Photo credit: Peter Mitchell
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Electric violinist Susie Hansen plays fiery Latin Jazz and Salsa, creating music that brings audiences to their feet, dancing in the aisles. Susie and her Los Angeles-based band have been acclaimed by many critics, such as Phil Elwood from the San Francisco Examiner who describes them this way: "It's a sizzling, swinging Salsa band. Hansen can solo as if her bow was afire. The whole room was jumpin' for joy."
The Chicago native is a well-established jazz musician, and has developed a unique and exciting style that features her electric violin as the lead instrument of the ensemble. She has drawn on various forms of jazz and Latin music, integrating her own interpretation of traditional Cuban Charanga, a predecessor of Salsa which often features the violin, utilzing the ever-potent fire of Afro-Cuban rhythms and incorporating the compelling harmonies of straight-ahead jazz. According to Don Heckman of the Los Angeles Times, Susie "creates a brand of music that is as physically moving as it is intellectually stimulating." Her all-star band, created in 1989, features George Balmaseda on lead vocals, Joe Rotondi on piano, Rene Camacho on bass, Kaspar Abo on lead vocals and Jimmy Branly on timbales, among her other great musicians.
According to Oscar Abadia, KLVE-FM, radio K-Love in Los Angeles, "Susie Hansen is the greatest Salsa violinist in America." She has been featured as a soloist with Orquesta Los Van Van, Cuba's premier dance orchestra, both in Los Angeles and in Havana, Cuba, and with Orquesta Aragon, the world's most acclaimed Cuban Charanga ensemble.
Susie began studying classical violin at the age of six with her father, James Hansen, who was a violinist in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra for 37 years. In Boston she studied violin with Eric Rosenblith, head of the string department at New England Conservatory, and she studied jazz and bebop with legendary jazz instructor Charlie Banacos. At the same time, she pursued an education in math and computer science, ultimately earning two Masters degrees in Electrical Engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). After graduation, her musical career took precedence over science.
Susie formed her own jazz group in Chicago in 1982 which she led for several years. Following a successful concert of her band in Grant Park in 1986, she was invited by Victo Parra, leader of the Mambo Express All-Stars, to replace their violinist, and she soon discovered her passion for Latin music. When she moved to Los Angeles in 1988, she embarked on an in-depth study of everything and anything to do with Latin music. As can be seen from the extensive critical acclaim she has received, Susie has succeeded in turning the heads of even the most skeptical.
Mark Holston wrote in JAZZIZ Magazine, "her violin speaks the language of Latin Jazz with total fluency." A long-time favorite in Los Angeles, Susie and her band play 175-200 live performances per year, including such events as the Playboy Jazz Festival, Fiesta Broadway, San Jose Jazz Festival, LA Salsa Festival and Newport Beach Jazz Festival. She has toured nationally with her band, and has appeared with Tito Puente, Giovani Hidalgo, Paquito d'Rivera, Orquesta Broadway, Vikki Carr, Jose Rizo's Jazz on the Latin Side All-Stars, Orquesta Aragon, El Gran Combo, Los Van Van and Sonora Ponceņa.
Susie Hansen is a recording artist on Jazz Caliente Records with two releases, her current CD, The Salsa Never Ends and her debut CD, Solo Flight. Susie plays the electric 5-string Zeta violin. She has been getting extensive airplay across the United States and in Europe, South America, and Asia, and two singles from the current CD charted well with radio and club DJs for over a year.
Joe Rotondi is the pianist in the Susie Hansen Band, and was one of Susies strongest Latin influences. He was essential in her musical development in Latin Jazz and Salsa, influencing her style when they performed together in 1989 as members of the Candi Sosa Band. Joe joined Susies band in early 1996.
Joey began studying piano with his father, Joe Rotondi, Sr., and continued his musical studies at Los Angeles Community College. He has performed and recorded with many Latin Jazz greats in his musical career, including Herb Alpert, Pete Escovedo, Tolu, Vikki Carr, Linda Ronstadt, Arturo Sandoval, Doc Severinson, Alex Acuna, Justo Almario, the Estrada Brothers, Rudy Regalado and Chevere, Bongo Logic, John Pisano and Candi Sosa. Joe was featured on the recent Latin Jazz release of Herb Alpert, and the current Milestone CD of the Estrada Brothers. He was the pianist on the Paul Rodriguez's TV show, and played on the "Dirty Dancing" and "Mambo Kings" soundtracks.
Rene Camacho, the bass player in the Susie Hansen Band, joined Susie's band after moving to Los Angeles in 1997 from Tucson, Arizona. He immediately earned a strong reputation in LA as a talented bassist and a versatile musician not only in Latin music but in all jazz and pop styles.
In 1992, Rene earned his Bachelor's of Music in Jazz Studies and Composition from the University of Arizona. He has many production and arranging credits, and has performed for musical theater and television. He has worked with such outstanding national acts and local artists as Celia Cruz, Dizzy Gillespie, the Pointer Sisters, Marylin McCoo, Poncho Sanchez, Luis Conte, Buddy Collette, Francisco Aguabella, Bobby Matos, Conte Condoli, Bob Mintzer, Jose Rizo's Jazz on the Latin Side All-Stars, Warren Vache, Lew Tabacken and Billy Davis, Jr., Ray Sepulveda, and the Tucson Symphony. Rene also sings coro in the band.
Born in Havana, Cuba in 1972, Jimmy Branly began playing drums at the age of 13. He has performed with most of the major Cuban groups including NG La Banda and Isaac Delgado. Jimmy moved to Los Angeles in 2000, and since that time has performed with some of the best Latin acts in the US. Among his credits are piano virtuoso Gonzalo Rubalcaba, Flora Purim and Airto Moreira, Strunz and Farah, Celia Cruz, Tito Nieves, Franky Negron, Sheila E, Jimmy Haslip, Russell Ferrante, Rebeca Mauleon, Francisco Aguabella, Poncho Sanchez, Luis Conte, Justo Almario, and Alex Acuna. Jimmy joined Susie's band as drummer and timbalero in 2003.
Lead vocalist and guitarist Kaspar Abbo has performed with the Susie Hansen Latin Band since 2006. He has been the lead singer with the well-known Funk and World Beat band, the Bonedaddys, for many years. Born in London, England, and raised all over the world, he moved with his family to Whittier CA during his high school years. Kaspar is in great demand as a session singer in Los Angeles.
Born in Caracas, Venezuela, lead singer and congero Daniel Castillo joined the Susie Hansen Latin Band in 2011. He started singing at an early age by participating in and winning contests at various music festivals. He began his singing career in Caracas, where he performed with several Salsa bands, becoming well known and gaining experience. Since moving to Los Angeles in the 1990s, he has performed with various musical groups such as the LA Salsa All-Stars, Latin Fusion, Son Mayor, Orquesta Siva, Orquesta Macondo, Johnny Polanco y Conjunto Amistad, The Echo Park Project, Orquesta Melaza, Rudy Regalado y Orquesta Chevere, Francisco Aguabella, Orquesta La Palabra. Throughout his musical career, Daniel has had the honor of sharing the stage with big stars such as Santitos Colon, Lalo Rodriquez, Luigi Texidor, Adalberto Santiago, Camilo "Azuquita", Cano Estremera, Oscar D'Leon, Domingo Quinones, Maelo Ruiz, Yolandita Rivera, Pedro Bull and Trina Medina.
David Stout, trombonist, composer and arranger, was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and received his B.A. in music from Eastman School of Music, where he studied trombone with Emory Remington. A member of the Susie Hansen Band since 1992, David is the primary arranger for the band.
David's third symphonic piece for trombone and orchestra was premiered by the Los Angeles Solo Repertory Orchestra in 2000. In addition to being an arranger and composer, he has recorded jingles, soundtracks and albums with Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson, Jose Jose, Juan Gabriel and Linda Ronstadt. He played trombone on both of Susie's CDs, and co-produced "Solo Flight," Susie's first release. He and Susie co-authored five compositions on her CDs, and also wrote four of his own songs and arranged twelve selections on the CDs.
Tenor sax player Tim Messina studied at New England Conservatory and Berklee College of Music in Boston. He began his career by playing "Grease" on Broadway for 2 years. Tim studied with jazz greats Joe Allard, Eddie Daniels and George Coleman. He has toured with Lou Rawls, Dizzy Gillespie, Prince, Bob Dylan, and recorded with Prince, U2, LeeAnn Rhimes and Stevie Wonder. Tim has worked in the movie business as well, playing on the soundtracks of "Stuart Little" 1 and 2, "Me, Myself and Irene," and numerous other soundtracks including "Elf" and "Bridgett Jones Diary." Tim has recorded the theme songs for "Vegas," "The Nanny" and "The Sopranos." He currently tours and records with the Brian Setzer Orchestra. He has played with great Latin acts such as Tito Puente, Johnny Ventura, Celia Cruz, Nelson Ned, Ismael Quintana, Vitin Aviles, Blanca Rosa Gil, Yolandita Monge, LA Salsa Society and Freddie Crespo's Costazul. Besides tenor, Tim plays flute in Susie's band, having joined the band in 2001.
TIKI PASILLAS, an outstanding drummer and multi-percussionist, first joined Susie's band in the 1990 and returned as drummer/timbalero from 1994 to 2003. Tiki played timbales, drums and other percussion Susie's second CD, "The Salsa Never Ends." As a teenager in Oakland, California, Tiki won a Berkelee College of Music scholarship, and later received the Latin Stylist Award at Musicians Institute in Los Angeles. He has toured extensively with the acclaimed Salsa singer Mark Anthony, and performed or recorded with many jazz and Salsa greats, including Alex Acuna, Tito Nieves, Sheila E, Kenny Kirkland, Hiroshima, Peter Erskine, Tito Puente, Celia Cruz, Horace Silver, Cachao, Giovanni Hidalgo, Juan Pablo Torres, Poncho Sanches, Nestor Torres, Paquito D'Rivera, and Kazu and Keiko Matsui. Tiki currently plays percussion as a member of the house band for "Jimmy Kimmel Live," a popular national TV show produced in Los Angeles.
Percussionist JOE DE LEON, JR, born in New York City of Puerto Rican heritage, joined the Susie Hansen Band as congero in 1995, was a member until 2002, and played on her CD, "The Salsa Never Ends." He was introduced to music at the age of 3 by his father who was also a percussionist. He graduated from the Manhattan School of Music, where he received a B.M. in classical percussion and the George Shick Award for outstanding musicianship. Joe has performed with Dave Valentin, Tito Puente, Sheila E., Orquesta Broadway, Roland Vazquez, Francisco Aguabella, Tupac Shakur, Giovanni Hidalgo, Jose Luis "Changuito" Quintana, Raphael, Luis Conte, Rudy Regalado, Marcos Loya, the Estrada Brothers, Jose Mangual, and many others.
Vocalist GEORGE BALMASEDA was the lead vocalist of Susie's band for many years, singing the lead in Susie's widely popular single "La Salsa Nunca Se Acaba" from her first CD, "The Salsa Never Ends." Cuban born, George is known as a skilled sonero, a vocalist who sings the creative improvisations responding to the coro sung by the background vocalists. He has sung and toured worldwide with many of the greats, including Tito Puente, Celia Cruz, La Lupe, Oscar de Leon, Ruben Blades, Tito Nieves, Jose "El Canario" Alberto, Rey de la Paz, Ismael Quintana, Ismael Miranda, Camilo Azuquita, Tony Vega and Ray Sepulveda. His voice was featured with Tito Puente's Orchestra in an episode of The Simpsons, and was cast as the lead Salsa singer in the movie "Along Came Polly."He is currently lead vocalist in the band Lucky Seven and with Angel Lebron y Sabor Latino. George sang in Susie's band from 1991-1993, 1994-1996, and 2002-2010.
Internationally renowned saxophonist JUSTO ALMARIO performed as a guest artist on Susie's second CD, "The Salsa Never Ends," playing outstanding solos on "Alibi" and Susie's original Merengue, "Blues Con Fuego." He has performed with many jazz, pop and Latin greats, such as Mongo Santamaria, Freddie Hubbard, Charles Mingus, Chaka Khan, Linda Rondstadt, Roy Ayers, George Duke, Dave Grusin, Tito Puente, Machito, Master P and even Queen Latifah. Columbian born, Justo is recognized as Colombia 's most outstanding jazz musician of his generation. He currently is a member of Jose Rizo's "Jazz on the Latin Side All-Stars," and along with Alex Acuna leads the Latin jazz ensemble "Tolu."
Puerto Rican born singer RUBEN ESTEVA sang with Susie's band from 1999 to 2003, and is featured as lead vocalist on three songs of her CD, "The Salsa Never Ends." Ruben began his career in Los Angeles singing with Latin Fusion, one the top Salsa bands in LA, performed with Freddie Crespo's band Costazul, and currently leads his own Salsa band.
Saxophonist and flutist STEVE MARSH played in Susie's band from 1998 to 2003, and performs on her second CD, "The Salsa Never Ends," creating a notable smooth jazz tenor solo on Susie's original Bolero/Cha Cha "La Pregunta." He also has a particularly impressive ability on the Charanga flute. Steve has played with many well known international artists since moving from New Mexico to Los Angeles, including Lyle Lovett and Brian Setzer.
Versatile guitarist and lead vocalist, RICK VITTALLO sang and played with Susie for a number of years. He has worked with lots of the musical greats of our time, including Frank Sinatra, Burt Bachrach, Celine Dion, Englebert Humperdinck, Connie Stevens, The Supremes, The Drifters, Stan Kenton, Duke Ellington, Art Pepper and Woody Herman. Rick is a state-of-the-art music programmer as well as composer, arranger and conductor. Beyond his musical career, he is an actor, comedian, and a Martial Artist holding a Black Belt in Kenpo Karate.
GILBERTO TORRES performed as lead singer and flute player in Susie's band from 1995 to early 1999. A native of Venezuela, he left his country in the early 1990's to bring his band Guabacha to Germany, performing in the international jazz festivals in Germany, Holland, Turkey and Spain. He has recorded six records under his own name in Venezuela, two in Germany, and one in the US, where he is currently musical director of Angel Lebron y Su Sabor Latino in Los Angeles. Gilberto has also composed and arranged music for the Susie Hansen Band.
Singer and percussionist ERASMO "EDDIE" ORTIZ was the first lead singer of the Susie Hansen Band in 1989. He is the driving force and the leader of Son Mayor, one of the most popular Salsa dance bands Los Angeles, and has played with Yari More, Costa Azul and Rudy Regalado. Susie and her band regulary welcome Eddie to their stage to sit in on vocals and hand precussion with the band.
HONORARY members, frequent SUBS, distinguished ALUMNI, and GUESTS of Susie's band includes the band's technical director, soundman Steve Shoemaker, bassist John Belzaguy, drummer/timbalero Victor Barrientos, trumpeter Brenda Adelante, trumpeter Bobby Loya, saxophonist Dean Roubicek, guitarist/vocalist Craig Copeland, percussionist Roberto Cascante, bongocero Arnie Silva,congero Mike Vasquez, timbalero Ramon Banda, trombonist Kerry Loeschen, pianist Tom Regis, bassist Gustavo Eraso, pianist John Douglas, vocalist Mike Jimenez, trombonist Danny Weinstein, saxophonist/flutist Pedro Eustache, pianist/guitarist/vocalist Mark Gutierrez, vocalist Cheo Negron, percussionist David Romero, saxophonist Robert Incelli, trombonist Eric "the Dominator" Jorgansen and drummer Ronnie Gutierrez.