Spotlight: Jerry Hernandez And The New Orquesta Dee Jay

Q. This year has given you and ODJ many things to be thankful for, congratulations! What is unique about you and your band?

I think what makes us unique is our Hard Salsa Trombone sound of the 70’s, also known by some as La Trombanga de Nueva York. Our music is structured for dancers and not for other musicians so it’s simple.

I was a dancer first back in the late 60’s, and fell in love with the sound of the trombone and taught myself how to play. My style of playing is hard because there were no sophisticated sound systems with many microphones. Back in the day only the singers had microphones.

Q. How did you get started as a musician?

As a young child I loved the sound of live music which I was exposed to by my mom and uncles with their trio music and also the Drum & Bugle Corps which had huge horn lines that fascinated me. I grew up in the projects a few blocks from all the music stores on Park Row in Lower Manhattan. Many of the guys I grew up with played in salsa bands. My boy Angel Papo Rivera played congas with New Swing Sextet, Sammy DeLeon played sax and was the leader of La Fantastica, I also followed the Justinano Bros from today’s New Swing Sextet who played with a band called Ray Jay. I roamed the East Village trying to learn how to play salsa and get into a band. Finally in 1968 while practicing with a newly formed band in Brooklyn, George DeJesus discovered me and ask me to play in his band.

Q. Who were your inspirations and mentors?

JH. That’s easy before I learned how to play I fell in love with the trombone sound because of Eddie Palmieri’s trombone section Barry Rogers and Jose Rodriguez. Going to the St. George Hotel dances and seeing them perform was incredible. Barry’s solos were better than what I had ever heard. ODJ performed frequently with Eddie Palmieri, I loved to listen to and watch Jose Rodriguez. This was after Barry left, Jose’s backups to trumpet player Chocolate Armenteros were the best in the business.

Q. What has been your most memorable performance and why?

JH. Playing at the NY Salsa Congress in 2011, I had gone to the 2007 event to meet Andres Padua to discuss producing and re-releasing our Forget It LP in CD format. The thought of playing again and reforming the band wasn’t even in my mind. Once I restarted the band in 2008 one of my goals was to play the congress. Finding myself on the stage with my band in 2011 I was overwhelmed and I told this story.

Q. What are the biggest changes you have seen in the music industry over the years?

JH. I believe that although Salsa Romantica was popular in the 80’s it was also the beginning of the demise of the true form of Latin Music. It was no longer about the band and the focus was put on the pretty boys singing. All the bands began to sound the same and lost popularity with our young generation. Today’s salsa tunes are not on any top 20, what a shame. There is so much talent and newly recorded music out there that can’t find its way thru the Spanish Broadcasting System. The only way to get your music played is on the internet and college radio shows such as the Vicki Sola Show. There is however a movement going on and at some point we’ll overcome all our obstacles.

On the positive side, Salsa Music has become more popular with non-latino audiences throughout the world. More people than ever before, who are not Latino are dancing to Hard Salsa. Salsa Congresses are coming up all over the world in the most unthought-of cities like Istanbul and that’s great. DJ’s are becoming very popular and traveling the world to play our music. My only problem with the congresses is that many organizers are not booking any Salsa bands. Their focus is strictly on dance troupes. This year at the NY Salsa Congress Choco hit the nail on the head by focusing on all aspects of Salsa Music. He targeted collectors, concert goers, and the older and younger generation of salseros. I only hope that other organizers do the same.

Q. Sadly, there are fewer clubs and venues who host LIVE bands these days, what do you want to convey to your fans and salseros?

I believe we have to look at the problem in order to come up with a solution. So here is my analysis and although some folks won’t like my answer I’m going to be honest and put it out there. Yes there are fewer clubs out there but there are a whole lot more dance schools putting on socials. Why do more people attend socials than clubs to dance salsa? I’ve asked them this question in a survey and one of the reasons is that dancers that are learning feel insecure and feel they are not ready to dance at a club. The other is that the more experienced dancer wants more room to dance and they also say that bands play their numbers to long. There is no reason why a band should go on and on for 15 to 20 minutes with the same number. I’ve timed a tune and feel that 7 or 8 minutes is a reasonable amount of time for a tune to be played and for the swing of the tune to come to a climax and end. On the other hand dancers please realize that there is show dancing and dancing for the fun of it. Of course you want to look great but you’re not in a show. Take it easy on the floor and we won’t play so long. Fans please let the bands you go see and dance to know how you feel by either e-mailing or inboxing them on Facebook. We need to work together.

Q. How can we support LIVE music and why is it so important to the Latin culture?

JH. Although Salsa Music is enjoyed primarily by Latinos, times have changed and it is no longer just for us. All ethnic groups enjoy dancing and playing Salsa. Our youth has lost interest in Salsa because FM radio has been for years only airing very commercial Salsa Romantica. Their focus is strictly on other Spanish language genres. Many do not know that salsa can be so hardcore unless maybe their parents play it at home.

Q. Can you tell us a story or two about “the good ole’ days”?

JH. A Story or 2? What people today don’t understand is the Orquesta Dee Jay was one of NY’s busiest bands back in the 70’s. We played 6 days a week and some nights at 2 or 3 venues. It’s kind of hard to remember the many stories but I do remember the first night we played at the Village Gate. The Gate was a Monday night spot where only the legends of that era performed. We used to go there to hang out and watch the other bands. Our music was already being aired and we were already playing all the big clubs but had not been asked to play the Gate. Finally when asked I told George DeJesus we got to do this right. Yeah it’s cool to play at some clubs in our jeans looking like rock stars but after seeing the Roberto Roena and the Apollo Sound perform there we needed to put on a show. We went out and bought some raspberry colored tux jackets, white pants and showed up in tuxedos. The band was so excited and our performance rocked the house. So much that it was the only time I ever saw Symphony Sid come on stage and comment about a band. (I have pictures of that night)

The other story is about going to Newark to record the Miguelito Valdez aka Babaloo Show for TV. We brought 2 uniforms to wear one was the tux and the other some red, white and blue shirts. They put makeup on our faces and treated us like stars. Ricardo Rey and Bobby Cruz were also there to record their segment. Once we were all dressed we realized that our band boys had left our trombones back in Brooklyn. Now what? We did some quick thinking and went out looking for a pawn shop or store where we could rent 2 trombones. It was really embarrassing running around Broad Street in Newark wearing tuxedos with makeup on in the middle of the afternoon. When recording one of our songs Miguelito grabbed the cowbell and began to play with us. (got pictures of that too)

Q. Where else can we catch you and your band playing?

Since I started the band back up in 2008, we have played many venues in NYC such as S.O.B’s, Gonzalez y Gonzalez, Latin Quarters, Iguana Lounge, The South Street Seaport, BB Kings, Westgate Lounge, Winners Circle, The NJ 2009 and NY 2011 International Salsa Congresses plus a few others. In August 2011 for the 1st time ever we went overseas and perform in Marsiella France for Festival Salsatongs. I am currently working on contracts to bring Orquesta Dee Jay to 2 NY Casinos.

Q. What made you decide to do a new recording?

I wanted people to hear what today’s band sounds like in comparison to the 70’s band.

Q. What did you feel when you went back to the recording studio?

JH. I was skeptical in the beginning about recording one instrument at a time because I thought the music would lose it’s energy and flavor but as you can hear I was wrong.

Q. What was different from when you recorded 40 years ago?

JH. The difference was that back than everbody excetp the singer was in the studio at the same time. One person makes a mistake everybody had to do it over again. Also it is so much faster now when edits are required because Splicing a track is no longer necessary.

Q. What was your first reaction when you found out that Perla Fina reached number one on the NGS Top 60 Playlist?

How did I feel? It was awesome! Many of my fans were very happy for what we accomplished.

Q. What are your current and long term goals for Orquesta Dee Jay?

I’m going public with my health issues in hopes that I could help others. I’ve struggled with my need for a kidney transplant and it almost killed me in January 2012. So for me to accomplish these 2 recordings and even do all 3 trombone parts in Buena Suerte was really big thing for me to accomplish. There was a time when I couldn’t even get out of bed by myself much less play my trombone. My doctor and nurse started me on the most modern method of dialysis called Peritoneal Dialysis. I’m now being evaluated for the transplant list which are in need of donors. I have kept up with a proper diet and therapy which has helped me to become fully functional once again. Thank God!

My long term goal would be to take Orquesta Dee Jay’s classic sound on tour to any salsa event that will book us as well as continuing to improve to a more adult hardsalsa sound much like the “Perla Fina” we recently recorded.
Remember the 70s stuff was created by a bunch of teenagers who’s only music education was what we could hear and interpret by what we played.

In closing I would like to add that Jerry Hernandez and The New Orquesta Dee Jay have put the old band in the past by finally recording their own music and as Jerry told me he is currently listening to other tracks which he may use to complete his new album. Stay tuned…..