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Jazz Upstairs: Sandberg a musician of many genres

The Steve Sandberg Quartet plays music inspired by many genres and nations.

Sandberg calls his compositions “world classical music.” They meld the intricacy of classical with the improvisational spontaneity of jazz and rhythms of world music.

The quartet performed in a streaming video, 7:30 p.m. June 18, “Jazz Upstairs Series,” Miller Symphony Hall, Allentown. Video-on-demand begins June 19.

The performance was recorded in September 2020 when the concert was canceled because of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic shutdown. The quartet first performed in the Rodale Community Room series in April 2019.

The Steve Sandberg Quartet is: Sandberg, piano; Zach Brock, violin; Michael O’Brien, bass, and Mauricio Zottarelli, drums. The quartet has recorded a CD, “Alaya.”

Sandberg began playing piano when he was four-years-old. As a young man, he was fascinated by Latin music he heard on the radio. He began playing music in the Latin genre when he lived in New Haven, Conn., and participated in the Latin music scene when he moved to New York City in 1977.

“The beauty of those days were that we had people playing to dancers. There was not so much of DJs and recorded music,” Sandberg says in a phone interview.

“We would play a wedding and then go to a nightclub at 2 a.m., play until 4 a.m., then go to an after-hours club until 8 in the morning. At the clubs, well-known jazz people would sit in.”

Sandberg often begins his concerts playing a classical composition the way it was written, after which the quartet plays his own work inspired by the original. He talks about the classical piece and its composer and explains that many of the works were influenced by the popular music of the day as, for example, folk dances from many countries.

“There is no pure music,” he says.

For years, Sandberg studied Indian vocal music. “It is five-thousand-years-old.

“I thought that this must be pure music, but my teacher once sang and told me that the music had been changed and given Arabic influences after a part of India had been conquered.”

Sandberg gave up the study of Indian vocal music: “You have to be born into the culture or completely dedicate yourself to it to do it well.”

But its deep, devotional nature gave him insights into the spiritual aspect of music: “A lot of people also make jazz a spiritual discipline.”

Says Sandberg of his own work: “I want music to be uplifting and inspiring. That’s what it’s for.”

Such thoughts are with him when he composes: “I’m not thinking about paying the rent or politics. I’m paying attention to sound.”

Although there are myriad influences, which include Brazilian, Eastern European and Afro-Caribbean, Sandberg’s music is seamless and flows effortlessly. His combination of all these elements is natural.

“It’s not coming from a predetermined concept. That’s who I am. I have legitimate roots in all these different musics.”

The quartet is lively and propulsive. Playing for dancers has certainly influenced Sandberg.

“I would love to have people dancing at some of my shows. I certainly appreciate people sitting and listening to my music. But a little movement wouldn’t hurt.”

Sandberg has conducted and arranged for Broadway shows and the New York Shakespeare Festival.

He was nominated for three Emmy Awards for his work as music director and composer for Nickelodeon’s “Dora the Explorer” and “Go, Diego, Go!”

Tickets: www.millersymphonyhall.org

CONTRIBUTED PHOTO Steve Sandberg led his quartet in a concert, streaming 7:30 p.m. June 18, and available on-demand, beginning June 19, “Jazz Upstairs Series,” Miller Symphony Hall, Allentown.