West Side Story Reimagined (Jazzheads)

Bobby Sanabria Multiverse Big Band

Released July 20, 2018

Grammy Nominee for Best Latin Jazz Album 2019

Record of the Year 2019 Jazz Journalists Association Awards






“Two years ago I came up with the idea of re-arranging the music from Leonard Bernstein’s masterpiece West Side Story and performing it with my Multiverse Big Band, but in a way that has never been done before: a complete Latin jazz reworking of the entire score in celebration of the show’s recent 60th anniversary and Maestro Bernstein’s centennial. However, besides paying tribute to the composer and the music, I saw this as an opportunity to give back and help my ancestral homeland Puerto Rico. As most of us know, hurricanes Irma and Maria ravaged the island of Puerto Rico, leaving its residents unable to recover. Puerto Ricans have been American citizens since 1917, and the government’s response has been unsatisfactory at best. Six months later, entire communities are still living without food, water, power, and other basic needs we take for granted. I realized the best way I could help was through my music. What better way to portray the struggles and hardships of the people of Puerto Rico than West Side Story? We are dedicating this recording to the musical genius of Leonard Bernstein and donating proceeds from this special commemorative 2 CD set to the Jazz Foundation of America Puerto Rico Relief Fund. This is a cause many of us are passionate about and every bit of generosity helps. Recorded live at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola in NYC, this exciting new reworking is West Side Story like you’ve never heard it before, through the exciting lens of the Latin jazz continuum. This project is being produced with the blessing and support of the Leonard Bernstein Organization. Bernstein’s daughter Jamie remarked: ”What I love about Bobby Sanabria’s take on ”West Side Story” music is that it’s a kind of rhythm fission: my dad’s music is already so drenched in rhythm. Then along comes Bobby and explodes it to an even richer rhythmic level!”

Bobby Sanabria

Drummer Bobby Sanabria was born in the South Bronx in 1957, the same year West Side Story opened on Broadway. As a native New Yorker of Puerto Rican descent who first experienced that musical through its 1961 film adaptation, Sanabria was most transfixed by how well composer Leonard Bernstein’s instrumental themes captured the Puerto Rican flavor of New York’s Upper West Side during that period. To celebrate the show’s 60th anniversary last year, and what would have been Bernstein’s 100th birthday this year, Sanabria’s 22-piece Multiverse Big Band impressively recorded the double-disc West Side Story Reimagined in a single night in late 2017 at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola in Manhattan.

This is not an abridged medley like that of the Buddy Rich Big Band. Sanabria and company capture the feel of the entire production, from the Sharks-versus-Jets gang battles to the familiar, Romeo and Juliet-inspired cultural divide bridged by romance. Trumpeter Kevin Bryan’s whistling and the ensemble’s finger snaps introduce the rival gangs during “Prologue,” which includes a horn-heavy swing midsection between its strutting, percussion-driven main themes. The 6/8-timed “America” likewise spotlights the 13-piece horn section (plus flute)’s power, with stellar solos by pianist Darwin Noguera and bassist Leo Traversa. And on “Gym Scene – Blues/Mambo” and “Gym Scene – Cha Cha Cha,” Sanabria and the band’s trio of percussionists (Oreste Abrantes, Matthew Gonzalez, Takao Heisho) dig into the seminal rhythms that helped define Latin jazz. Disc two opens with Sanabria and Abrantes chanting in Spanish about “Maria,” the production’s central female character, leading to an accelerated, intense percussion breakdown. Indeed, it’s Sanabria’s percussive concept that most reimagines West Side Story, as he, Abrantes, Gonzalez, and Heisho add congas, bongo and bata drums, cowbells, claves, guiros, maracas, and more to strong readings of “The Rumble/Rumba” and “Somewhere.” Perhaps the only thing more powerful than the music is the fact that a portion of the release’s sales benefit the Jazz Foundation of America’s Puerto Rico Relief Fund, which aids Sanabria’s ancestral island’s rebuilding effort after Hurricanes Irma and Maria.

Track Listing:


1. Intro (Leonard Bernstein / Stephen Sondheim) 0:33

2. Prologue (Leonard Bernstein / Stephen Sondheim) 7:39

3. Intro Jet Song (Leonard Bernstein / Stephen Sondheim) 0:11

4. Jet Song (Leonard Bernstein / Stephen Sondheim) 6:03

5. Intro America (Leonard Bernstein / Stephen Sondheim) 0:09

6. America (Leonard Bernstein / Stephen Sondheim) 6:37

7. Gee, Officer Krupke Intro (Leonard Bernstein / Stephen Sondheim) 0:12

8. Gee, Officer Krupke (Leonard Bernstein / Stephen Sondheim) 5:59

9. Tonight (Leonard Bernstein / Stephen Sondheim) 5:49

10. Gym Scene–Blues/Mambo (Leonard Bernstein / Stephen Sondheim) 5:15

11. Gym Scene–Cha Cha Cha (Leonard Bernstein / Stephen Sondheim) 4:45


1. Maria (Leonard Bernstein / Stephen Sondheim) 8:15

2. Intro Cool (Leonard Bernstein / Stephen Sondheim) 0:07

3. Cool (Leonard Bernstein / Stephen Sondheim) 5:50

4. The Rumble/Rumba (Leonard Bernstein / Stephen Sondheim) 5:38

5. One Hand, One Heart (Leonard Bernstein / Stephen Sondheim) 5:03

6. Somewhere (Leonard Bernstein / Stephen Sondheim) 3:55

7. Intro Epilogue/Finale (Leonard Bernstein / Stephen Sondheim) 1:13

8. Epilogue/Finale (Leonard Bernstein / Stephen Sondheim) 2:51

9. Outro (Leonard Bernstein / Stephen Sondheim) 2:21


Bobby Sanabria: musical director, drumset
w/cowbells, police whistle, samba whistle, lead vocals
Darwin Noguera: piano
Leo Traversa: electric bass
Gabrielle Garo: lute, piccolo

Ben Sutin: electric violin
Oreste Abrantes: congas, itotele batá drum, second voice on Maria
Matthew González: bongó/cencerro, primo bomba drum, Iyá batá, requinto pandereta, ganza, Dominican güira
Takao Heisho: claves, Cuban güiro macho, cencerro, Puerto Rican guicharo, okonkolo batá drum, maracas (Cuban and Venezuelan), shekere, tambourine, cuica, pandeiro, triangle, gong, police siren

Kevin Bryan (lead, opening whistle), Shareef Clayton, Max Darché, Andrew Neesley: trumpets

David Dejesus (lead alto, soprano, flute), Andrew Gould (alto, flute), Peter Brainin (tenor, flute), Yaacov Mayman (tenor, flute, clarinet), Danny Rivera (baritone): saxophones

David Miller (lead), Tim Sessions, Armando Vergara, Chris Washburne (bass trombone): trombones

The entire orchestra sings background vocals and provides hand clapping

Recorded Live at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola, NYC November 19, 2017
Announcer: Desmond Prass
Live Recording Engineer: Rob Macomber
Live Sound Engineer: Micha Zucker
Assistant Live Sound Engineer: Taylor Roig
Mixed by Jim Gately
Mastered by Gene Paul
Album Graphic Design: Richard Mantel
Production Coordinator, Social Media: Paul-Michael Spodek


William Shakespeare’s epic tragedy Romeo and Juliet made a huge splash when it reached Broadway in 1957 in the guise of West Side Story, in which the warring Montagues and Capulets were replaced by New York City street gangs, the Italian-American Jets and Puerto Rican Sharks. The newer version, with book by Arthur Laurents, music by Leonard Bernstein and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, ran for 732 performances before going on tour and has been performed in theatres across the country and around the world ever since. 
For those who thought that nothing more could be said or written about that groundbreaking play, drummer Bobby Sanabria and his New York-based Multiverse Big Band have reappraised West Side Story on its fiftieth anniversary from a Latin perspective, infusing the score with rhythms and accents that Bernstein, in spite of his vast musical knowledge, perhaps never even knew existed. These include, among others, the bomba xica, joropo, bembe, bomba yuba, samba-cancao and son montuno. As a result, Bernstein’s impressive score sounds even fresher and more enlivening than ever. The lovely ballad “Maria,” which opens the “Second Act” of this two-CD set, is singularly transformed, using African bembe rhythms, Nigerian / Yoruban ceremonial drums and forceful chants by Sanabria and the ensemble to underline its amorous theme. 
That, however, is but one example among many, as arrangers Jeremy Fletcher, Niko Siebold, Jeff Lederer, Matt Wong, Danny Rivera, Eugene Marlow, Andrew Neesley and Takao Heisho let their imaginations run free to lend the entire score a twenty-first century carriage and tenor. Trumpeter Neesley, baritone saxophonist Rivera and percussionist Heisho double as members of the ensemble. Fletcher’s aggressive arrangements of the “Prologue,” “Gee, Officer Krupke,” “One Hand, One Heart,” “Somewhere” and “Epilogue / Finale” are especially effective—which is not to imply that the others are not. Indeed, everyone plays a pivotal role in bringing Sanabria’s vision to life—and that of course includes the superb Multiverse ensemble, which never misses a beat in a performance recorded live at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola in the Big Apple with proceeds earmarked for Puerto Rico hurricane relief.  There is a modest trade-off in that Sondheim’s memorable lyrics have fallen by the wayside, but the band more than compensates for the loss with its irrepressible ardor and unflagging fidelity to Bernstein’s marvelous score. Sanabria introduces the “Epilogue” with an eloquent plea for peace and understanding, and afterward takes time to introduce everyone in the twenty-member Multiverse band. The audience at Dizzy’s clearly loved and appreciated the performance; chances are you will too.

Jack Bowers (AllAboutJazz)