Catasauqua Press

Tuesday, September 17, 2019
CONTRIBUTED PHOTOSteve Sandberg Quartet, “Jazz Upstairs,” 7:30 p.m. April 5, Rodale Community Room, Miller Symphony Hall, Allentown. CONTRIBUTED PHOTOSteve Sandberg Quartet, “Jazz Upstairs,” 7:30 p.m. April 5, Rodale Community Room, Miller Symphony Hall, Allentown.

Sandberg brings a wealth of talent to ‘Jazz Upstairs’

Friday, April 5, 2019 by GEORGE VANDOREN Special to The Press in Focus

The Steve Sandberg Quartet visits the “Jazz Upstairs” series, 7:30 p.m. April 5, Rodale Community Room, Miller Symphony Hall, Allentown.

Sandberg is a three-time Grammy Award-winning composer and a pianist with a wealth of experience in a variety of music genres.

He’s joined by Rob Thomas, violin; Michael O’Brien, bass, and Mauricio Zottarelli, drums.

Says Sandberg, “Everyone in the band is a virtuoso.”

Sandberg grew up in Brooklyn and began classical piano studies at age four:

“I had a wonderful classical teacher, but at around age 17, I said to myself, ‘This is kind of ridiculous, but if I haven’t memorized something or looked at the music, I can’t play.’ I listened to a lot of Latin music. I loved that above all.”

At Yale University, Sandberg studied composition but kept a strong interest in salsa. After graduation, he moved to New York City and became a freelance musician.

“Then I met Mario Rivera, my mentor. He was an old-school jazz cat who lived for the music. Mario would bring all these instruments: saxophones, flutes, and a trumpet and flugelhorn. He could do it all.”

Rivera played in the bands of such greats as Dizzy Gillespie, Eddie Palmieri and Tito Puente.

Sandberg composed and arranged for Celia Cruz, Ruben Blades, and Daniel Ponce and opened for the legendary João Gilberto in a duo with vocalist Bebel Gilberto in Brazil.

Sandberg refers to his award-winning works, scoring, songwriting and directing the music for TV’s children educational animated shows, “Dora the Explorer,” “Go, Diego, Go!” and “Dora and Friends” and his conducting and arranging for Broadway and Off-Broadway shows as “my promotional gig.”

He says the assignments gave him time to explore his musical interests, which came to include Balkan, Brazilian, Indian and other forms of world music.

“I decided to get back to playing the piano and I studied with Seymour Bernstein and revisited classical music.”

That would be Seymour of “Seymour the Introduction” fame. From there, it was a small step to putting together a band that blended all of Sandberg’s influences and styles.

Bassist Michael O’Brien received a BA in Spanish from the University of Minnesota. He studied bass with Anthony Cox, and West African and Haitian percussion with Marc Anderson. He has composed for and performed with Harry Connick Jr., Ruben Blades, Jeff Hirshfield, David Binney, The Jazz Mandolin Project, Joel Harrison and Oriente Lopez.

Brazilian-born drummer-composer Mauricio Zottarelli received a degree from Berklee College of Music where he majored in film-scoring, performance and arranging. He has performed with Eliane Elias, Lee Ritenour, Dave Grusin, Esperanza Spalding, Eddie Daniels, Paquito D’Rivera, Cláudio Roditi and Geoffrey Keezer. He has recorded several CDs and has won Brazilian Music Awards.

Violinist Rob Thomas has recorded with Lee Konitz, The Jazz Passengers, The Mahavishnu Project and Andy Summers. He has performed at Lincoln Center with John Handy’s Monterey Quintet and Paquito D’Rivera’s Bird With Strings project. He’s a professor at Berklee College of Music, Boston, and adjunct instructor at the New School and City College, New York City.

Of the ensemble, Sandberg says, “They get it. They’re such high-level players. They can play very naturally. Some people play very safe. We don’t play that way. When it works, there’s a tremendous excitement.”

Regarding the “Jazz Upstairs” performance, Sandberg says, “The biggest positive feedback I get is that the music is very sophisticated and very communicative and approachable.

“I want to play music that reaches people emotionally. Expect to hear a lot of influences, but it’s not a little of this and a little of that. It’s very coherent. It’s a blending of all the influences.”

Tickets: Miller Symphony Hall box office, 23 N. Sixth St., Allentown;; 610-432-6715