A promotional poster for the Latin Jazz Quintet concert scheduled for Feb. 3, 2024 in Soldotna, Alaska. (Photo courtesy the Performing Arts Society)

A promotional poster for the Latin Jazz Quintet concert scheduled for Feb. 3, 2024 in Soldotna, Alaska. (Photo courtesy the Performing Arts Society)

Latin jazz swings into town

Anchorage quintet to bring ‘fun and accessible’ music to Soldotna

Latin Jazz will fill the Christ Lutheran Church next week when John Damberg and the Latin Jazz Quintet put on a concert starting at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 3.

The performance is the latest in the Performing Arts Society’s 2024 concert series — and kicks off a four-week-long tour for the group, who will be visiting Valdez and Cordova before returning home to Anchorage for a show.

Damberg said Thursday that the group will be bringing fun and accessible music to Soldotna, with a feature on recent musical releases by himself and by Mark Manners, another member of the group. Those are 2023’s “Happy Dance,” by Damberg, and 2022’s “Change in Time” by Manners.

Damberg plays marimba and vibes, Manners plays mostly classical guitar but will also bring out an electric guitar for one song, and the group is filled out by Bob Andrews on bass guitar, Eiden Pospisil on drums and Karl Pasch on clarinet.

“It features an interesting combination of instruments,” Damberg said.

The band has played together since 1995, with the fifth seat — presently Pasch’s clarinet — rotating depending on availability. They’ll be playing a mixture of “straight jazz” and jazz infused with Brazilian and Afro-Cuban influence.

There’s a rich history in Latin jazz, Damberg explained, beginning with iconic jazz and bebop trumpet player Dizzy Gillespie, who played with bands in Havana and was inspired by their “exciting” rhythm sections — themselves influenced by music from Africa, Spain and France. It’s a particular flavor of jazz that grew especially, Damberg said, in the 1970s, in response to the rising popularity of rock guitar — jazz musicians created something more accessible by keeping the complicated rhythms that defined jazz and infusing “world beat grooves and funky rock.”

That accessibility, Damberg said, remains key and is a focus of the quintet for their performance in Soldotna. He said each member of the band has a background in education and a passion for connecting with their audiences. Across a varied show — running around 90 minutes — they want to showcase Latin jazz in an engaging way that transcends boundaries of age or musical background.

“Playing music really connects people in a community,” he said. “People of any age can play together.”

That broad appeal will be plain on stage — Damberg said he’s in his early 70s, but that the band includes a performer in their 20s.

Concerts like the quintet performance on Saturday are “outreach,” Damberg said, intended to showcase Latin jazz and to provide music education. To that end, the group will also perform at local schools while they’re in town — including Soldotna High School and Kenai Middle School.

Damberg said he also runs Alaska Jazz Workshop, which seeks to make jazz and music education more accessible to students throughout Alaska by hosting jazz camps, putting on free concerts, offering scholarships — he said he wants to offer challenge and advancement to the kids for whom music is a creative and recreational outlet.

More information about the Latin Jazz Quintet, including samples of their music, can be found at johndamberg.com.

Tickets to the concert, scheduled for Saturday, Feb. 3 at 7:30 p.m. in Soldotna’s Christ Lutheran Church, can be purchased at Curtain Call, Northcountry Fair, Already Read, River City Books, Country Liquor and at the door. Adults are $20, students are $10. More information can be found at “Performing Arts Society” on Facebook.

Reach reporter Jake Dye at jacob.dye@peninsulaclarion.com.

The 2022 lineup of John Damberg’s Latin Jazz Quintet stand for a photo in 2022. John Damberg plays marimba and vibes, Mark Manners plays classical guitar, Bob Andrews plays bass guitar and Eiden Pospisil plays drums. Laura Koenig, pictured here with a flute, will not be playing with the quintet this weekend — the group will instead feature Karl Pasch on clarinet. (Photo courtesy John Damberg)

The 2022 lineup of John Damberg’s Latin Jazz Quintet stand for a photo in 2022. John Damberg plays marimba and vibes, Mark Manners plays classical guitar, Bob Andrews plays bass guitar and Eiden Pospisil plays drums. Laura Koenig, pictured here with a flute, will not be playing with the quintet this weekend — the group will instead feature Karl Pasch on clarinet. (Photo courtesy John Damberg)

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