Queens’ Latin Jazz Coalition Finds Rhythm
By Victoria Hernandez
In Latin jazz music circles, trombonist and composer Demetrios Kastaris of Bellerose is known as “el Griego Rumbero” – creator of the eclectic band, The Latin-Jazz Coalition.
Kastaris formed the band with six other musicians in 1986. Today the group has 10-12 musicians who play steadily. The band incorporates many diverse Latin rhythms into their music such Bembe, Guajira, Mozambique, Cha-cha-cha, Songo, Bolero, Bossa Nova, Swing, Blues and Be-bop Jazz.
“I was very young when I started falling in love with music,” Kastaris said.
The Greek-born performer became fascinated by the trombone at age eight, after witnessing a performance at the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra. He majored in music education at the University of Missouri/St. Louis where he played in the jazz ensemble and performed at numerous jazz festival competitions throughout the Midwest.
After earning a scholarship to New York University, Kastaris went on to obtain a master’s degree in jazz performance at the esteemed Manhattan School of Music, while teaching instrumental music in public schools and performing in the Catskill Mountains on the weekends and during summers. Halfway through his master’s degree, he decided to create the Latin-Jazz Coalition and record several of his original compositions. He describes his music as a “combination of the folkloric music of the Caribbean with African roots combined with the Jazz music of the United States.”
The Latin-Jazz Coalition has performed at the United Nations and the Statue of Liberty, as well as various festivals, colleges and conferences in and around New York. They have also provided musical entertainment at formal events honoring former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and former Queens Borough President Claire Shulman. In 2000, they released a CD entitled “Trombon Con Sazon” (Trombone with Spice). The album was placed in various top spots in the Top 20 Hit Parade Poll in Latin Beat Magazine for 16 consecutive months beginning in August 2000.
The Latin-Jazz Coalition has performed with such Latin Jazz luminaries as Tito Puente, Dave Valentin, Claudio Roditi, Steve Turre, Edy Martinez, Alfredo de la Fe, Herman Olivera, Vitin Avilez and Ray Barreto.
Kastaris described playing with Grammy award winner Tito Puente as “a great experience. When it came to do what we had to do, it was a lot of fun, not nerve-wracking at all.”
The Latin-Jazz Coalition is recording another CD and will be performing Oct. 30 at the Central Lounge in Astoria.
“There are things that make people separate,” Kastaris said. “Music is really universal and tends to unify people. It is a form of communication that is so beautiful. It is a great privilege to play music.”