ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Steffen Keuhn is spending his days tying up loose ends and getting rehearsal schedules in order. What else would you expect from a co-band leader of the Pacific Mambo Orchestra?
“It’s never-ending,” he quips during a recent interview from his San Francisco home. “It’s a good thing that we are constantly performing around the Bay Area, so we don’t need too much rehearsal time.”
Keuhn and Christian Tumalan began Pacific Mambo Orchestra in 2010. While the orchestra is still in its infancy, it has become well known in the music industry, especially in the Bay Area.
Keuhn, a trumpeter, and Tumalan, a pianist, formed this Latin salsa big band to bring back and build upon the great Latin big-band sounds of the 1940s through the 1960s. The orchestra performs the music of Latin giants such as Machito, Tito Puente and Celia Cruz.
“There’s not an orchestra like ours,” Keuhn says. “This is a project where we aim to be different, yet bring a lot of fun to the audiences.”
Pacific Mambo Orchestra consists of 19 members – four trumpets, four trombones, five saxophones, piano, bass, timbales, congas, bongos and female lead singer Alexis Guillen.
For the current tour, the orchestra will be joined by Tito Puente Jr. It also has performed with the likes of Carlos Santana, Ray DeLa Paz, Jose Lugo Guasabara Orchestra, Los Adolescentes, Isaac Delgado, Gilberto Santarosa, Tito Rojas, La India and Victor Manuelle.
Keuhn says he never realized that the group’s profile would rise quickly.
He says during the first year, there were many rough patches.
“There were personnel changes because we couldn’t afford to pay a lot,” he says. “People cut out because they wanted to get paid and I don’t blame them. But we have some loyal players that have stuck with us and now are seeing our hard work pay off.”
While the orchestra does cover music by others, Keuhn says the duo works at arranging and writing new material, though there is no new music on the horizon.