Venissa Santi
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Venissa Santi

Trumansburg, New York, United States | Established. Jan 01, 2006

Trumansburg, New York, United States
Established on Jan, 2006
Band World Singer/Songwriter


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




Just what is so special about the vocalastics of Venissa Santi—just what is so singularly unique—is so eminently clear on Big Stuff—Afro-Cuban Holiday, the brilliantly innovative follow-up to her 2009 Sunnyside Records debut, Bienvenida. If at first blush this record appears to be a mere tribute to the great Billie Holiday, it is clear that first impressions can be somewhat deceptive. True, this is Ms. Santi’s homage to the legendary singer. However the music on this record comes from the very depth of Ms. Santi’s soul that this is so much more than a tribute: it is more like an anguished cry rich in the metaphor of Afro-Cuban-Blues, cry of sisterhood that is lifted up in elevation to the celebrated ghost of Ms. Holiday. Just as she was on her first album, Ms. Santi has once again channeled her ideas through percussion-colourist and long-time band mate François Zayas, who is responsible for the majestic arrangements of twelve songs with which Ms. Santi, in turn, re-imagines the heartfelt repertoire of Billie Holiday in an idiom that melds the heartbeat of bata and offbeat of clave with African-American deep song. Also joining the vocalist on this musical odyssey are trumpet and flugelhorn players Tim Thompson and Chris Aschman, the late guitarist Jef Lee Johnson, pianist John Stenger and bassist John Fraticelli. Special appearances are also made by bassists Paul Klinefelter and Madison Rast, clarinetist Jon Thompson and percussionist Cuco Castellanos.

Venissa Santi 2The origins of this music are vividly recalled by Ms. Santi, who remembers how Danilo Perez invited her to share the stage with such luminaries as Kurt Elling, Sheila Jordon, Liz Wright and Claudia Acuña among others on a gig that was designed to present a series of homages to Billie Holiday in May of 2010. For Venissa Santi to be included in a playbill that comprised of such stellar artists was both a privilege as well as a chance to do something truly special. She and her favourite doppelgänger, Mr. Zayas, went to work on selecting an appropriate Billie Holiday repertoire; then transferring it to the landscape of danzón, guaguancó and bolero. All this happened about a year from May 2010. Next came learning the challenging arrangements that François Zayas came up with, swirling from out of the fiery cauldron of Afro-Cuban music. This took the musicians close to six months to master; a memorable effort that, together with the fact that this homage was written in Afro-Cuban idioms, made the project so distinctive. The memory of a gig that played in Billie Holiday’s birthplace of Philadelphia, and was later broadcast on the local radio station on Mother’s Day a couple of weeks later lingered long and hard in the memory and Ms. Santi and François Zayas came to the conclusion that this was music worthy of a longer life on a record that would preserve both the beauty and authenticity of this Afro-Cuban odyssey into the heart and soul of Billie Holiday.

Getting into character for the next stage of the project—which was this record; an expanded version of the gig of 2010—was not easy for Venissa Santi. But then, “Life happened,” says Ms. Santi, “and in the journey of putting these songs together… real life was happening while I was delving into the lyrics and repertoire that I (had) started checking out when I was fourteen years old,” she continued. “Then I paid a visit to Cuba, which was both special and enabled me to come face-to-face with something bordering on danger… and also went into a dark place, also while working on the lyrics and François Zayas’ arrangements and the music started to hit home,” Ms. Santi says. “What emerged was an-almost four-year labor of love that overflowed onto this record,” she adds.

Nothing can really prepare the listener for the transcendental melancholy of Billie Holiday’s music like “On the Sunny Side of the Street,” which is deliberately set as the gateway to the album, in a prelude to dimming the lights and before entering the world of Lady Day, who virtually changed the way a song ought to be interpreted. The festive nature of the guaguancó rhythm is offset by the minor variations that dapple the instrumental introduction and Ms. Santi’s wordless vocals that go with that sequence. Then Ms. Santi’s reading of plaintive reading of the main body of the lyric together with the instrumental break featuring the guitar of Jef Lee Johnson followed by Ms. Santi’s vocalastics provides a bleak, almost blurred and moodily yearning interpretation of a song that Billie Holiday covered in 1941; featured here as the song which cracks open the sternum and enables Ms. Santi to bare the heart of Billie Holiday’s music. The brighter aspects of the song are done in a “clave de sol” kind of rhythm. Ms. Santi adds, “This was inspired by a walk I had with my son, in the cold, taking the sunny side in the morning,” Ms. Santi says. “And I came up with the [melodic idea] that plays with a repeating bridge, using a “coro”. It’s kind of a musical conversation (that I have with myself),”she adds.

Venissa Santi’s musical intellect that combined with the erudite delicacy of manipulating phrasing and tempo is brilliantly on display in the breathtaking complexity of “Big Stuff,” a song that Ms. Santi turns into a musical equivalent of a darkish expressionist film. The fine line between hope and despair; the blues and frail attempt to triumph over the human condition is brilliantly offset by the raw and jabbering Afro-Cuban “tumba-francesa” rhythm featuring a “coro” quote from the conga tradition in the beginning of the song. Ms. Santi’s angular harmonics in the introduction—played against the rhythm—is one of the highlights of this chart. The footage of a damaged life unravels in the elemental sadness of “What’s New” as Ms. Santi dialogues with the eminently soft, almost vocal work of John Stenger’s piano and so begins the descent into the nourish life of Billie Holiday. Listeners would be remiss if they did not find themselves holding their breaths at this point in the album. The stark portrait of “My Man” appears on a ghostly canvas daubed as if by the magic of a brush dipped in the “makuta” rhythm of drums and bass. The shock and awe of “Stormy Weather” is a moving account as if from yet another episode of the dark, expressionist film, this song propelled by the rhythmic sweep of Central-African “palo” highlighted by a burbling ostinato that churns the melody and harmony into a veritable twister’s vortex before Ms. Santi enters the narrative, breaking the verses of the song with a pirouetting “coro”.

“You’re My Thrill” is perhaps the most sensuous song on the album. Set as a “tango-congo” Ms. Santi caresses the lyrics as only she can. When she serves up her character’s heart on a silver platter to her lover, the song turns dark, yet remains as undulant as the bodies of crepuscular lovers. “Travelin’ Lite” is a cross-hatching collision between the Cuban “guajira” and the second line rhythm so characteristic of New Orleans. “You get a sense of the interpreter (of the song) travelling light because I am only accompanied by the bass at one time; then by the piano; later the trumpet,” Ms. Santi explains, “I’s being accompanied by one musician at a time… It’s called “Travelin’ Lite” but it is hard to play,” she reveals. The stately, shimmering rhythm of the Cuban “danzón” bathes “Involved Again,” with Jon Thompson’s sweet clarinet and the singer who is yearning for a new love in her life, yet realizes that she is a fool for love. This is a chart that Billie Holiday wanted dearly to record, but died before she could do so. Dick LaPalm, Nat “King” Cole’s promoter suggested that Ms. Santi record this song. “It was extremely special to be mailed the lead sheet personally by the composer, Jack Reardon,” Ms. Santi reveals somewhat in awe of being considered as an interpreter of a song that Ms. Holiday herself yearned to do. “That Old Devil Called Love” sashays with the voluptuous ecstasy of “son-Abakuá” and is resplendent in the rich imagery of Afro-Cuban music. “There are codes here which only my (Afro-Cuban) peers will hear,” Ms. Santi says, “including a quote from a famous Cuban song called “El Diablo Tun, Tun,” she reveals, almost as a gentle challenge to anyone ready for it. “I Cover the Waterfront /Monk’s Dream” is another song worked into the cracked rhythm of a Monk-like idiom, worked into the swinging “guaguancó” rhythm, featuring the lonesome clave with the rumble of François Zayas’ cajón. “You’d Better Go Now” is set to a deliciously sexy “yambú” rhythm that is beguiling despite its sad and lonesome lyric.

Venissa Santi 1Perhaps the darkest part of the album is “Strange Fruit” a song that Billie Holiday’s infused with the searing imagery of an ugly part of America’s tainted history. Performed as a swaying “bolero” this chart infuses the horror of lynching in the deep south of the United States with a prayer to the Cuban God, “Oya”. “She is the keeper of the cemetery gates and the fierce winds,” Ms. Santi warns about a torch song that she sings with breathtaking power. “It’s a political song. It’s a song about social change. I like repertoire like that,” she says, “I busted my skull over hearing it for the first time. Much of my phrasing is breath work… holding a lot inside and (having to) creep out of a very tight air space with my diaphragm,” Ms. Santi says enigmatically. In many respects “Strange Fruit” is the crowning glory of Big Stuff. It is a song that Ms. Holiday never took lightly and neither does Venissa Santi.

A musician of rare and unbridled genius, Venissa Santi was born to parents who filled her life equally with the music of Celia Cruz, Maurice Ravel and Michael Jackson, and numerous other musicians. Here musical heritage goes further back: to a grandfather, Jacobo Ros Capablanca, a Cuban composer. She honored his memory by playing one of his songs on Bienvenida. Ms. Santi was born in Ithaca, New York, but moved to Philadelphia after she graduated high school. There, through the study of her grandfather`s compositions, she re-connected with her Cuban roots and majored in Jazz Vocal Performance. She was a vocal instructor at the Asociación de Músicos Latino Americanos. She has gigged extensively with a slew of jazz, Latin-Jazz and World Music groups and musicians. In 2008, Ms. Santi won the Pew Fellowship for Folk and Traditional Arts. In 2009 she was signed to Sunnyside Records. She went to Cuba specially to study Afro-Cuban song, dance and percussion as well as to prepare for this very unique Billie Holiday project.

“I haven’t even touched the tip of the iceberg,” she reveals with beguiling honesty. “I have not yet got to “God Bless the Child” because I have so many thematic ideas regarding that tune… which leads me to believe that I might do a Billie Holiday suite… a “God Bless the Child” suite…” More Billie Holiday? “It’s sort of intense to think how close I’ve been to this repertoire and Billie’s story,” Ms. Santi adds, “It’s been an extremely existential experience”.

Track Listing: 1. On the Sunny Side of the Street (Guaguancó); 2. Big Stuff (Tumba Francesa); 3. What’s New?; 4. My Man (Makuta); 5. Strange Fruit (Bolero); 5. Stormy Weather (Palo); 7. You’re My Thrill (Tango Congo); 8. Travelin’ Light (Guajira/Nola); 9. Involved Again (Danzón); 10. That Old Devil Called Love (Son); 11. I Cover the Water Front/Monk’s Dream (Guaguancó); 12. You Better Go Now (Yambú).

Personnel: Venissa Santí: Vocalist; François Zayas: Drums, Percussion; Tim Thompson: Trumpet; Chris Aschman: Trumpet, and Flugelhorn; John Stenger: Piano; Jason Fraticelli: Bass; Cuco Castellanos: Congas; Madison Rast: Bass; Paul Klinefelter: Contrabass; Jon Thompson: Clarinet; Special guest: Jef Lee Johnson: Guitar.

Label: Sunnyside Records | Release date: September 2013

- See more at: - LATIN JAZZ NETWORK


VENISSA SANTI/Big Stuff-Afro Cuban Holiday: A Danilo Perez discovery, Santi is back after a long wait with her latest, an Afro-Cuban tribute to Billie Holliday. It's like nothing you've ever heard. Removing the source material by time and distance, Santi need only use the Holliday connection as a marketing hook. This probably would have been just as compelling if she was singing the phone book, Santi delivers the kind of passion listeners want to hear from a jazz vocalist no matter what's she's singing. A stunning tour de force that's a mind blower throughout and creative as all get out.

"CD Release Press September 2013"

Big Stuff – Afro Cuban Holiday
Venissa Santí
Sunnyside Records
When building a focal point around a recording, there’s many reasons that an artist might create an album dedicated to the repertoire of an influential musician. On the one hand, a “tribute” album takes some of the pressure off an artist, allowing them to follow in the footsteps of a well-known artist. This may help a popular audience quickly connect with the music, but it often leads to uninspired recordings that simply rehash ideas from the past. Responsibly undertaking a repertoire project requires some in-depth study of the influential artist, spending years digging deeply into the musical elements that made that performer great. There needs to be some serious analysis around the original artist’s performance approaches, and some thought about why those approaches created some powerful moments. Most importantly, an artist that undertakes a repertoire project news to embrace the creative opportunities and re-envision the original musician’s influence through their own creative artistic perspective. When a musician really takes this part of the project to heart, listeners get a unique insight into the way that the influencer shaped this younger musician as they hear the music in the same way its being heard by the artist. An honest and studied tribute to an influential artist lets us remember the influential moments and capture some new ideas, leaving us with a rich emotional connection to both the role model and the student. Vocalist Vanessa Santí lovingly revisits the repertoire of influential vocalist Billie Holiday on Big Stuff – Afro Cuban Holiday, smartly framing the legendary vocalist’s massive influence within the Cuban context of Santí’s world.

Wrapping Holiday’s Repertoire Around Cuban Folkloric Styles
The vocalist digs deeply into her roots on several tracks, arranging several prime pieces of Holiday’s repertoire around folkloric Cuban styles. A freely interpreted vocal melody from Santí leads the rhythm section into a ferocious vamp to introduce “On The Sunny Side Of The Street,” dripping with tension as the groove tears through alternating time signatures and Santí trades riffs with trumpet player Tim Thompson. Percussionists François Zayas and Cuco Castellanos transition the group into an uptempo rumba guaguanco as Santí interprets the classic melody with a floating sense of jazz interpretation that sits comfortably within the fine line between swing and clave. Pianist John Stenger drives the band forward with a burning montuno, setting the stage for lyrical improvisation from guitarist Jef Lee Johnson that takes the group back to Santí’s wonderful phrasing on the melody. Zayas makes a commanding entrance with thundering Tumba Francesa percussion amid bold bass and piano attacks until Santí delivers the first piece of the melody on “Big Stuff,” accompanied by several layers of overdubbed harmonies. Santí’s vocal performance demonstrates a deep understanding of the cultural connection between jazz and Cuban rhythms, as she maintains a relaxed swing over a varying backdrop of percussion and drum kit. Thompson and Johnson both get opportunities to fill the gaps between Santí’s phrases with improvised licks, but Zayas steals the show with some powerful solos on both drum kit and percussion. Santí expertly wraps the lyric to “I Cover The Waterfront” around an up-tempo rumba clave while Zayas quintos around her on cajón with a clever sense of call and response before the rest of the rhythm section enters with a floating freedom. After some interesting improvisation exchanges between Aschman, Santí, and Stenger, the vocalist scats through the melody to “Monk’s Dream” that takes the song into a fascinatingly complimentary new approach. The instrumentalists take turns soloing through the jazz harmony, with a bluesy turn from Aschman, some impressive virtuosity from Zayas, and an engaging lyrical command from Fraticelli. There’s an enchanting quality about Santí’s voice as she sings “You Better Go Now” with a charming blend of exuberance and innocence over the light texture of clave, cajon, and piano in the background. Fraticelli joins the group behind Stenger’s solo, allowing him to playfully run lines throughout the chords that bounce gently off the buoyant groove in the background. This track is a perfect example of Santí’s uncanny ability to walk in two world simultaneously with style and ease; there’s not a lean towards jazz or Cuban music at any point, it’s simply a comfortable and very musical interpretation of a wonderful song. There’s a wonderful honesty and authenticity in these tracks that rises from Santí and her musicians balancing the street aesthetic and raw intensity of folkloric traditions with Holiday’s ability to swing through popular songs.

Matching Popular Songs with Well-Known Cuban Rhythms
Santí recognizes the connection between Holiday’s choice of popular songs and the well-known dance rhythms of Cuba as well, finding creative ways to seamlessly blend these two worlds. The deep, rich tone of Paul Klinefelter’s bowed bass sets an introspective mood on “Strange Fruit,” making way for an open and exposed trio setting that highlights Santí’s firm yet laid back phrasing. Zayas joins with some very sparse high hat as Klinefelter and Stenger move through several harmonic colors in a steady and commanding rhythmic pulse. Santí steps back into the spotlight with a mesmerizing interpretation of the lyric that’s both captivating and mysterious before moving into traditional Cuban song over the rhythmic pulse. Aschman’s trumpet recalls the bold flare of Marachi music, playing a solo over hand claps, until Fraticelli lays down a frantic guajira bass line behind Santí’s vocal on “Travelin’ Light.” As the full rhythm section enters, they fall into a ferocious groove that frames the last bit of Santí’s vocal with sharp hits before racing into a double time swing for Stenger’s improvisation. The pianist builds his solo fluidly with a bop flavor that adds extra impact to the abrupt gear change back into a montuno for Santí’s commanding vocal, which powerfully steers the band back through several different feels before coming to a climatic end. The band builds a wall of rhythmic tension which simple disappears as Santí enters the track with a commanding vocal on “That Old Devil Called Love,” which gets a quick lift as the rhythm section returns with a swinging son montuno. Santí’s navigates the clave with a comfortable familiarity that adds a fun twist onto her vocal, which leads into an energetic solo from Aschman. After a return to the main melody, the rhythm section pushes through a number of distinct feels while Aschman trades fierce solo lines with some serious scat lines from Santí. Klinfelter’s bowed bass intertwines intimately around Jon Thompson’s clarinet as the two musicians play a somber line that sets up a danzon rhythm on “Involved Again.” Santí’s phrases are sparse and elongated, providing room for insightful instrumental commentary from Stenger and Thompson that smartly plays upon the song’s reflective atmosphere. This track really hits a poignant spot due to a spartan yet impactful arrangement that sets a mood but also provides a gentle spotlight for Santí’s lyric work. While the match between popular songs and common rhythms may seem quickly apparent, Santí contextualizes the relationship within her creative vision, cleverly alternating between the obvious and the artistic.

Adding Diversity While Staying True To A Personal Vision
Santí takes a wide variety of approaches on the remaining tracks, adding some interesting diversity to the album while remaining true to her personal interpretation of Holiday’s repertoire. Stenger gently plays a few sparse and exposed chords before Santí enters with an understated beauty on “What’s New,” interpreting the melody with a coy and reflective intimacy that comes alive dramatically in the highly personal duet. The pianist plays upon the song’s inherent drama with a smartly crafted improvisation that utilizes register and ample helpings of dissonance to tell a richly woven story. As Santí returns with the melody, she reveals herself to be completely comfortable in the very exposed setting, stretching notes and playing with her tone in a way that shows us just as much about the singer as the song. Brash attacks from the piano and an angular bass line frame Makuta drumming on “My Man,” until the texture thins for a subtly swinging vocal performance from Santí. There’s a natural tension in the arrangement as the rhythm section creeps back towards the original feel, eventually taking center stage with an explosive drum kit solo from Zayas. Stenger storms into an improvisation full of percussive intensity and dissonance, which opens into a franticly uptempo return to Santí’s melody that serves as a climatic ending. An aggressive six beat bass line anchors a varied collection of harmonic colors beneath a dark trumpet solo from Aschman on “You’re My Thrill,” before the band quiets to a whisper for Santí’s melancholy vocal interpretation. There’s some wonderfully dramatic rhythm section work behind Santí, painting with broad harmonic strokes and even taking reflective pauses that emphasize her phrasing. Aschmann uses the wide open texture to build a fiery and expressive improvisation that pushes the dynamic higher as Santí revisits the melody. There’s a contrasting stylistic intensity on “Stormy Weather” as bassist Madison Rast aggressively plays a triplet line before sending the rhythm section flying into a double time swing where Stenger unleashes a flurry of bop lines. The group falls into a laid-back 6/8 rhythm for Santí’s interpretation of the original lyric before bursting into a more assertive flow of rhythmic power behind traditional Cuban song. A swinging bass line takes Santí into a more familiar approach to the song, but there’s only a brief fall into the comfort zone before the group intensely forces the song through a number of rhythmic twists and turns. Lesser known Cuban genres, different instrumental ensembles, and abrupt mid-song stylistic shifts all come into play here, providing some drastically different perspectives on the way that Santí approaches Holiday’s repertoire.

A Loving Tribute To Holiday That Creatively Re-Imagines Her Influence
Santí creates a loving tribute to Holiday’s influence on Big Stuff – Afro Cuban Holiday, and she does it in a way that honors the creative being that originally made such an impact upon jazz vocals. It would have been easy for Santí to simply throw some steady Cuban rhythms underneath Holiday’s greatest hits and produce a commercially appealing album that placed the influential singer’s music in a danceable setting. This album was produced with much more thought though, as Santí re-imagined these songs in a way that placed equal emphasis upon the rich diversity of Santí’s Cuban heritage as well as the classic jazz influence of Holiday. There’s a lot of Holiday’s influence in the recording, from the song choice to the way that Santí approaches her vocal performance, but in reality, Big Stuff is really about the way that Santí see and hears Holiday. It’s obvious throughout the recording that Santí has spent a good deal of time with Holiday, assimilated her influence, and made informed artistic decisions about how to balance imitation and creation. The arrangements are inventive on every level, providing space for Santí’s vocal work to shine while drawing upon the strength of her bandmates. Zayas makes strong contributions throughout the recording, anchoring the broad spectrum of Cuban rhythms and insuring authentic connections to the greater cultural traditions. Stenger also serves as an important voice, delivering a wide palette of harmonic colors, a fiercely supportive rhythmic approach, and a lively improvisational energy. At every turn, Big Stuff – Afro Cuban Holiday conjures fond memories of the influential jazz singer, but there’s not a hint of nostalgia in the music; instead, we get an inspired look at the way that Holiday will continue to inspire Santí’s artistry and carry her impact into the future.

Track Listing:
1. On The Sunny Side Of The Street (Jimmy McHugh & Dorothy Fields)
2. Big Stuff (Leonard Bernstein)
3. What’s New? (Bob Haggart & Johnny Burke)
4. My Man (Maruice Yvain, Jacques Charles, Channing Pollack, & Albert Willemetz)
5. Strange Fruit (Abel Meeropol)
6. Stormy Weather (Harold Arlen & Ted Koehler)
7. You’re My Thrill (Jay Gorney & Sidney Clare)
8. Travelin’ Light (Johnny Mercer, James R. Mundy, & James O. Young)
9. Involved Again (Jack Reardon)
10. That Old Devil Called Love (Allan Roberts & Doris Fisher)
11. I Cover The Water Front/Monk’s Dream (Johnny Green, Edward Heyman, & Thelonious Monk)
12. You Better Go Now (Irvin Graham & S. Bickley Reichner)

Venissa Santí – vocal; Tim Thompson – trumpet (1, 2); Chris Aschman – trumpet (7, 8,10, 11, 12); Jef Lee Johnson – guitar (1, 2); John Stenger – piano; Jason Fraticelli – bass (1, 2, 4, 7, 8, 10, 11, 12); Paul Klinefelter – bass (5, 9); Madison Rast – bass (6), coro (6); Jon Thompson – clarinet (9); François Zayas – drums/percussion (1, 2, 4 – 12); Cuco Castellanos – congas (1), claves (11) - All ads

"Venissa Santi "Bienvenida""

Stepping onto the world music stage with her first solo album, Cuban-American songstress Venissa Santi not only serves up 10 wide-ranging tracks as fresh and invigorating as spring rain, but accomplishes it almost single-handedly. Not that she isn’t provided superior accompaniment, particularly by Rodriquez brothers Michael (trumpet) and Robert (piano), bassist Yunior Terry and drummer/percussionist Francois Zayas. But Santi produced the disc, shaped all the arrangements and wrote two of songs.

Divided almost evenly between Spanish and English, Santi’s selections range from boldly modern interpretations of such Cuban classics as “Como Fue” (reinvented as a fiery blues with inspired assistance from two special guests, guitarist/bassist Jeff Lee Johnson and organist Barry Soames) and the warmly beguiling “Lucerito de mi Amor” (written by her grandfather) to a satin-lined reading of the Gershwins’ “Embraceable You,” adorned with an ingenious vocalese bridge, and a delightfully imaginative pairing of the Peter Pan lullaby “Tender Shepherd” with Rodgers and Hart’s “Little Girl Blue.”

Impressively, Santi’s own compositions, both written in English, shine just as brightly. Her “Talkin’ to You” involves a feisty lass bidding a firm, if somewhat reluctant, adieu to a vainly recalcitrant lover, while, in the spirit of Leon Russell’s “Superstar” and so many like-minded pop anthems, “Wish You Well” simply but expertly tells the tale of a girl left on the sidelines by an overly ambitious rock star wannabe.

- Jazz Times


"Bienvenida" Released Sunnyside Records April 2009
Played nation wide on Jazz Radio
"Tender Shepherd/ Little Girl Blue", "Talkin' To You"

"Big Stuff" Afro Cuban Holiday- Released September 2013 Sunnyside Records



Venissa's artistry stems from the necessity to express the many influences that have nourished her spirit as a Cuban American. She was born in Ithaca, New York and hails from a long line of Cuban artists. But it was her grandfather, Jacobo Ros Capablanca, a Cuban composer who instilled in her a life-long passion for music.

As a child she grew up listening to the sounds of Ravel, Celia Cruz and Michael Jackson as well as theatrical productions and jazz. After completing high school, she moved to Philadelphia, where she enrolled at the University of the Arts, connected with her Cuban roots (via her grandfathers compositions) and majored in Jazz Vocal Performance.

After graduation, she became actively involved in Philadelphias Latin community and music scene and began her career as a vocal instructor with the Asociacin de Msicos Latino Americanos, better known as AMLA. Over time she performed with a variety of Latin, jazz and World music groups. It was from the support and encouragement of this community that inspired Venissa to embark on the first of four life changing visits to Cuba, where she conducted research and studied Afro Cuban song, dance and percussion.

She was under the tutelage of Master Gregorio "El Goyo" Hernandez and Masters dancers from Yoruba Andabo, Arturo Clave y Guaganco, Afro-Cuba de Matanzas and Irosso Oba and reconnected with her relatives in Cuba. In 2004 she became a wife and mother and went into isolation in order to process all of the information she had absorbed in Cuba. Venissa began to compose, what she calls "the soundtrack of her lifes journey thus far." The result is an audacious new sound that defies borders, language and categorization.

In 2008 Venissa won the prestigious Pew Fellowship, for Folk and Traditional Arts. In 2009, she was signed to Sunnyside Records and released Bienvenida, which immediately climbed to #3 on radio show host and jazz expert, Bob Parlochas list of Top Ten recordings. In addition, she has been praised by Latin icon Ruben Blades and pianist, Danilo Perez, who called her treatment of the classic tune, Como Fue, "Audacious!"

Venissa is currently promoting her new recording at venues and festivals and is in the process of preparing new material for her highly anticipated follow up to Bienvenida. Perhaps it was Ruben Blades who put it best when he summed things up by saying, "I think we are going to be hearing a lot from this young lady."

Band Members