Sammy Figueroa At The Van Dyke Cafe In Miami Beach

By Brooke Bach

From the outside Van Dyke Cafe appears to be a large indoor and outdoor family oriented restaurant. Vibrant reds and yellows coupled with dark hardwood accents create a warm, comfortable environment. A large tapered staircase with a security guard manned the entrance ascends to a much different environment. The red theme carries over into opulent velvet curtains behind the stage and the tables become situated much closer together. The upstairs of Van Dyke Cafe is designated for nightly jazz performances ranging from Blues to Latin Jazz. The strong Latin influence in South Florida peaked my interest in Latin Jazz. Sammy Figueroa and his Latin Jazz Explosion played at Van Dyke Cafe on March 11, 2011 from 9:00 PM to 11:45 PM.

The music created among Sammy Figueroa and his band mates is distinctly jazz, however the instrument choice pulls from the collection of traditionally Latin music. Typical jazz instruments included in the ensemble were the piano, saxophone and trumpet. The full drum set was played aggressively and provided a rock and roll sound. Most importantly, Sammy Figueroa’s stationary set up included three conga drums and two bongos. He also used the tambourine, timbales and a homemade noise maker that appeared to comprise of plastic pipes, beads and excessive amounts of duct tape. Sammy lead the band, set the beat before each set and played all of his music extemporaneously. Band members, such as the saxophonist and drummer, would often be showcased in a number off of their individual CD that they composed. The band worked together in what truly appeared to be an ad-lib manner. Although their music was technically sound, their unscripted style created a fun and relaxed environment. After a set Sammy would walk through the crowd, stopping to talk to some acquaintances. He was dripping in sweat and excused himself from a nearby conversation, “Pardon, puedo ir al bano.” He squeezed through the crowd, brushing by me and my fiance, again politely excusing himself. I later saw a bartender hand him and drink that he opened himself, drank half of and took back to his conga arrangement. The people crowded around the small stage reflected Sammy Figueroa’s easy-going personality. The crowd ranged from 20-something professionals to couples well past 60 years of age. While about half of the crowd spoke Spanish, I attribute this to the South Beach location more than the Latin nature of the music. After speaking to several middle aged audience members I found that most of the were native to the Miami area, visited Van Dyke Cafe for jazz performances on a regular basis and had seen Sammy Figueroa play before. While he and his band mates have been nominated for best Latin Jazz music twice, it felt to me that his biggest fans were his neighbors and regular audience members that he reached out to during breaks.

Upstairs at Van Dyke Cafe gave me a view into an unfamiliar music scene. The room is small, the stage smaller yet and the experience is entirely comfortable and intimate. The ingredients for a great atmosphere are no where near as complicated as the process by which Latin Jazz has developed. Sammy Figueroa and his band make Latin Jazz feel natural and easy to play, but the history behind infusing Latin influences into other genres of music is long. The Pan-American Association of Composers were dedicated to enmeshing different types of music and changing the flow of music from west to east (Stallings). The Pan-American Association of Composers successfully founds way in which to create Popular Latin music, Latin rock and Latin Jazz. Sammy Figueroa’s father was a rumba musician that although popular in the United States, was limited to members of the hispanic community. The efforts of the Pan-American Association of Composers and Sammy’s father show in Sammy Figueroa’s performance that invariably appeals to a wide variety of audiences. Sammy Figueroa and his Latin Jazz Explosion create unique Latin inspired jazz music each time they perform; their performances are an opportunity for people to see how Latin influences have become prevalent in American music due to the efforts of a long line of American and Hispanic musicians.


Sammy Figueroa Website

Van Dyke Cafe

Work Cited can be found on main page entitled "Live Jazz"
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