Bobby Sanabria—drummer, percussionist, composer, arranger, Grammy nominated recording artist and educator—has performed with a veritable Who’s Who in the world of jazz and Latin music, as well as with his own critically acclaimed ensemble, Ascensión. His diverse recording and performing experience includes work with such legendary figures as Dizzy Gillespie, Tito Puente, Paquito D’Rivera, Charles McPherson, Mongo Santamaría, Chico O’Farrill, Henry Threadgill, and Mario Bauzá.
Bobby, the son of Puerto Rican parents, was born and raised in the “Fort Apache” section of New York City’s South Bronx. Inspired and encouraged by Maestro Tito Puente, another fellow New York–born Puerto Rican, Bobby “got serious” and attended Boston’s Berklee College of Music from 1975 to 1979. He earned his bachelor of music degree from Berklee, became the first Puerto Rican to graduate, and was honored with their prestigious Faculty Association Award for his work as an instrumentalist.
Bobby is a leader in the Afro-Cuban and jazz fields as both a drummer and percussionist and recognized as one of the most articulate scholars of la tradición. He was recently appointed chair of the Afro-Cuban Jazz Resource Team at the International Association of Jazz Educators (IAJE). He is a former faculty member at Berklee College of Music and is currently on the faculty at the Drummers Collective, and at the New School and Manhattan School of Music in New York City, where he conducts both schools’ Afro-Cuban jazz orchestras—the only two student bands of this kind in the United States.
Bobby has been featured on numerous Grammy-nominated albums, including The Mambo Kings and other movie soundtracks, and numerous television and radio jingles. He performed and recorded with the famed Mario Bauzá and his Afro-Cuban Jazz Orchestra, with whom he recorded three Grammy-nominated CDs, considered to be the definitive works of the Afro-Cuban big-band tradition. Bobby was also featured with the Mario Bauzá orchestra in two PBS documentaries about Bauzá, and he appeared prominently in a PBS documentary on the life of Mongo Santamaría. Bobby was featured in The History of the Mambo Kings & Afro-Cuban Music on the Bravo cable channel, , and he is featured in the new 10-year nationwide traveling Smithsonian exhibit “Latin Jazz: La Combinación Perfecta.”
Bobby has been the recipient of many awards, including an NEA grant, various Meet the Composer awards, and the INTAR off-Broadway Composer Award. Most recently his tours have been supported by five successive years of funding from an ArtsCONNECT grant from the Mid-Atlantic Arts Foundation.
In 1993 Bobby Sanabria and Ascensión released their CD, ¡NYC Aché!, on Flying Fish Records. The album traces the rhythms from their African roots to the sounds of New York City and contains many tunes composed and/or arranged by Bobby. ¡NYC Aché! received worldwide acclaim and garnered four and one-half stars in Downbeat magazine, and received a nomination for best record of the year by the National Association of Independent Record Distributors (NAIRD). In June 2000 Arabesque Records released Afro-Cuban Dream…Live & In Clave!!!. Recorded live at Birdland in New York City, the album features Bobby powering a 19-piece big band. This critically acclaimed album has been hailed by both the jazz and Latin music cognoscenti as a masterpiece and nominated for a Grammy as the Best Latin Jazz Album of 2000. Afro-Cuban Dream…Live & in Clave!!! was also nominated for the Jazz Journalists Association 2001 Award for the best Afro-Cuban jazz album of the year.
Manhattan School of Music faculty since 1999.