Instructor spreads passion for Latin music

MUSICAL INFLUENCES—Robert Chavez Jr. explains the infusion of Mambo, Latin Jazz, Afro-Cuban Jazz and Swing, the influences of the L.A Mambo All-Star Orchestra during their debut on March 6. CN/Danny Vasquez

By Alexa Santana

Music instructor Robert Chavez Jr. found his passion for music directing while he served as a conductor for the U.S. Army Band for 24 years.

He organized the first Latin band for the army because he felt there was a need for it for Latin soldiers and their families.

Chavez was sent to other bases to form Latin bands and by the time of his retirement in 2001, there were about 87.

Chavez graduated from the University of Texas, San Antonio with a bachelors degree in Music Composition and Music Theory.

He then moved to Los Angeles in 2005 to earn his master’s at UCLA and graduated with his masters in Afro-Latin Caribbean Music.

His wife, Reyna Chavez encouraged him to start his own band. Last year in September, he started his band Los Angeles Mambo All-Star Orchestra (LaMaSo).

When Chavez first moved to Los Angeles, he spent most of his time studying for his master’s.

He was used to directing music like he did in the military. Being in Los Angeles was a different scene for him.

Chavez felt that he had paid his dues and was going to retire and stick with teaching, but his wife thought otherwise.

“I started pushing him and pushing him. I encouraged him and praised him because he’s very talented,” Reyna Chavez said.

“Very few directors and writers have the knowledge that he does for all kinds of music. I wasn’t going to let his talent go to waste.”

She saw that he was a great director and he had an enormous amount of music that couldn’t go unheard.

The 24-piece band was formed with people he met since earning his masters and made its debut performance at East Los Angeles College’s First Friday Jazz concert on March 6.

LaMaSo is working on its first album, “A Vivir,” and aims to release it the first week of December.

Chavez is also the producer of his wife’s album, “Alma Mia.”

Reyna  Chavez said he brought the right musicians and directed the album, and it came out beautiful.

“I was privileged to have him produce the album because it came out great and everybody loves it,” Reyna Chavez said.

He was involved with everything from the music to the graphics of her album.

His father,  a musician who helped Chavez develop his love for music at an early age, contributed to the album by writing one of the songs.

Chavez teaches the Music History of Mexico class at ELAC and at University of California, Los Angeles Extension during the summer.

He teaches a class where students learn the music history of Mexico and incorporate social issues as they relate to the music.

Patricia Lazalde is currently enrolled in the course and said her reason for taking his course is because she feels Mexican music should be part of her life.

“I love the way he teaches, I love his presentation and the passion. He really has a lot of drive and wants us to know it,” Lazalde said.

She explains that Chavez always encourages his students to  further their education and expand their knowledge of Latin culture.

Aside from teaching and producing music, Chavez is also a published author of four books.

He wrote one of his books for his course at ELAC called “Mosaic Landscapes, the Music of Mexico.”

“There is no book that combines the music and history of Mexico. I didn’t want the students to buy three, four, five books. There are books on mariachi and there are books on banda, but no book that puts everything together,” Chavez said.

Every time he visited Mexico, he would take pictures and eventually put them all in one book

His other book, “The Magic of Mexico,” won first place for best use of photography in the Latino Literacy Now Foundation, founded by Edward James Olmos.


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