When did you start the group?
It was started over 20 years ago.

How did the band form?
Kathy, my wife, sings in the group. Her dad was a very well known piano player, “Uncle Paul” Montgomery. I used to play with them and over the years, the quintet has had different people playing, so there wasn’t much of a static group as much as an interchangeable mix of musicians. Paul passed away a while ago, but we’ve got different​ people all the time. Often times, I use Steve Anderson on piano as well as my wife. I play the saxophone and the clarinet in the band. We also have a drummer and a bass player.

What do you like about performing?
I love to play and I love to play with a good group. I love to play good tunes, performing jazz standards. There’s so many great tunes, it’s nice to be able to play and being a jazz artist, improvisation is the essential thing and it’s so much fun to improvise. I love it!

Have you written any of your own compositions?
Yes, I’ve written a lot. The quintet will probably play them on Saturday, a few originals.

Does the band practice before performing or do you just wing it?
That’s a good question. Jazz musicians, for the most part, practice a lot on their own and we’re able to come together without practicing as a group because we all work individually on our music. Basically, everybody practices a lot and because of that, we come together and we play a repertoire everybody’s familiar with. We’ve played together for so long, it’s just a matter of saying, “let’s play this tune.” Boom. You know what I mean? It’s like second nature. It’s a very flexible group and not a formatted thing. It’s not like if you have an orchestra, then you’d have to rehearse. But with four or five people, you know, it’s really easy to say, “let’s play this tune.” And then everybody can improvise without there being any problems. So we can work it out on the spot and nobody would know in the audience. Nobody would ever know. It’s almost more spontaneous and better if we just say, “Okay, here’s the list we’re doing.” Boom. We’re going to have fun with it.

What challenges does the group face?
We want the audience to have a good time and to enjoy the music. There’s no challenge with us playing together, there’s the challenge – always – of entertaining the audience and getting them to listen. That’s the difficulty. But, we’re up to it and we try to make our presentation as good as possible so people really listen. People are not really used to focusing on music. That’s the hurtle we have to get over.

This year, Gregg Gelb was a recipient of the 2018 City of Raleigh Medal of Art.

For those unfamiliar with latin jazz fusion, you’re in for a treat when Marimjazzia comes to play at the Irregardless Cafe this Saturday lead by Juan Alamo. The name of the band comes from the marimba, which is the instrument of choice for Alamo at Saturday’s performance, though he’s no stranger to many other percussion instruments.

Alamo, not just a musician and composer, also works at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill as an Assistant Professor and the Director of the Percussion Ensemble. He’s originally from Cidra, Puerto Rico and has performed live or on TV or radio in Puerto Rico, Mexico, Venezuela and the United States.

The members playing alongside Alamo are Steve Anderson on piano, Pete Kimosh on bass, Beverly Botsford on percussion, and Brevan Hampden on drums. This Saturday, however, Kimosh, Botsford, and Hampden are replaced by Andy Kleindienst on bass, Orlandus Perry on drums, and Ramon Ortiz on percussion.

When asked why Alamo chose percussion, he answered, “That’s a thing that happens naturally because I didn’t set out to have that happen. I’ve been playing percussion since I was a little kid.  I was attracted to the drums by seeing professional bands on TV or live shows and from that point on, I wanted to play drums.”

As a kid in Puerto Rico, he grow up listening to salsa music, the kind of dance-able, upbeat music that has likely influenced his music today. Jazz was also a genre Alamo listened to all his life, though he wasn’t aware of it at the time.

There wasn’t a single song that he can remember that he liked to perform when he first started playing as he mentioned there was a variety that attracted him. “There was so much happening, something new or that came on and it was interesting,” he said.

Throughout his career, there are memorable moments that Alamo can often look back on. One was ten years ago when he was invited to go to Mexico to do a series of concerts all over the country. “On the last stop, I was doing a show and when I finished one of the pieces, I looked up to the audience and in the back of the theatre, I see this group of people holding a flag from my homeland, Puerto Rico,” he reminisces.

This Saturday, the music Marimjazzia will be playing is a mixture of original composition, along with rearrangements of American and Latin standards. Like the Saturday standards at Irregardless, Marimjazzia’s music will be sure to make people get on their feet and start dancing.

“Invite everybody to come Saturday and check the band out,” he mentioned. “We always try to have something new like a new arrangement or a new composition. In fact, I will have a new tune on Saturday that I wrote recently. It should be a fun show and I hope to see many people there.”

Marimjazzia will also be releasing a new recording around October/November.