Quick: Grab your dancing shoes. Alex Torres & His Latin Orchestra are playing Friday at Amsterdam’s Elks Lodge, and there’s sure to be plenty of dancing.
“I expect it to be mobbed,” said Alex Torres. “Last year, my nephew, who is the Lodge’s exalted ruler, decided to have his uncle come at the same time as this year, and we never had so many people. Parking was up to eight blocks away.”
The band, which is celebrating its 39th year, is famous for playing original and standard tunes popular with fans of salsa, merengue and the cha-cha.
“There’s a huge cross section of people who come,” Torres said. “Some come to just hear the band, or there are those who’ve taken up dance lessons, and [there] are beginners to professional dancers.”
Torres, who plays bass and sings, leads a 12-piece orchestra, most of whom are of Puerto Rican heritage or from Venezuela or Cuba. Torres himself is Bronx-born but graduated from Amsterdam High School, as did Todd Fabozzi, the band’s conga player. While these musicians play the Latin percussion instruments, such as bongo, guira (a kind of metal gourd) or piano as well as sing, the two trumpets, two trombones and saxophonist have mostly been conservatory-trained. Torres estimates about 20 percent of the band are original members. They rehearse every Wednesday night.
Over the years, Torres’ orchestra has performed at weddings, political conventions and state inaugurations; community events; in television commercials and movies; been featured in films; used in soundtracks for video games; done national tours; traveled to Puerto Rico, Mexico and Canada; and in 2015, went to China.
“We pick up new fans. It’s cool,” he said. “We had a blast in China.”
They are also registered with the state’s Arts-in-Education program, in which Torres brings his orchestra into schools to showcase cultural diversity and talk about the music and the instruments used in Latin music. The group has also made 13 CDs on the WEPA label. Two were released in 2019: “Guarapo y Mermelada” (April); and “Made in America with Puerto Rican Parts” (October).
What makes all this success is not just how well the group plays, but the kind of music they’re playing.
“It’s happy, romantic, sensual music,” Torres said. “It’s also intergenerational music and family oriented. I’ve rarely seen an octogenarian listen to heavy metal.”
Latin music is Afro-Cuban, Afro-Puerto Rican and Dominican, he said. The Afro part is always the drums, such as congas, bongo and the percussion instruments. The Spanish part is a salsa, which means sauce. This mixes jazz, Spanish-language, African drumming patterns to make a background for the cha-cha, mambo, samba and bossa nova, which is Brazilian. The merengue is from Dominican music.
“Now that’s a BLT,” Torres said with a laugh.
In the fall, Torres will celebrate his 40th year with a Nov. 7 bash at the Saratoga Casino Hotel.
“Things have been good. We’re going strong,” Torres said. “We’re fortunate to still be a touring band and a huge crowd-pleaser.”
Alex Torres & His Latin Orchestra
WHEN: 7 p.m. Friday
WHERE: Elks Lodge, 8 4th Ave., Amsterdam
HOW MUCH: $10
MORE INFO: 518 842-6363; www.elks.org