From Bagels to Bongos

From Bagels to Bongos explores a convergence of cross-cultural musical styles from the Catskills, Northern Africa, Iberia, and the Middle East. With special guests Steven Bernstein and Anat Cohen, the program exemplifies O’Farrill and the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra’s commitment to presenting a large and diverse picture of Afro Latin jazz that acknowledges and celebrates its past, while embracing innovation and experimentation that propels the music forward.

From Bagels to Bongos examines the long and venerable relationship between the Latino and Jewish communities. The relationship between Jewish culture and Latin music dates back to Iberia prior to the Spanish Inquisition, and continued to pre-Castro Cuba - an era when Jewish families would visit the island and its nightclubs. In the decades to follow, resorts started to pop up in the Catskills, and the Jewish community flocked to the Borscht Belt to dance to bands led by Tito Puente, Joe Cuba, and Eddie Palmieri, among others. The burgeoning scene attracted musicians and fans alike and has been described as a "mecca for Latin music,” resulting in the mambo being called “the Jewish waltz.” The ALJO will also explore the themes common to the larger Jewish and Latino communities, including a journey to the Middle East, the Mediterranean, and North Africa.

"Afro Latin Jazz has been deeply impacted by the support of the Jewish community, particularly in the New York region and especially by what is commonly called the Borscht Belt, a popular area for Jewish resorts in upstate New York," explains O'Farrill. “This will be a deep exploration of the relationship between two great Diasporas encompassing the Semitic traditions that stretch from the Middle East to Miami Beach, from the tip of North Africa to the Bronx, and from the mountains of Russia to the Catskills."

Loosely based on the famous album by Irving Fields, Bagels& Bongos, as well as the recordings of Mazel Tov and Mis Amigos, the program casts Jewish and Yiddish classics in Afro Latin big band versions, and set Latin classics in traditional Klezmer settings. The Orchestra will feature original music and performances by guest artist trumpeter/slide trumpeter, composer Steven Bernstein, that of ALJO member trombonist/composer, Israeli-born Rafi Malkiel joined by virtuoso clarinetist Israeli-born Anat Cohen.

About the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra (ALJO)

The GRAMMY®Award-winning Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra was founded in 2002 by musician, composer, and educator Arturo O'Farrill. The ALJO performs the full repertory of big band Afro Latin jazz, and commissions new works to advance this culturally rich genre. The ALJO was a resident orchestra at Jazz at Lincoln Center from 2002 to 2007. In 2007 the ALJO left Lincoln Center to pursue the twin goals of developing new audiences for big band Afro Latin jazz, and creating a robust educational program for young performers. The ALJO performs an annual season at Symphony Space on Manhattan's Upper West Side, plays at the famed jazz club Birdland every Sunday evening as part of an ongoing residency, and continues to tour nationally and internationally to critical acclaim.

About the Afro Latin Jazz Alliance (ALJA)

Founded in 2007, the nonprofit Afro Latin Jazz Alliance is dedicated to preserving the music and heritage of Afro Latin jazz, supporting its performance for new audiences, commissioning new work, and educating young people in the understanding and performance of this important cultural treasure. The Alliance maintains a world-class collection of Latin jazz musical scores and recordings, and provides institutional support for the GRAMMY®Award-winning Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra. As the ALJO celebrates its 11th season, the ALJA's educational and community outreach programs continue to flourish. For more information on the ALJA, ALJO, and Education Programs, visit: