Just put your hands together and say/ Beep beep, bang bang/ Brooklyn, do your thang...") to Joe Cuba's 1966 boogaloo landmark "Bang Bang." "Bang Bang" inspired the following year's hit "Boogaloo Blues" by Johnny Colón, which lit such a fire under young club DJ Goldman that he began spinning records as "DJ Jonny Semi-Colon." While watching late-'60s Latin boogaloo records by Cuba, Mongo Santamaria, and Joe Bataan consistently rock the house during his DJ sets, Goldman put together the idea of Spanglish Fly.

Ay Que Boogaloo! (Chaco World Music) followed New York Boogaloo in 2018 with a heart still pulsing the Big Apple beat. Bataan jumped onto the B-train for the vocal in "New York Rules," which cleverly chopped up the famous riff from "Take the 'A' Train" and blended it into a boogaloo shuffle, while "Boogaloo Shoes" copped its opening riff from Lionel Hampton's classic "Hey! Ba-Ba-Re-Bop!"

Ay Que Boogaloo! also realized one of Goldman's longstanding musical dreams. "When I started the band a zillion years ago, I planned to have two women lead singers, inspired by records by Ray Terrace, The Latin Blues Band, and Joey Pastrana," said Goldman. "That plan fell by the wayside, but was finally revived with Mariella Gonzalez and Paloma Muñoz, who work together beautifully." Gonzalez and Muñoz gloriously tag-team "Bugalú Pa' Mi Abuela" and the band's Spanish-Arabic protest song "Ojalá Inshallah," while Gonzalez sensuously smolders and burns through Amy Winehouse's smokey "You Know I'm No Good."

Spike Lee used "New York Rules" and "Coco Helado" from Ay Que Boogaloo! in his Netflix series She's Gotta Have It.

Goldman also serves as an associate professor, instructing writing and courses about twentieth-century literature and culture, at the New York Institute of Technology. In August 2019, he was appointed Vice-President of the James Joyce Society (founded in New York City in 1947), to assume the presidency in 2021. In January 2020, Goldman launched the digital history project New York 1920: 100 Years Ago Today, When We Became Modern , a curated archive of articles and headlines from New York newspapers and magazines plus multi-media files which tell the story of one year in the life of the world's biggest city.

Balancing in between centuries of life in New York City, and in between decades of Latin boogaloo in Spanglish Fly, gives Jonathan Goldman the colorful and kaleidoscopic perspective you'll read below.

All About Jazz: One of the things that attracts people to Latin boogaloo is the wonderful feeling of liberation and fun it consistently brings. Do you remember and can you please describe the first two or three times you felt that feeling from listening to or playing this music?

Jonathan Goldman: Every. Damn. Time. For real: It's always new, it's always fresh, it's always dynamic, it's always unpredictable, it's always exciting. There's always something new that happens on stage. There's always someone new in the audience. Spanglish Fly does not have off nights.

AAJ: The history of jazz-funk includes names like guitarist Ivan "Boogaloo Joe" Jones and Bernard Purdie, who many call a master of boogaloo drumming. Are there substantial differences between Latin boogaloo and jazz boogaloo and if so could you please try to explain or describe them?

JG: Funny thing, my first sustained musical encounter with the word boogaloo was probably via Lou Donaldson's "Alligator Boogaloo." I have always privately referred to that style as "Blue Note Boogaloo" because much of it appears on Blue Note Records. Blue Note boogaloo meets Latin boogaloo, of course, in the Herbie Hancock/Mongo Santamaria tune "Watermelon Man"" Herbie's version is jazz; Mongo's is Latin.

These are two pretty different musical styles that share the same linguistic origin, the word coming out of mid-twentieth-century African American dance communities. What they share musically is less the formal elements and more that gritty funkiness with a hint of bubblegum. That said, Latin boogaloo is a very capacious genre. We can absolutely play something that sounds like jazz boogaloo and very few people will blink and say you're doing something wrong, just like we can throw in elements of funk, rock, gospel, doo-wop.

It's funny regarding terminology. I've had musicians come through Spanglish Fly who have insisted that the only thing that should be called boogaloo is the 1-4-5 chord progression style, because that's how they were trained. I've had other musicians say that boogaloo just means funk. I've had musicians be very sure they are right and other people are wrong.

I stopped worrying about this a long time ago.

AAJ: You're not only the bandleader but you also play trumpet in Spanglish Fly. Many jazz fans are familiar with such "Latin trumpeters" as Luis Gasca and Arturo Sandoval, but who inspired you to play in this style? What other Latin boogaloo trumpet players should we know more about?

JG: Oddly enough, considering your last question, the only one trumpet player I ever consciously have in mind is Lee Morgan, who was, of course, a Blue Note stalwart. I love the great Latin trumpet players, of course— Chocolate Armenteros, for example. A favorite for listening is Ray Barretto's "Acid," which features trumpet solos by Rene Lopez (whose son is an amazing musician in New York City today) and Roberto Rodriguez .

AAJ: Your band biography says that you've worked with Fania Records' producer Harvey Averne, so I've got to ask: Legendary Latin boogaloo trombone player Johnny Colón was also part of the Fania Records family; did he ever come to see you when you were doing gigs as DJ Jonny Semi-Colon?

JG: Nope, but we opened for Johnny Colón a few years back. He had heard I was riffing on his name, and he found it funny. He was amazingly gracious, kind, and supportive in general.

AAJ: How did British conguero Snowboy end up performing on your version of "Chain of Fools"?

JG: I met Mark a few years back, through a French music-writer, Yannick Le Maintec. When Mark was coming through New York a few years ago and it coincided with our recording sessions, I invited him to come hang out. Of course, when he got to the studio he wanted to sit in, which is what I had been secretly hoping.

AAJ: How has Latin boogaloo evolved over Spanglish Fly's first decade?

JG: Bit by bit, it is creeping toward the mainstream of US consciousness. More and more Latin bands are publicizing the fact that they play boogaloo, even if they are primarily salsa bands, and I think people are recognizing that boogaloo is a style that, like any other, can be the basis of a group's sound but not restrict that group to being repetitive.

AAJ: What celebrations do you have planned to honor Spanglish Fly's first ten years?

JG: One giant party coming up at Barbes on February 29th! And heading back into the studio later this year.

AAJ: Over the years, what two or three hit songs have kept crying out for you to cover Latin boogaloo style?

JG: Well, keeping in mind that I'm not sure we will ever outdo our "Chain of Fools" ... When we started out, I was determined that we were really going to impersonate the sixties boogaloo bands, which meant any covers we did would have to be of tunes that appeared during or before the boogaloo era. That's how we wound up covering "Think," the old 5 Royales tune which James Brown made more famous. In our early repertoire, we had some fun Latin arrangements of soul tunes that we never recorded: "Heard It Through the Grapevine," "Time Is On My Side," "Take Me in Your Arms (Rock Me A Little While)." We broke out of that pattern, of course, to do the Amy Winehouse tune.

Sometimes I'm thinking about how I'd like to Latin boogaloo-ize some song, and then I'll just wind up stealing bits of it and dropping them into our originals. That's how we wind up with bits of Curtis Mayfield, Mary Wells, Otis Redding and Serge Gainsbourg in "Love Graffiti Me," for example. "Boogaloo Shoes" has some Louis Jordan and a riff from The Cars. "Return of the Popo" has a riff stolen from KRS-1.

One thing that Harvey Averne taught me: Cover versions work great as instrumentals, because the audience already is hearing the lyrics in their heads.

Anyway, if you're looking for a more direct answer to your question: I'd like to Latin-ize Carly Simon's "You're So Vain," mashing it up with Dee Dee Warwick's "You''re No Good," and Marvin Gaye's "Inner City Blues" mashed up with The Beatles' "I've Got a Feeling." And Smoota's "Aphrodisiac."

AAJ: You're obviously a person of broad and different interests: Who or what cemented your interest in stepping up as the leader of Spanglish Fly and making it a long-term gig?

JG: Is it a long-term gig? I guess ten years is a pretty long time. Longer than The Beatles lasted, right? I don't know, man. Remember that episode of The Simpsons with Fidel Castro? The Cuban government's in a meeting and they decide they have "lost"? And Castro says: Come on everyone, we all knew this communism mumbo-jumbo wouldn't fly! (By the way, I say this as someone whose politics are somewhere between socialist and democratic socialist.) Anyway, I feel like that with Spanglish Fly sometimes. Like, maybe there are only x number of promoters out there who would ever book us. How much longer until we've exhausted them all?

As far as being the leader, well, since I started the band and I had a firm vision of what I wanted to be, there's never been any question of whether I was going to be the leader. The people who came in and wanted to work under a different organizational structure, they wound up leaving and starting their own bands, which is for the best for everyone. And I'm still friends with those people. (Well, some just on social media.)

Yeah, it's a grind at times. And as you know, I'm a teacher and a writer and those aspects of my life are as important to me as playing music. But the last few years, let's say the second half of Spanglish Fly's first decade, I've kind of got it all down to a science. Until the nervous breakdown, anyway.

AAJ: What two or three things—performances, recordings, workshops, events, encounters, etc.—do you remember as your proudest or most satisfying moments from Spanglish Fly's first decade?

JG: I don't know about proudest or most satisfying. Let me just rattle off a bunch of memorable moments. Okay, let me start by saying that our last album Ay Que Boogaloo!, I'm as proud of that album as I am of anything I've ever created. The whole band poured its soul into that, and my co-producer Chaco poured his soul into that, and I poured like seven souls into that. I mean, I'm proud of all of Spanglish's recorded output, but that one has something extra special about it on every track, from the Arabic chant here to the percussion break there to the organ riff here to the spoken word bit there, etc.

I'll never forget the experience of creating that one. I'll never forget the experience of having Mariela improvising what seemed endless soneos while the band grooved behind her, looking around at each other in astonishment. I'll never forget spending sultry summer afternoons in Chaco's apartment composing tunes, challenging each other. I'll never forget being in Buenos Aires to meet the amazing Eduardo Bergallo and spending the day with him as he mastered the record. I'll never forget the day that my kid Charlie was hanging out in the studio and Rowan Ricardo Phillips was there to record his poem on Coco Helado, and he had his daughter Imogen with him, and so Chaco and I looked at each other and said, hey we got to get these kids on the microphone and have them overdub some parts!

Oh, that wasn't very good rattling off, was it? I'll just say I love all of our gigs, whether playing for thousands of people at a festival or 25 in a room in Brooklyn, and I love all of our collaborations with musicians and performers of every stripe.

AAJ: What are you most optimistic or hopeful about as Spanglish Fly takes the first few steps into its second decade?

JG: Optimism isn't really my game, you know? It's like our bassist, Rafael, said to me one day after a meeting: "We're all going to be dust someday." I'm just trying to do as best as I can, work on the things that I think are important, until it all comes crashing down, whether because of a climate crisis or because Fuckface in the White House starts a nuclear war or because they're shipping me off to the asylum.

AAJ: Brooklyn sounds like such an awesome and wide-open cultural melting pot. Did you ever run into or even work with any of the Beastie Boys there?

JG: I haven't heard from Ad-Rock and Mike D since we pulled a job together in the early '80s. They still each owe me five bucks.

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