February 13, 2014

Rowland: CSUS music lecturer, band upset Grammy winners

California State University, Stanislaus music department lecturer Jamie Dubberly and his little-known group Pacific Mambo Orchestra beat big names for a Grammy.

When picking a music instructor, credentials don’t get much better than “Grammy winner.”

But it’s a title that surprised even Modesto resident and trombonist Jamie Dubberly. The lecturer at California State University, Stanislaus, helped to score one of the surprise upsets of the Grammy Awards last month when his band, the Pacific Mambo Orchestra, took home the trophy for best Latin tropical album.

The 19-piece Latin big band based out of the Bay Area beat out big names like Marc Anthony for the honor. The David vs. Goliath win garnered Pacific Mambo Orchestra national press, with mentions in Billboard magazine and interest from The New York Times. We all just love it when the little guy (in this case 19 of them) wins.

Dubberly has been playing with the group since its inception three years ago. As a regular in the Bay Area Latin music scene, he had played with the band’s founders and leaders Christian Tumalan and Steffan Kuehn over the years. When they put together the new project, he came on board and they started small, playing clubs in San Francisco.

While other nominees had the backing of Sony Music and major labels, Pacific Mambo members had to resort to the online crowd-funding site Kickstarter to get the money to make their record. The successful campaign raised $11,000, which went into the self-produced album and eventual Grammy winner. Power to the people, indeed.

The resulting album also reflects the rich diversity of the Northern California Latin music scene. The sound is a mix of the big band, mambo of the 1940s and ’50s with the modern twists of jazz and soul.

“They called a lot of great musicians, and I was lucky to be one of those,” said Dubberly, who moved to the area in 2003 with his wife, who grew up in Modesto.

While most of the musicians on the record are from the Bay Area, Dubberly isn’t the only Modesto resident on the album. Guest artist and Latin percussionist Carlos Caro is also featured on the debut, but is not a regular Pacific Mambo member.

The band slowly grew its fan base through local shows, online networking and a six-week national tour last summer. The good word-of-mouth attracted attention from Columbia Artist Management, who helped the band up its exposure in the music industry. The group played shows with Tito Puente Jr., the son of legendary mambo king Tito Puente.

Which all caught the attention of Grammy voters. For the group, Dubberly said the surprise nomination was as good as winning. Only a few of the band members went to the ceremony in Los Angeles on Jan. 26. The band’s category was part of the pre-telecast. So Dubberly was watching an online stream from home and couldn’t believe his ears when Pacific Mambo Orchestra’s name was called.

“I was just shocked. Me and my wife were watching and we thought, ‘There’s no way he just said that.’ We were jumping around and screaming,” he said.

For album awards, only one trophy is awarded – to the producer. But Dubberly said bandmates have joked that they should time-share the award between the 19 of them.

Since winning, the group has gotten a flood of gig requests. The band is eyeing possible European and South American tours. And a second album is in the works for this summer. Some record companies have started calling, too. No Kickstarter this time around, it would seem.

“There’s just a buzz going on, it’s really exciting,” Dubberly said.

But while he gets to tack “Grammy winner” onto his résumé, the 48-year-old isn’t planning to quit his day job just yet. He has been a part-time faculty member at CSU, Stanislaus, for six years and continues to teach brass, jazz history and various other classes on campus. This year, he also began teaching jazz courses at University of the Pacific in Stockton. And then there are his private lessons.

Dubberly also has his own band, Orquesta Dharma, which is set to release its second album in the next few weeks. You can catch his 10-piece Latin jazz ensemble playing at 6:30 p.m. Feb. 23 at the First United Methodist Church in Modesto for its Salsa Sunday series. Tickets are $10.

Meanwhile, Pacific Mambo Orchestra plays this weekend at the Santa Rosa Salsa Festival and will perform on an NPR showcase Feb. 28. The life of a Grammy winner – never a dull moment.

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