Trombonist/arranger Jamie Dubberly, who performs with his eight-piece Orquesta Dharma on the Latin jazz stage at 3 p.m., exemplifies the power of combining distinct traditions to create something savory and new. Last year he released "La Clave Del Gumbo," a project that combines Afro-Cuban dance music with New Orleans brass band cadences.
The Modesto musician had an epiphany in 2011 performing with Orquesta Dharma at Cal State Stanislaus, where he's on the faculty. A student brass combo from a course he was teaching played an opening set, and for the concert's grand finale, they joined his band on a piece he designed to move from a New Orleans beat to a cha cha. "That got me thinking," Dubberly says. "Clave rhythm is in the New Orleans thing. The second line came right out of Cuba. Putting them together made for a powerful combination. And I've always loved that Rebirth Brass Band/Dirty Dozen sound."
Dubberly is hardly the first jazz musician to explore the kindred African currents running through New Orleans and Havana (percussionist Bill Summers and trumpeter Irvin Mayfield's Los Hombres Calientes spent a decade combining New Orleans jazz and various Caribbean rhythm traditions).
But Dubberly was after something a little different. Drawing on the low brass sound associated with Puerto Rican salsa bandleader Willie Rosario, who combined trombone with baritone saxophone, he took the notion further on "La Clave del Gumbo," adding Mike Rinta on tuba, a horn linked to traditional New Orleans jazz.
"I always loved the bari and the bari/trombone sound," Dubberly says. "The low saxes and trombone is a sound nobody is doing. Having saxophones I can also have the players double on flutes, which gives a different color completely."
The fact that the Bay Area brims with strong salsa/Latin jazz ensembles provides certain challenges and advantages for bandleaders looking to distinguish themselves. While the music biz is notoriously competitive, the Bay Area has long fostered cooperation, a vibe exemplified by the presence of two bandleaders in Orquesta Dharma's ranks. Drummer Brian Andres leads the Afro-Cuban Jazz Cartel, and pianist Christian Tumulan co-leads the Grammy Award-winning Pacific Mambo Orchestra.
Dubberly works more in bands of other musicians than his own, and on Saturday he's also performing with Venezuelan vocalist Omar Ledezma's Rumbaché before the Orquesta Dharma set and with timbales great Louie Romero's Mazacote.
"The more you play the music, playing a lot of different books and seeing what works, the more ideas you get," Dubberly says. "I really like arranging and writing, bringing my own compositions to life. Playing in lots of different bands helped me out when I went to start arranging my own ideas."
With the versatile vocalist Ramon Garcia, Orquesta Dharma could have played the salsa stage, but Dubberly landed the middle spot on the Latin jazz stage between Brazilian-inspired vocalist Masha Campagne & Voz Da Lapa and flutist John Calloway and the Latin Collective (salsa almost always features vocals, while Latin jazz tends more toward instrumentals). The reggae stage features two acts, Native Elements and Rafa Roots.
"The idea is to cover a lot of stylistic ground," says Latin jazz stage booker Matt Beasley, who helps arrange acts for many festivals around the region. "The energy at the salsa stage is amazing, with so many people dancing. People are usually dancing at the Latin jazz stage too, but it's a little more for listening."