A Grammy for a Mambo King
Tony Peebles C’03 was in the middle of a recording session in Oakland this past January when he got the good news via Facebook: The Pacific Mambo Orchestra, a 19-member Bay Area band in which he plays saxophone, had just won a Grammy in the Best Tropical Latin category for its eponymous debut album.
Peebles was a music major at Penn with a concentration in music theory. His website (tonypeebles.com) describes him as a “busy saxophonist, composer, and teacher residing in Oakland, CA,” and since it’s a tad out-of-date, with no mention of the Grammy, we were glad to catch up with him briefly last month by email.
How did you get into playing salsa, mambo, etc.? Were you playing or studying it at Penn?
When I was living in Philadelphia, I was always attracted to Latin music and always wanted to play in a great salsa band. When I moved to the Bay Area, I found myself in a metropolitan area that has one of the strongest music scenes in the country, with numerous salsa bands playing every night of the week. It’s become my bread and butter as a saxophonist, like playing jazz was for me when I was in Philly. I do remember briefly playing in a salsa band that rehearsed up in Kensington, but the salsa scene out here is just incredible.
How did you hook up with Pacific Mambo? I was lucky enough to join this incredible ensemble when it was only a week old, so I’ve been in Pacific Mambo since the very beginning. From the first tune we played, I could tell I was in some great company and that this band was something special.
How does it compare with other musical styles you’ve played, in terms of both technique and sheer enjoyment?
Musically, the PMO’s music is challenging, interesting, and incredibly fun to play. The arrangers in the band have done an amazing job. Sometimes I’ve gone into a Pacific Mambo gig after a hard day or in a bad mood, and come out glowing with happiness and excitement. Playing mambo—especially with close friends and monster musicians—is a rejuvenating, healing experience!
Any plans, dreams, or schemes for the future?
I’d like to record a jazz trio this year—and of course play much more music with the PMO.