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Salvador Santana picks up the tune

'Everyone craves music that goes straight to the heart,' says the keyboardist, son of guitar great Carlos Santana. His new album, 'Keyboard City,' is set for a February release.

November 24, 2009|By Steve Appleford

Salvador Santana got his first taste of the family business as a 4-year-old, when his father, guitar hero Carlos Santana, put him behind a drum kit to bash out some beats. He's been making music ever since, now as a keyboardist and bandleader mingling pop, jazz and Latin sounds with a hip-hop sensibility.

"Music has always been there in my life," said Santana, 26, sitting behind a vintage Fender Rhodes keyboard at a downtown studio. "At the same time, both my Mom and Dad have always encouraged me to be myself."

That message is reflected in the soulful sounds of his upcoming release, "Keyboard City," which glides from the early hip-hop vibe of "We Got Somethin' " to the warm down-tempo grooves of the album's title song and the brooding funk of "Don't Do It." Not coincidentally, many tracks reflect some of the same organic energy of his Grammy-winning father's best-known work of the '60s and '70s.

"The music coming out [then] was beautiful because it was free and it was expressive, and it was very close to reality," Santana said. "I'm doing my best to do that with my music."

The new album, set for release on Feb. 2 from Various Music, is a collaboration with another "mentor," the keyboardist Money Mark (a.k.a. Mark Ramos-Nishita). Sessions for "Keyboard City" began at Mark's crowded studio in Atwater Village, which inspired the collection's title.

"When you walk in his studio, there's racks and racks of nothing but old-school analog synth keyboards and modulators and devices that I had no idea existed," said Santana. "He's almost like a mad scientist. We hit it off from day one."

Song ideas flowed between them, beginning with a simple keyboard riff on "This Day (Belongs to You)," or with Mark putting an obscure synthesizer in front of Santana, who also sings and plays percussion on several tracks.

Making music is a family tradition that reaches beyond Santana's famous father and to both his grandfathers, one a mariachi violinist from Mexico, the other a traditional blues guitarist. He also couldn't avoid the influence of growing up in a house where records by the likes of Miles Davis, Sonny Rollins, Jimi Hendrix and Bob Marley were often heard.

"I just took all that, and when I had the right moment . . . made it my own," he said. "Everyone craves music that goes straight to the heart. I think that kind of music resonates with most people."

In 1987, Carlos Santana released a solo album called "Blues for Salvador," which he named for his son (as he has songs for his two daughters). Salvador Santana was only a small child at the time, but he's come to understand the influence his father has had as a musician, which he acknowledges as "the elephant in the room" of his own career.

They have frequently appeared onstage together and have talked of one day collaborating on an album.

"That's more than a possibility -- a whole record would be great," the keyboardist said. "Everyone says that I have big shoes to fill. Everyone says that. But my father wears a size 9 shoe. And I wear a size 15."

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