Explore the relationship between jazz and Latin music at the Hartford Salsa Meets Jazz Festival

Salsa meets jazz for six hours in Bushnell Park this Saturday.

The 11th annual Salsa Meets Jazz Festival features six acts that explore the relationship between jazz and Latin music, each of them doing a full 50-minute outdoor set. The festival runs from 1 to 7 p.m. July 23 at the performance pavilion in Bushnell Park. Admission is free.


The festival began in 2012 in Colt Park, founded by Ramon “Ray” Santiago, founder of the popular Hartford-area salsa ensemble Orquestra Espada. For most of the next decade the Salsa Meets Jazz Festival was in Elizabeth Park. In 2019, while Elizabeth Park’s Rose Garden Lawn Stage was still under construction, the festival moved to Bushnell Park, and that’s where organizers intend to keep it. (The 2020 edition was virtual due to the COVID-19 pandemic.)

“We decided that Bushnell Park is more reflective and indicative of Hartford,” says Matt Chasen, who has been the festival’s director since Santiago’s death in 2019. “It’s more accessible. It’s in the heart of the city.”


Chasen, who lives in Simsbury, is hosting the festival. He’s also playing with the opening act, which is led by one of his high school saxophone students Jude Hale.

He would like to see Salsa Meets Jazz expand further, and would like to see it become one of the events the city of Hartford promotes as part of its Summer in the City initiative.




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The full name of the festival remains “Ramon Santiago’s Salsa Meets Jazz Festival.” Chasen says Santiago “always had a desire to give something back to the community,” and credits his band Orquestra Espada as being " a breeding ground of talent for countless young lions in the jazz scene. When he started the festival, it was his dream realized.

Chasen teaches music at New Haven’s Cooperative Arts & Humanities High School. He’s also a saxophonist who studied music at the Greater Hartford Academy of the Arts and at the University of Hartford’s Hartt School. He’s on the board of directors of the Hartford Jazz Society.

He explains how the line-up exemplifies the festival’s title, Salsa Meets Jazz, as well as Santiago’s original vision of “bringing different contingencies from the community together. Having Latin jazz, salsa and folkloric music at the same festival was Ray’s dream line-up. The festival opens with straight-up Latin jazz. Then we have Grupo Boríken which is more folkloric, from the mountaintops of Puerto Rico. Next, a combination of folkloric and Latin Jazz, followed by a Salsa band. Next is our first headliner, Alex “Apolo” Ayala who shows the [percussion-heavy] bomba and plena influence on jazz. Finally there’s our other headliner Steven Kroon, a quintessential Latin Jazz artist.”

Unlike the city’s many other Latin festivals, in which music is a major element but often not the primary focus, Chasen feels that Ramon Santiago’s Salsa Meets Jazz Festival is “the only festival that focuses exclusively on the music of the Latin diaspora. People who come are all about the music. That’s what they are there for.”

The schedule

  • 1 p.m.: Teen saxophonist Jude Hale and Friends
  • 2 p.m.: Puerto Rican cuatro player and vocalist Joe Diaz and Grupo Boríken.
  • 3 p.m.: Violinist Ashley Jones and Cuadro Latino.
  • 4 p.m.: Orquesta Sensacional from Springfield, Massachusetts,” co-directed by bassist Dino Perez and percussionist Roberto Piñeiro.
  • 5 p.m.: Bassist Alex “Apolo” Ayala
  • 6 p.m.: The Steven Kroon Latin Jazz Sextet

Christopher Arnott can be reached at