For many years, we thought of New York as the centerpiece of the Latin Jazz world in the United States. While that’s certainly still a hotbed of activity for the music, there’s no doubt that this has become a truly national experience with high quality Latin Jazz being found across the country. Movement of mentor figures made a huge difference, as influential musicians left New York and settled across the country, new scenes developed. Now, we’ve got several centers of activity for the music these days, ranging from San Francisco to Los Angeles, Miami, and of course, New York. That’s not the end of the story though – between a wide number of current educational resources for musicians hoping to learn the style as well as the international availability for recordings from both legends and newcomers, we’ve seen strong groups appear in the most unlikely locations. This regular series will highlight groups that are making high quality music outside the traditional artistic “centers’ and showing us that Latin Jazz is alive and well across the country.
Drummer and bandleader Ed Fast has been diving head first into Latin Jazz for years, bringing Latin Jazz to the Connecticut area, based upon a solid foundation of musicality and technical knowledge. Fast found a love for music through his homelife and school, playing piano first before diving into drums and percussion. It was his time at The Hartt School Of Music that really opened his eyes to the greater world of music, as he studied classical percussion, big band drumming and more with Alexander Lepak. Armed with a new set of skills, Fast got work playing traditional Mexcian music in a marimba band which opened the door to a huge influence upon his work, Cal Tjader. As he dug deeply into Tjader’s work, Fast connected with conguero Bill Fitch, a Connecticut resident who played on Tjader’s album Sona Libre and contributed the iconic composition “Insight” to Tjader’s repertoire. Fitch’s influence only invested Fast deeper into the Latin Jazz world, and after spending time transcribing songs from Tjader, Hilton Ruiz, Jerry Gonzalez, and more, he formed his own group, Conga-Bop. The band performed regularly around the Hartford area, interrupted occasionally by Fast’s extensive work playing in pit bands for touring musical theater productions. Fast released Conga-Bop’s debut recording Straight Shot in 2007, delivering a top notch collection of both original Latin Jazz compositions and creative arrangements. As he moved forward in his own career, Fast also became a mentor for young people interested in Latin Jazz, working with Zaccai, Luques, and Damien Curtis, musicians who would become important figures in their own right. Conga-Bop continues to perform around Connecticut, keeping the Latin Jazz tradition alive with high quality performances, a studied approach to the music, and a strong pride in the tradition.
Fast and Conga-Bop have certainly put some music together that deserves attention – once you check it out, you’ll be looking for more. These videos feature Fast and his band Conga Bop performing at the Old Lyme Midsummer Festival in 2010, giving you a solid idea of the impressive musicianship and core knowledge in the group. The first video includes a performance of the title track from their debut album, “Straight Shot,” a funky cha cha cha that gives their band members a chance to stretch out. The second video features a Fast original composition, “Encarnacion,” a scorching rumba, showing the band’s high energy blend of jazz harmonies and authentic Cuban rhythms at full tilt. The last clip is a heavy piece with an equal blend of Latin influence, jazz improvisation, and fusion edge, revealing yet another side to the band on “Do Or Die.” There’s some great stuff here, that’s worth a listen – Latin Jazz is alive and well in Connecticut and Ed Fast is doing his part to make sure that remains true.
Do Or Die
Want To Find Out More About Ed Fast & Conga-Bop?
Check out the Ed Fast & Conga-Bop Website
Make sure that you check out the debut release from Ed Fast & Conga-Bop:
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Spotlight: Straight Shot, Ed Fast And Conga-Bop
Latin Jazz Conversations: Zaccai Curtis (Part 1)
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