It’s something they hear all the time. How can a group of guys who play Latin music have not a single member in the band with Latin American heritage? But that’s how it is for the group 3D Ritmo de Vida, a Latin jazz/ salsa/pop band from northern New Jersey who will perform at the Wine, Dine, and Jazz Festival, Thursday, June 24, at Salt Creek Grille in Forrestal Village.
“I get asked that question a lot, especially from the Latin press,” says drummer/percussionist Michael Tate, one of the group’s founders. “‘How did you get into Latin music, not being Latino?’ Pretty much the story is, by nature of the instrument I play and by the area where I grew up, Latin music has always been around. It’s almost as if I really didn’t have a choice.”
Tate says the three “D’s” in the band’s name stand for dynamic, diverse, and danceable. Ritmo de Vida, of course, means “rhythm of life” in Spanish. Other 3D members include keyboardist Lenny Underwood and guitarist Chris Amelar.
The story is not a new phenomenon in the world of Latin music, at least in terms of those with crossover roots.
Larry Harlow, one of the most prominent pianists and bandleaders of 1970s Fania Records salsa fame, is Jewish, from New York. He was so immersed into the milieu of New York Latino culture and music, however, that he was initiated into the Afro-Latin American religion of Santeria and actually put out a record called “Soy Latino (I Am Latino).” But even Harlow couldn’t totally abandon his roots; he was also known to be an expert on Jewish cuisine and still has encyclopedic knowledge of delis in Manhattan. Great horn players such as Lewis Kahn, Conrad Herwig, and Barry Rogers are also Jewish New Yorkers whose contribution to salsa and Latin music is obscure but important. Joe Bataan, of African American and Filipino descent, was the most popular of the Latin soul bandleaders in the 1960s and ‘70s. Timbalero Henry “Pucho” Brown, leader of Pucho and his Latin Soul Brothers, was an African American musician from Harlem who was turned on to Latin mambo, salsa and other forms of the music as he was coming up in the 1950s.
Another percussionist, Gene Golden, an African American from Philadelphia, has proven to have as much obtained as much knowledge, technique, and master drummer status in the Afro-Latin religious community as any Cuban or Puerto Rican drummer. Finally, Doc Cheatham, who played trumpet in many Latin bands between the 1930s and ‘70s, and the great Dizzy Gillespie, who was the first major jazz musician in the bebop era to directly incorporate Afro-Cuban music forms (and who, when he brought Chano Pozo from Havana, put the conga at the forefront of the music), were two African Americans who were pioneering Latin jazz musicians.
3D’s Tate was born in New York, but grew up in various parts of north Jersey, including Morristown. It was in the NYC/NJ area that his musical tastes were shaped and influences formed. He says he listened to Luther Vandross, the Meters, Donny Hathaway, Charlie Daniels, John Coltrane, the Mighty Sparrow, Kirk Franklin, Tito Puente, the Eagles, Jose Feliciano, Beny More, Eddie Palmieri, and Juan Luis Guerra. “Many traditions, many cultures,” he says.
“I started playing drums in the seventh grade. Living in this area and playing the drums gave me a lot of opportunities to be exposed to a lot of different types of music, opportunities that are not typical for other types of instruments. Drums are kind of the ambassador between different styles. I was able to get into Latin music, reggae, calypso, and other rhythms.” Another catalyst was a trip to Barbados when he was 12 years old.
Tate organized the group 3D about 11 years ago, in 1999. “It basically started out with the idea that no matter what style of music we play, and we cover a lot of territory — salsa, reggae, R&B, gospel — that it has always been based on the songs rather than being purely jazz. We are sometimes billed as a Latin jazz group, Latin tropical, and a lot of times just as 3D Ritmo de Vida. Salt Creek Grille has such an eclectic clientele, we enjoy playing a lot of different things there.”
In addition to some regular gigs at Salt Creek, the band has played at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark, the JVC Jazz Festival, and the Blue Note in New York City twice. One of the group’s songs, a Tate composition, “Mi Amor Tu Volveras,” was used during the competition on the television show “Dancing with the Stars.”
“We’re not a bar band, not a club band. We do a lot of different things, just as many things as we can to get our name out there on the street,” says Tate.
The Wine, Dine, and Jazz festival, a charitable event with a portion of the proceeds going to Eden Autism Services, is the second annual event to be held at Salt Creek, which has become one of the Princeton region’s top venues for jazz.
“Last year’s event was such a success that it’s exciting to have the chance to offer this festival to our community for the second year in a row,” says Amy Foulks, general manager of Salt Creek Grille. “Wine, Dine, and Jazz really showcases what the Salt Creek Grille experience is all about — quality wine, unique and delicious food, great music, and the importance of giving back to the community. We can’t wait to share the evening both with our loyal patrons, and those experiencing our restaurant for the first time.”
“Salt Creek Grille has long supported so many community organizations, and we’ve been such long-time fans of the restaurant that we’re thrilled be a part of this event,” says Melinda McAleer, chief development officer of Eden Autism Services. “We’re incredibly grateful that Salt Creek has partnered with us to donate a portion of the proceeds from Wine, Dine, and Jazz, and are looking forward to spreading the word about our organization, while enjoying a first-rate festival.”
In addition to the fare at Salt Creek, food from Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse, Delta’s, Yankee Doodle Tap Room, and other area restaurants will be available, along with wine tastings from 30 area wineries.
The band 3D has released four CDs: World Beat Dance, a Taste of Jambalaya, Que Siga La Rumba, and Ritmo de Vida, which represented the most Latin tropical of the group’s CDs. A song on the record was in early contention for a Latin Grammy nomination, but it was ultimately not selected. “I like to tell people we lost out to Shakira,” says Tate.
Wine, Dine, and Jazz, Eden Autism Services, Salt Creek Grille, Forrestal Village, Plainsboro. Thursday, June 24, 6:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. Tastings from area restaurants, wines from around the world, and music by Guy Peterson, a singer and guitarist, and 3D, a Latin jazz band. Giveaways, prizes, and silent auction. Register. $50 to $60. Benefit to raise awareness and funds for children and adults with autism. 609-987-0099 or www.edenservices.org.