Salsa, folklore and timba: Afro-Latin Jazz Ensemble encourages musical diversity

Dec. 4, 2023, 8:23 p.m.

On a Wednesday night in Dinkelspiel Auditorium, four vocalists rehearse an arrangement of Cuban singer Celia Cruz, accompanied by a pianist to their right. Through these weekly rehearsals, Stanford Afro-Latin Jazz Ensemble (SALJE) aims to educate its members on the cultural and historical significance of a diverse repertoire.

The ensemble was founded by four-time Grammy-nominated pianist and lecturer Murray Low in 2008 and has since become one of the most respected groups of its kind. 

SALJE brings together Stanford undergraduates and community affiliates for performances of salsa, Afro-folklore, rumba jazz and more. In its fall concert, which took place this past Saturday, the group performed a mix of old school jazz, Cuban charanga and funky timba, along with traditional salsa and Latin jazz pieces.

Low created SALJE to showcase the multitude of cultural music that stems from the African diaspora around the world. The ensemble is currently chartered by the Department of Music.

“Our purpose is to really highlight Afro-Latin music in its many contexts by thinking about how the music transcends continents and brings people together,” Low said. 

The ensemble hosts members that come from different musical backgrounds. No experience in Afro-Latin music is necessary to join — just a readiness to learn and explore. 

Sebastian Andrews ’25 joined SALJE during spring quarter of his freshman year after taking jazz piano lessons from Low. He plays the piano in the ensemble. 

“I’m a person who plays all different kinds of music,” Andrews said. “I didn’t have much experience playing Latin jazz or salsa music, but now I think it’s the most fun genre I get to perform.”

Bassist Hayyah Muller M.D. ’98 became involved with the ensemble around 10 years ago, first as an “observer” and eventually filling in when the ensemble needed an extra bassist for its performances. She said that she’s “gotten a lot better and learned a lot more about music theory” during her time in the group.

The complexities in the style of music that SALJE performs have also been informative for Muller’s growth as a bassist. 

“Salsa and Latin music are challenging and have a strong role for bass, so we always have really great material to play,” Muller said. 

SALJE comprises undergraduates, alumni like Muller and members of the greater Stanford community who share an affinity for Afro-Latin music.

“A lot of the players — including the other percussionists in the ensemble — are professional musicians who live nearby and Murray’s friends, and it’s really cool to get to play with them,” said percussionist Allie Bogetich ’25.

Despite coming from different walks of life, SALJE musicians create a shared group atmosphere marked by high-energy performances.

“It always feels like a party [during concerts],” trombonist Andrew Song ’25 said. “People get up and dance along to the music, and it’s just a great time.” 

The ensemble, which performs once a quarter, frequently features professional guest musicians. Next quarter, they will be joined by world-renowned pianist and director of the Spanish Harlem Orchestra Oscar Hernández. 

“One of the many great things about Murray is how well connected he is in the jazz and salsa scene,” Andrews said. “We’re able to have legends in the jazz world perform with us on a quarterly basis.” 

Bogetich, who also plays in the Stanford Wind Symphony, took MUSIC 18B: “Jazz History: Bebop to Present, 1940-Present” with Low last spring and became involved with SALJE during that quarter. 

“It’s a very niche genre of music for a campus group, and I just really enjoy that there’s a space to try new things,” said Bogetich.

You can listen to SALJE’s past recordings on SoundCloud here.

This article was updated to correct a misspelling of a SALJE member’s name. The Daily regrets this error.

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