For Oscar Hernandez, conductor of the Spanish Harlem Orchestra, is getting on stage and performing with his group their style of Latin jazz music is the dream.
Yellow and green lights flashed down on the Spanish Harlem Orchestra during their performance Saturday night at the Staller Center main stage.
Their bass and percussion instruments had the audience dancing in their seats from beginning to end.
“It’s something I love to do. I am performing music I love and it is a great thing,” Hernandez said. “I love to see the audience while I am conducting. I am very blessed.”
The Spanish Harlem Orchestra consists of 13 members.
Some of the instruments featured in the group are the flute, piano, percussion and various bass instruments.
Hernandez started playing the trumpet when he was 12 years old, but after a short time, he switched to piano.
“I felt like the piano was meant for me. I just kept practicing.” Hernandez said.
Hernandez and the group won their first Grammy in 2002 for their album, Un Gran Dia en el Barrio, which won a Grammy for Best Salsa Album and a Latin Billboard Award for Salsa Album of the Year.
All of the albums the Spanish Harlem Orchestra have produced have either been nominated for a Grammy or have won one.
“I felt extremely proud to win my first Grammy, it feels amazing, you can’t quite explain it,” Hernandez said.
The orchestra played at Staller Center to attend Stony Brook’s 25th annual Hispanic Heritage Month Celebration.
The energetic singers of the group, Ray De La Paz, Marco Bermudez and Carlos Cascante, were dancing and singing as well as joking around with the audience.
Oscar Hernandez, the conductor of the group, played the piano.
For Stony Brook alumni, coming back to see Staller Center built and able to host groups like the Spanish Harlem Orchestra brings back old memories. “We have to come back during the day soon to the students walking around.”
Debbie Roberts, a Stony Brook graduate said, “I remember mud holes being in the ground and there used to be fox hunting where the Staller Center was.”
Roberts, along with the rest of the audience, was clapping and laughing during the performance.
“They burnt the stage down.” Roberts said.
Alan Inkles, the Director of Staller Center for the Arts at Stony Brook University and founder/director of The Stony Brook Film Festival, was excited for the group to be playing at the Staller Center for the first time.
“We are so thrilled to have the Spanish Harlem Orchestra. We have been wanting to bring them in for many years now and because of the 25-year anniversary at the school we really wanted to do something special,” Inkles said.
During the performance the band had some sound issues, with blown out speakers that continued through most of the performance.
John Rowe and his wife, who has a degree in music at Stony Brook, attended the show. They enjoyed the music but, said that there was terrible balance.
They agreed that the musicians played well, but they were too loud and it was difficult to hear the singing.
The Staller Center had given away a lot of tickets to groups to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month.
“We are expecting a full house Saturday evening. We have students coming and we have even donated tickets to churches and schools,” Inkles said.
William Floyd High School was at the show on Saturday.
“I liked the way they put the dancing, the singing and even the cha-cha into the performance, it was awesome,” Derek Robinson, teacher at William Floyd High School, said.
Recently, Hernandez and his band played at the Jazz Alley in Seattle.
The Spanish Harlem Orchestra has played all over the country and globally in countries like Russia, Australia, Singapore and many places in Europe.
There was a time when the orchestra played about 10 shows a month on various stages. But they have been performing three shows a month on average now, according to Hernandez.
“It depends when it is busy, probably in the summer we get the most shows but it really does depend on the year,” Hernandez said.
All of the players in the Spanish Harlem Orchestra are from the New York area and Hernandez chooses his players for the group.
“We get along great,” Hernandez said. “We don’t practice, we only get together to play when we perform or record our albums.”
In his free time, Hernandez enjoys going to musical concerts, watching a good movie and going to the beach.
The night ended with members of the audience standing up and dancing with the singers and just enjoying the rest of the performance.
“I have now been doing this for 40 years and I am very proud of my accomplishments. I have made a living doing something I enjoy.” Hernandez said.