Latin Beat Magazine September 1994
Why would an attractive Nordic woman with degrees in Math, Electrical Engineering and Computer Science ignore the security of a high salaried job? In Susie Hansen's case it was love for jazz and the Cuban sound of charanga. It all began some 30 years ago in Chicago when her father James, a violinist in the Chicago symphony, found an incentive for his pre-teen daughter to study the violin. "At first my father paid us a nickel for a half hour of study..we received 40 cents for the 2nd hour and 50 cents for the third." Money was earned and some of it utilized for college tuition. Upon reaching 13, young Susie discovered boys, the art of hugging, made lots of friends, and shelved the violin. Five years elapsed before she realized music was in her blood. In her senior year she resumed her violin studies and performed classical chamber music until a rock ‘n' roll group stole her attention.
"I am a natural at improvisation...so I would play when cued, stop on a signal...instinctively, I knew what to do. I could easily hear the chord changes and had to learn the difference between a major seventh and a blues or dominant seventh."
It was at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) where she discovered jazz. With a masters degree in electrical engineering it appeared that she would live happily ever after. But not Susie, she was destined to experience all the pain musicians endure before they become legends. Her sense of "perfect pitch" made it easy to learn jazz harmonies. Then came gigs with Boston's Strings Attached and West Virginia's Trapezoid Folk band, before returning to Chicago to organize her jazz band.
One summer day in 1986, her jazz quintet was scheduled to perform in Grant Park. On the bill was Chicago's legendary Victor Parra and His Mambo Express All Stars. Parra was moved by Susie's violin proficiency and hired her to fill for a violinist he had just fired. "I learned to play a style of music which is called ‘charanga'...I was surprised to learn there were no charts, no lead sheets, or music of any kind...someone sang out what I was supposed to play and I played it...I fell in love with Latin music and I learned to play it by listening to recordings, gigs that I taped and pianist Marcus Persiani (Mario Bauza orchestra)." One evening she caught charanga BongoLogic at L.A.'s Nucleus Nuance. "I was knocked out by the performance of violinist Harry Scorzo...Harry invited me to sit in, and by the end of the night I knew I was hooked on the typical Cuban sound. BongoLogic inspired me because it had created such a wonderful combination of charanga and jazz. I realized I could fulfill my passions for both types of music."
Susie became more knowledgeable with the orchestras of Francisco Aguabella, Bobby Matos, Candi Sosa and Papo Conga. Pianist Joe Rotundi must be mentioned separately. "I've learned more from Joe than from anyone else anywhere!" Susie learned to compose and arrange music. Another of Hansen's highlights was reported by Nelson Rodriguez in his Bite From The Apple for the LB February 1992 issue: "towards the end of 1991, The Village Gate was treated to a great show with El Gran Combo, Tito Puente and guests Jon Faddis. One of the best parts of the evening was the guest appearance by Susie Hansen from Los Angeles, who received a standing ovation from the Gate crowd when she surprised everyone with her violin riffs."
In September, 1989, the Susie Hansen Charanga Jazz Ensemble came into being. She sent this writer her CD, Solo Flight. I was moved and I dubbed her "Lady Susie Hansen." In my letter to her, "For me it was a pleasant surprise to learn that a non-Hispanic as yourself could perform so proficiently and harness the sensual prowess of a Jean Luc Ponty and display it with such an overwhelming typical Cuban feel...If I had a microphone and the world was my listening audience, I would say to them,'to you Afro Cuban jazz aficionados, disregard that Susie does not have a Hispanic name...she has an Afro-Cuban heart'...Susie is worthy of a royal title...so Susie from this day forward, March 19, 1994, I will refer to you as 'your highness, Lady Susie Hansen...Solo Flight has earned you a noble rank in the world of Afro-Cuban jazz."