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Latin sheet music arrangements
small ensembles and big band orchestras
Young Student Musicians
with the Gift of Latin Music
Bigger Is Better,
Or Is It?
When it come to the making
of Latin music, a bigger ensemble may be best. Certainly, some
of the more memorable recordings from the repertoire of legendary
artists like Celia Cruz, El Gran Combo de Puerto Rico, Tito Puente,
Grupo Niche, Oscar D'Leon, Machito and many others prove that
point. However, especially when first starting out as a band/orchestra,
bigger is not always practical.
The ideal scenario is to have
at least a 17-piece orchestra which would include a full percussion
section (timbal, conga, bongos, guiro/maracas), piano, bass,
full brass section (2 trombones, 2 trumpets, 2 saxophones), plus
two violins and multiple vocalists. And while we're at it, we
might as well upgrade to a full Big Band orchestra (5 saxes,
4 trombones, 5 trumpets) including additional instruments mentioned
above, raising the number of instruments above 25+.
This is all great if you are
able to have this kind of orchestra, and most importantly: keep
it working. More power to those that have these kinds of resources.
But, especially when starting out, it is often best to be practical
in terms of instrumentation. Whether you're a quartet or a 17-piece
orchestra, the basic goal is the same: to play that Latin music
with the highest application of authenticity and swing. The good
news is that even if you have a small ensemble, it is amazing
the level of musicality you can achieve. Thus, with the right
arrangements and effort, you can achieve that goal.
In terms of the instrumentation
for a Latin band, there are several options. There is the more
traditional sound that would include: flute, violin and a trumpet.
A more typical "salsa" contemporary sound would have
two trombones and two trumpets. A more simple conventional lineup
would include: saxophone and trumpet. Even with a minimal setup
that includes either a tenor saxophone (sax players usually double
on flute) or a trumpet can sound great.
There are about a dozen combinations.
It really comes down to what you like. Listen to some Latin CDs
and determine what sound you like the most and go with that.
For instance, the great Brazilian tune "Usted Abuso"
recorded by Celia Cruz and Willie Colon highlights the harmonic
voicing of four trombones. Recordings from the legendary salsa
sonero Cheo Feliciano where often complimented be multiple trombones,
flugal horn, strings and flute. You can also find more interesting
classic salsa arrangements in the music of the late great sonero
Hector Lavoe, which also included multiple trombones, trumpet
By starting out with a practical
instrumentation, does not mean that your sound will be of lesser
quality than a bigger band. It will certainly allow you room
to grow as an ensemble. But, if you take the time to cultivate
the right musical arrangements for your band, with ample rehearsal
and dedication, you will undoubtedly sound great.