Contrabanda was the brainchild of Danny Howard. A percussionist from the age of 10, he has had a passion for Latin American music from an early age. Although he has a classical background, he loves jazz music and Latin music. Latin jazz is a wonderful mix of many great American writers’ songs played with Latin rhythms behind them. The band started in 2012 as a side project for musicians who wanted to explore this amazing field of music. The last 12 months have seen Contrabanda come to the forefront, with over 25 performances this year. Contrabanda as an ensemble can morph from a trio up to a ten piece band depending on the situation. They play tunes from the great American songbook as well as composers from the Caribbean and South America. The band consists mainly of music teachers in and around the Chicago area, who have all studied and continue to study music as well as teach it. The percussionists have all studied with some of the world’s top players in the field while the brass section musicians have great jazz educations from universities here in the USA. Contrabanda plays music ranging from George Gershwin to Oscar Hernandez. The styles range from Latin boogaloo of the late 60s through current charts of Timba from noted composer and ethnomusicologist Chris Washburne of New York.
Members of Contrabanda Include:
Brett Benteler – Bass: Brett Benteler is classically trained on the double bass, but his musical background includes AfroCuban, Brazilian and Jazz. He has traveled in North and South America, as well as the Caribbean and Europe, as a performer and educator. In his native Chicago, Brett has earned the privilege of playing alongside many of the city’s finest musicians of all disciplines.
Danny Howard – Percussion: A percussionist since a very early age, Danny lived in the United Kingdom playing and teaching professionally until 2008. He then moved to Chicago to further his career and studies. Backing such artists as Pee Wee Ellis and Cathy Dennis in the UK, he has since living in Chicago played regularly with The Opposition Party, ToqueChicago, and Charlie Baron y Grupo Gringo, as well as supporting such bands as Trombone Shorty and the Easy Star All Stars. In 2013, Danny completed a nine month stint as the primary drummer/percussionist playing for the award-winning “Smokey Joe’s Cafe” at The Royal George Theater. He also works as a freelance percussionist with such groups as the Lakeside Singers, Bending Towards the Light, and the William Ferris Chorale. He is currently Artiste in Residence at the University of Chicago with the New Budapest Orpheum Society, and teaches for Merit School of Music and the Ravinia Jazz Program as well as being a regular accompanist for modern dance classes at Lou Conte/Hubbard Street, CDI, & Chicago Moving Company.
Mark Nelson – Piano: Mark Nelson serves the Chicago scene as a music director, orchestrator, arranger, performer, and clinician. His compositions, ranging from strictly notated to highly improvisatory, have been performed and/or recorded by a variety of choral, vocal jazz, and small instrumental ensembles. His work as a pianist and keyboardist has been recorded for jazz, gospel, rock, and classical projects. Currently, he serves as the chamber pianist for Pro Musica Strings, as keyboardist for Contrabanda, is Music Director for the wedding and event ensembles No Reservations and the No Reservations Orchestra, heads jazz piano trio the Mark Nelson Trio, and works as a freelance musician for other ensembles.
Jose Ormaza – Drums: Born in Ecuador, Jose now calls Chicago his home. Having played all over South America and Europe Jose brings his incredible talents to Contrabanda. He has played with Latin Jazz greats like Omar Soza and is a first call on the Latin, Jazz, and Rock scene in Chicago.
Joshua Shapiro – Saxophone: As a 15-year veteran of the Chicago music scene, Joshua Shapiro has plied his saxophone and arranging skills over many genres and venues. Be it Jazz to Rock & Roll, AfroBeat to Reggae, or Bossa Nova to Samba, “Shap” has distinguished himself with his versatility and approach. In addition to the fun times with Contrabanda, he has also performed with The Platters, The Tokens, Ben Vereen, Charo, Maureen McGovern, Clint Holmes, The Glenn Miller Orchestra, The Virginia Symphony Orchestra, and Under the Streetlamp, in addition to dozens of locally-known bands and ensembles including the R&B/Funk/Soul standout “KongFuzi” and the 10-piece AfroBeat/Dub powerhouse “The Opposition Party.”