Five minutes ‘til midnight at The Camby hotel in Phoenix and there wasn’t one yawn in sight.
Maybe it had something to do with the succession of jaw-dropping dance performances that evening as part of the three-day Phoenix Salsa Bachata Festival last month — an event cultivating, celebrating and promoting Afro-Latin heritage, dance and music with the Latin dance community.
But in reality, it had everything to do with one particular Scottsdale-based, 10-piece band — Jaleo — that took to the stage to do what they’ve done best since 2007: perform a high-energy set comprised of a variety of Latin genres, from salsa, Latin jazz and cumbia, to merengue, bachata, bolero, cha-cha and more.
Jaleo was founded in 2007 by Colombian duo Alvaro and Camilo Moreno, 10 years after they moved from Colombia to southern Scottsdale.
Over the years, Jaleo has grown from four musicians to a well-oiled versatile group of 10 professional musicians specializing in Latin music.
They’ve amassed an impressive repertoire of more than 400 arrangements.
“We have the outlet that we were looking for here: people who appreciate the Latin music,” Alvaro told the Progress just ahead of sound check.
Alvaro, pianist and musical director, added: “Believe it or not, Scottsdale is, for us, a big market. We do a lot of corporate events in all the resorts in Scottsdale. We did the Super Bowl party the last time it was here.”
Jaleo has also performed in various Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts events.
Coming up, they’ll perform the Center's Live & Local event on Sept. 14.
“Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts loves working with Jaleo,” said Abbey Messmer, Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts programming director. “Their musicians are very talented and the band has many Latin genres of music in their repertoire.”
Live & Local was created in 2014 to provide more opportunities for local artists to perform in all spaces of the Scottsdale Arts campus, Messmer said.
“Performing in an outdoor festival setting is very different from performing in an 850-seat state-of-the-art theater, so I think bands have really enjoyed the professional growth opportunities that come with preparing for a show in more formal spaces like the Virginia G. Piper Theater or the more intimate Stage 2,” Messmer added.
Alvaro attributes the continued success of Jaleo to the band members’ varied backgrounds.
“The key point for us is we’re a multicultural band,” he says. “We have a lot of people from Mexico, and we have people from Puerto Rico, from Costa Rica, local players, Colombia. Everybody who joins the band gives something.”
Maria Fernanda Cepeda, for example, recently moved to Scottsdale from Columbia five years ago and is now Jaleo’s vocalist.
“We met at a party where they were performing and then we started from there,” she said. “It’s been great. I’ve learned a lot.”
Performing with Jaleo was a new experience for Cepeda, who is trained in jazz and classical music.
“I have never sung Latin dancing music before, like salsa, so it was a learning process and I love it,” she said.
The rest of the band is comprised of Phoenix-based musicians Caleb Michel, timbales and vocals; Esteban Estrada, bass; Peter Green, trumpet; Dave Coolidge, trumpet; Mike Crotty, sax, flute and trumpet; and Travis Myers, sax.
And Damian Granados, congas, and Leonardo Borroto, vocals, are from Cuba.
“One of the most important things is the individuality,” Cepeda said. “We’re all professional musicians and we’re respectful of each other. We are also very dedicated, we rehearse, and we are committed. I think that makes a difference.”
The busiest time of the year for Jaleo are the fall and winter months, so they spend their summer months adding new songs to their robust repertoire.
“As a band, we always, in every single performance, are trying to find out the next step in quality. Every time we do a new song, we try to perfect it, and as professionals, it’s not easy because it takes time,” Alvaro said.
In the end, Alvaro’s goal for Jaleo is to perform internationally.
“Jaleo now has the quality to be played out of the country; we have a lot of musical language to share with different places,” he said. “We deserve the opportunity. And we are looking and working to try to make his happen.”