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Police officer leads El Paso musicians reviving traditional big-band sound [El Paso Times, Texas :: ]
[September 01, 2014]

Police officer leads El Paso musicians reviving traditional big-band sound [El Paso Times, Texas :: ]

(El Paso Times (TX) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Sept. 02--Javier Sambrano leads a double life as a police officer with a passion for playing music -- not just any music, but big-band dance music.

"When some people at work found out I was doing thing this, they were a bit surprised," he said.

Sambrano helps coordinate El Paso's Crime Stoppers Program. Sometimes, he explains to news media what happened at a wreck or crime scene as one of the El Paso Police Department's official spokesmen.

Sambrano is the leader, musical arranger and drummer for Paso Del Norte Big Band, a diverse group of musicians trying to revive traditional, often sentimental, music of a by-gone era: boleros, cha cha chas, mambos and swing.

"I've always loved big-band music," he said. "I've always had a dream of being able to start a big band." Traditional big-band or swing style music has been mostly missing in El Paso since legendary border musicians and bandleaders like Mike Caranda and Chito Gonzalez died a few years ago.

Sambrano tried for years without success to organize a big band that could revive the 1930s and 1940s tunes popularized by music and orchestra legends such as Glenn Miller, Count Baise, Harry James, Benny Goodman and others, plus the 1950s Mambo-infused compositions of the Cuban bandleader Pérez Prado and the Sonora Santanera tropical music from Mexico.

Paso Del Norte Big Band was organized last October.

Sambrano began recruiting seasoned and young musicians while he was playing with a small jazz group.

Soon, the group was rehearsing at San Martin De Porres Catholic Church, doing a few small tea party gigs and even introducing elementary school students to the elegant dancing music of their grandparents and great-grandparents.

The 16-piece Paso Del Norte Big Band recently played a tardeada at Another Memory Ballroom in East Central El Paso, a four-hour musical journey back to the 1940s.

"That's the music I've lived through," Northeast El Paso resident Mary Doerr said. "So many years ago we had big-band dances once a month. I'm grateful to have them back now." Jesus Maese, a retired master electrician, and his wife Carmen, of Central El Paso, count themselves as dedicated followers of Paso Del Norte Big Band.

"We enjoy listening and dancing to this music. We love this ambiance," Jesus Maese said. "We're going to tell all our friends." Sambrano grew up listening to his father's Glenn Miller vinyl records. He got hooked and later used to hang around musicians and tea dances featuring El Paso/Juárez bandleaders like Caranda, Gonzalez and Carlos Aceves.

"All these great people taught me a lot," he said. "I've always loved music but I haven't studied music professionally like a lot of these guys." One of these guys is trumpet player Ray Diaz, who once conducted an 18-piece band in Juárez. He also has played with practically every El Paso band dating back to the 1960s.

"I don't know much but I've been around. I'm grateful to God for the opportunities I've been given," Diaz said. "We're barely starting but eventually we'll be there. That's what people want -- good music." Trombone player Robert Escobar, 19, a music major and junior at the University of Texas at El Paso, is convinced that playing with older, seasoned musicians will benefit his musical career in the long run.

"We don't have this music any more but at least we get to re-enact and help others relive the past," he said.

Mike Murgia, a tenor saxophone player, has a day job as a certified public accountant.

"This keeps me playing my horn so it doesn't gather dust," Murgia said. "We're the only band in town playing the '30s and '40s music. Every other big band is either doing more jazz stuff or more modern pieces." Hilario Gamez, an engineer teaching at the UTEP College of Engineering, also plays tenor sax with Paso Del Norte Big Band.

"It's a great opportunity for musicians and dancers," he said. "This is a very strong group of musicians. Many of them have years and years of experience." Vocalist Yadira Del Campo usually tinkers with computers as an information technology specialist.

"This is just a passion, a great experience for me," she said. "It's a blessing and a privilege. I love that they like to play the classics." Sambrano, the musician with a badge and a dream, is optimistic that the big-band sound that he grew up with will infect others.

"I love being able to play for people who enjoy this music," he said. "I also want to expose younger generations that maybe haven't had an opportunity to listen to a full big band." Ramón Rentería may be reached at 546-6146.

To find out more about Paso Del Norte Big Band, contact Javier Sambrano or Mike Mancera, 203-7292 or 433-1407; Sample the band's music at

___ (c)2014 the El Paso Times (El Paso, Texas) Visit the El Paso Times (El Paso, Texas) at Distributed by MCT Information Services

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