Conjunto is James Sanders’ long running project to unite his classical training and theory with the freedom of jazz improvisation, all grounded in the lively rhythms of the Caribbean: rumba, son, danzón, bolero and more. The result are performances that move audiences figuratively and literally, where moments of hushed intimacy are followed by joyous dancing. From Afro-roots to salsa to jazz, Conjunto is equally at home at a dance party, jazz club or festival stage.
Shortly after earning a Masters degree in violin performance, Sanders' attention was drawn to both jazz improvising and the Latin music he absorbed growing up as the son of a Dominican mother in a diverse urban environment. Following those twin leads, he founded Conjunto in 2001.
In Conjunto, jazz freedom, intricate instrumental virtuosity and propulsive dance rhythms find equal footing in a cohesive whole, making music for mind, body, and soul. They have performed at the Chicago Jazz Festival, Andy's Jazz Club, the Jazz Showcase, the Chicago Latin Jazz Festival, the Velvet Lounge, the Evanston Ethnic Arts Festival, Logan Center for the Performing Arts, Katerina's, Chicago SummerDance, Chicago Cultural Center, Sabor a Café and many more.
Conjunto’s core lineup consists of Sanders’ violin plus Kevin O’Connell on piano, Jean-Christophe Leroy on drums and timbales, Joe Rendon on congas and percussion, bassist José Porcayo, and multi-reedist Steve Eisen. Between them, they have dozens of years of constant playing both mainstream jazz and salsa, including work with Arturo Sandoval, Dave Valentin, Dr. John, Chicago Afro-Latin Jazz Ensemble, Clifford Jordan, Nancy Wilson, Louis Bellson, Jimmy McGriff, Andy Montanez, Kurt Elling, Dee Alexander, the New Black Music Repertory Ensemble, Orbert Davis' Chicago Jazz Philharmonic, Chévere and many more.
Sanders often expands that lineup with additional guest musicians and singers in order to discover fresh textures and sounds. For their triumphant 2010 performance before 10,000 people in Chicago’s Pritzker Pavilion at Millennium Park, a virtual big band took the stage with the addition of Pharez Whitted on trumpet, additional bass from Brett Bentler, cellist Tomeka Reid, Roel Trevino on congas, Puerto Rican sonero Papo Santiago on vocals and guitar, and choreography by Cerqua Rivera Dance Theatre.
Conjunto's repertoire ranges from Afro-Cuban classics a la Buena Vista Social Club to Latin arrangements of jazz standards, fusion and even the Great American songbook, plus original material written by Sanders and other members of the group.
Conjunto has released three albums, Live in Little Village, Chicago Sessions and their latest, Evidencia, released in February 2022. All three are on Sanders' Amadeo Records imprint.
Conceived and composed by James Sanders over the course of two years and arranged by Conjunto pianist Leandro López Várady, Evidencia is both a tribute to classic Latin jazz and an acknowledgement that James
Sanders & Conjunto stand on the shoulders of Chicago’s Afro-Latin originators. Evidencia is their
contribution to that living heritage.
Read reviews of Evidencia.