James Sanders & Conjunto
Gig Seeker Pro

James Sanders & Conjunto

Band Latin Jazz


This band has not uploaded any videos
This band has not uploaded any videos



"James Sanders & Conjunto at the Velvet lounge"

Can classic Afro-Cuban music embrace fiercely experimental jazz?

Listeners can find out Friday night, when violinist James Sanders and his exquisite Conjunto band play at a nexus of the Chicago jazz avant-garde, saxophonist Fred Anderson’s Velvet Lounge.

Whenever Sanders and Conjunto appear there, various South Side experimenters sit in – the guest roster has included singer Dee Alexander, flutist Nicole Mitchell, reedist Mwata Bowden and bassist Harrison Bankhead. Originally, this date was to have featured Anderson, who subsequently was booked for a European engagement.

Still, the prospect of Conjunto flourishing at the Velvet may surprise some observers, Conjunto’s gently voiced melodies and seductive Afro-Caribbean rhythms representing practically the antithesis of the incendiary Chicago avant-garde. Why would Sanders – whose repertoire deals in mambo, guaracha, cha cha cha and other vintage Cuban forms – venture into the avant-garde?

“What happened was that one time we were playing outside a building for people while they were having lunch … and the crowd was not paying attention,” recalls Sanders. “So I told the guys, ‘Let’s just start doing free improvisation.’ And they’re looking at me strangely, because the rhythms we play are so intricate, it didn’t seem possible.

“But we did it, and the people suddenly started paying attention.”

Ever since, Sanders and Conjunto have been merging the two musical idioms with increasing frequency, earning the admiration of many listeners, including Anderson himself.

“I do want to play with him,” Anderson says. “James Sanders is a great violinist. It’s a very good group.

“I also was interested in playing with Sanders because of his rhythm section – they’ve got a good feeling.”

Specifically, Anderson refers to conguero Roel Trevino, timbales player Jean-Christophe Leroy, bassist Brent Benteler and pianist Kevin O’Connell. Add to the mix Sanders’ violin and Willie Garcia’s saxophones and flute, and you have the core of a band that shows genuine mastery of Cuban dance forms.

For Sanders, a classically trained violinist, the journey into Afro-Cuban music was practically preordained. The son of a Dominican mother and American father, Sanders had multiple cultural influences stamped on his DNA. And growing up in a Puerto Rican neighborhood near Wrigley Field – “It wasn’t like Wrigleyville now,” says Sanders – the violinist inevitably absorbed a broad range of Latin musical idioms, he says.

Performance degrees from Yale University and DePauw University in Greencastle, Ind., burnished his classical technique.

Though Sanders says he’s disappointed that Anderson can’t make the date, he looks forward to next time. So does Anderson.

“I’ll play with him sometime in the future,” says the saxophonist.

- Chicago Tribune

"Critics Pick Saturday Things to do"

Under any circumstances, violinist James Sanders' Conjunto is richly worth hearing, its approach to Afro-Cuban music authentic but not dripping in nostalgia. This time, Sanders' band will collaborate with a special guest: the iconic Chicago saxophonist and Velvet Lounge owner Fred Anderson. The opportunity to hear Anderson's free-ranging soliloquies set against the dance rhythms of Havana is as rare as it is alluring. - Chicago Tribune

"A premiere effort"

While larger musical organizations worry about how to keep up with the shifting plate tectonics of classical music, the Chicago Sinfonietta merely nods knowingly and goes on doing what it has been doing since its founding 17 proud seasons ago.

For the 60-member chamber orchestra under music director Paul Freeman has never lost sight of its fundamental mission—to give composers and musicians of color a chance to showcase their talents at a high level of execution. Moreover, Freeman and friends clearly enjoy delving into cross-cultural areas that diverge from the classical music mainstream.

Consider the opening program of the Sinfonietta's 18th season Monday night at Symphony Center.

Along with the obligatory bows to the 19th and early 20th Century classics, the orchestra presented the local premiere of Chris Brubeck's zestful "Interplay" for three violins and orchestra, which explores the interrelationship between folk music, jazz and classical traditions. It also paid homage to the late Chicago African-American composer Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson, former performance coordinator of Columbia College's Center for Black Music Research.

"Interplay" exploded like a rifle shot with the three soloists—concertmaster Paul Zafer on classical violin, James Sanders on jazz violin and Liz Carroll on Celtic fiddle—introducing themselves in their respective styles. Then the orchestra chimed in before allowing the three amplified fiddlers to really cut loose.

Sanders was the epitome of cool in a torchy blues number. Carroll transformed it into a foot-stomping accelerando right out of "Riverdance." Zafer's flying fingers and bow made it a sly parody of every standard violin cadenza, with bent notes. The piece ended in rousing Gypsy-flamenco style, Freeman's band bouncing along as breathlessly as the soloists.

Brubeck (who is the son of jazz legend Dave Brubeck) isn't interested in any musical fusion here: "Interplay" accentuates the fiddlers' stylistic differences more than their similarities. But it's a remarkably seamless piece of craftsmanship and it packs a lot of fun into 10 all-too-short minutes.

The performers gave it their best, and the only disappointment was that they ignored the audience's cries of "Encore!"

Virtuosity of a more traditional sort came courtesy of Derek Han, the poised and fluent soloist in Mendelssohn's Piano Concerto No. 1 in G Minor. The pianist's technical control was solid as a rock, while his pianism balanced elegance and brilliance in tasteful proportions. He and Freeman have worked together for many years and it showed in the easy give and take of their collaboration.

Perkinson's Sinfonietta No. 1 for strings (1955) is the first of two works by the lamented composer that Freeman will conduct as a memorial this season. It's a pleasant but derivative piece of neo-classicism mixing Bachian counterpoint and South American folk rhythms in a manner very much beholden to that of Villa-Lobos' "Bachianas Brasileiras."

The orchestra played competently but could have kicked it up a notch if Freeman had given the players more expressive guidance: Here was a classic case of head in score rather than score in head.

Fortunately maestro and musicians redeemed themselves with a genial, colorful reading of Enescu's "Romanian Rhapsody" No. 1.

Copyright 2004 Chicago Tribune - Chicago Tribune

"Hyde Park Jazz Festiva"

"Dee Alexander was accompanied by harpist (Rashida Black), violinist (James Sanders), drummer (Ernie Adams), and celloist (Tomeka Reid). They performed music that seem written just for them...At the Quadrangle, Alexander pulled off a musical metamorphosis, with music way over on the other side of the musical spectrum. Her work with violinist Sanders was first rate;..." - Jazz Chicago.net

"Jazz City Latin Fest"

“Conjunto” followed and featured violinist James Sanders in the spotlight. Backed by a wonderful rhythm section of Jean Leroy on drums, Joe Rendon on percussion, Jose Porcayo on bass and Donald Neale on piano, Sanders delighted the crowd with his gypsy flamboyance. Contributing much to the success of this set was Steve Eisen on sax and flute, who, like a fine wine, just keeps getting better and better. - Jazz Chicago.net

"Chicago Sessions review"

"I love your "Chicago Sessions" CD so much I'm going to feature it on the FRONT PAGE of CD Baby for a few days. We're REALLY picky about what goes on the front page. We get about 75 new albums a DAY coming in here now, (about 30,000 total), and yours is one of the best I've ever heard. Love ya!" - Derek Sivers president, CD Baby & Hostbaby

"With a similar flair and bite like Tito Puente, James Sanders & Conjúnto fire up their audiences with zesty Latin jazz mixing in the zing of salsa and upbeat dance rhythms, complemented by slower, bossa-like elegance. With a surprising combination and palette of instrumental colors from gypsy jazz guitar to penetrating violin answered by sassy saxophone and trumpet, 'Chicago Sessions' is an ideal pick for the Latin connoisseur." - CD Ba - CD Baby

"Chicago Sessions Review"

Chicago Sessions is a brand new Latin jazz CD by violinist James Sanders & Conjúnto that puts the Windy City on the map for fine Latin jazz. You'll definitely enjoy the opening track, Freedom Jazz Dance, as well as Estudio, Invitation and McCoy Tyner's Contemplation." - Nelson RodrÃúguez COPYRIGHT 2005 Latin Beat Magazine, COPYRIGHT 2005 Gale Group

- Latin Beat magazine

"Chicago Sessions Review"

I received your CD in the mail, thanks. The CD is awesome, I am particularly fond of Conjúnto'
interpretation of Eddie Harris' Freedom Dance, the original Estudio is exceptionally good, as well as Angel d' Cuba groovin on Rico Vacilon. As I said before everything is awesome. I plan to play some of this Cd on my radio show at WHPK 88.5FM." - Jazz in Flight with the Ladybird of Jazz, Phoenix

- Jazz In Flight


Conjúnto has released two CDs: Live in Little Village and Chicago Sessions. Cd's have local and international airplay.



Sanders formed Conjúnto in 2001 as an ongoing exploration of the confluence of Jazz and Afro-Latin standards with original compositions and arrangements. The intuitive interplay of the musicians in this long running ensemble ensures a free approach to the music and makes every performance unique. Moving confidently from Afro-roots to intricate improvisation, Conjúnto engages mind and body with their polyrhythmic intricacy, thoughtful arrangements, and virtuoso soloing