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Arts Desk

Bobby Sanabria and the National Museum of Math Celebrate Leonard Bernstein

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Jazzheads Records
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Bobby Sanabria's MultiVerse Big Band Reimagines West Side Story

Bobby Sanabria and the Multiverse Big Band celebrate the mathematics behind Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story at NYC’s National Museum of Math (MoMath).

Leonard Bernstein conducted the NY Philharmonic, but he wasn't just a classical musician. Bernstein composed unforgettable music for the Broadway stage, but he was even more than a transcendent force in musical theatre. Bernstein, in the vein of American greats before him like Copeland and Gershwin, was a polymath, the type of once-in-a-century, musically multi-lingual genius easily able to navigate the amorphous contrivance of musical genre.

That's why, even though Leonard’s Bernstein’s 100th birthday was this past August 28th, the celebration of his birth's centennial just keeps going and going and will continue on for the better part of the next 18 months. Because to celebrate the breadth of Bernstein's transcendence takes time. It doesn't suffice merely to celebrate his contribution to classical music, or to jazz, or to musical theatre, or simply to the notion that good music is good music, regardless of how we’re compelled to categorize it. You see, you haven’t celebrated all of Bernstein’s contributions until you’ve considered the polymath’s contributions to math itself.

And that is exactly what the National Museum of Mathematics (MoMath) in Manhattan has done this week. By celebrating the novelty and complexity of Bernstein’s use of rhythm, meter, and harmonic structure in West Side Story, the museum has taken the occasion of the Bernstein Centennial to, as Executive Director Cindy Lawrence puts it, “reveal the mathematics behind the creation of his music.”

Earlier in the week, Grammy-nominated percussionist, Bobby Sanabria (an avowed math-geek himself and contributor to “Quadrivium,” MoMath’s Math plus Music salon hosted by jazz saxophonist Marcus Miller), joined Leonard Bernstein’s daughter, Jamie, to discuss how the complex mathematics undergirding the West Side Story score opened the door for musicians like Sanabria to explore the multiverse of possible variations on Bernstein’s musical themes.

And explore that multiverse, he has! The culmination of MoMath’s Bernstein tribute comes this Saturday night at 7:30pm when Sanabria takes the stage with the 21-piece band he’s aptly named his “Multiverse Big Band.” Together, they’ll treat audiences to the product of those explorations—the grammy-nominated, Latin Jazz-infused, reimagining of the West Side Story score in its entirety.

What a way to keep math "cool."