Bobby Sanabria is an American drummer and percussionist of Puerto Rican descent who specializes in jazz and Latin jazz. A 7X Grammy nominee as a leader, he is the leader of the Quarteto Aché, Sexteto Ibiano, Ascensión, and his Multiverse Big Band. Sanabria teaches in New York City at the Manhattan School of Music and The New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music. Six of Sanabria's albums have been nominated for a Grammy Award: Afro-Cuban Dream: Live & In Clave!!! (2000), 50 Years of Mambo – A Tribute To Damaso Prado (2003), Big Band Urban Folktales (2007) Kenya Revisited Live!!! (2009), Tito Puente Masterworks Live!!! (2011) and Multiverse – nominated for two Grammys (2012).
Sanabria was born in the South Bronx where he grew up in the Melrose Housing Projects. He is of Puerto Rican ancestry as both of his parents are from the island but met in the Bronx.
He attended the Berklee College of Music in Boston from 1975 to 1979 receiving his B.M and the Faculty Association Award for his work as an instrumentalist graduating in 1979. He received a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts in 1983 and was a featured performer on the Mambo Kings film soundtrack. He also appeared on The Bill Cosby Show with the Mario Bauzá Afro-Cuban Jazz Orchestra.
Sanabria has appeared over the years in many New York City public schools as well as all over the world teaching about and performing Latin jazz. He has written articles for Modern Drummer, DRUM!, Traps, Highlights In Percussion, and has written liner notes for many albums. He has composed music for the documentary films From Mambo To Hip Hop – A South Bronx Tale (2007) and Some Girls (2017). He currently teaches the Afro-Cuban Jazz Orchestra's at the Manhattan School of Music and The New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music. He has been featured in such publications as the New York Times, The New York Daily News, Modern Drummer, Rhythm, DRUM!, Jazz Times, and Downbeat Magazine.
He has performed and recorded three CD's (2 Grammy nominated) with the acknowledged creator of Afro-Cuban jazz – Mario Bauzá, as well as an incredible variety of artists including Dizzy Gillespie, Tito Puente, Mongo Santamaría (with whom he started his career), Chico Freeman, Paquito D'Rivera, Yomo Toro, Candido, The Mills Brothers, Ray Barretto, Chico O'Farrill, Francisco Aguabella, Henry Threadgill, Luis "Perico" Ortiz, Daniel Ponce, Larry Harlow, Daniel Santos, Celia Cruz, Adalberto Santiago, Xiomara Portuondo, Pedrito Martinez, Roswell Rudd, Patato, David Amram, the Cleveland Jazz Orchestra, the WDR Big Band, Michael Gibbs, Charles McPherson, Jon Faddis, Bob Mintzer, Phil Wilson, Randy Brecker, Charles Tolliver, M'BOOM, Michelle Shocked, and Marco Rizo. He has guest conducted and performed as a soloist with numerous orchestras.
Sanabria's first CD as a leader, NYC Aché, released in 1993 on the Flying Fish Label featured a series of percussion duets between he and his mentor Tito Puente, as well as a guest appearance by NEA Jazz Master Paquito D'Rivera on clarinet receiving critical acclaim and featured Sanabria not only on drumset but also vibes, congas, bongó, and percussion. In 2000 his Afro-Cuban Dream – Live & In Clave!!! CD with his own big band received worldwide critical acclaim for its forward thinking approach to the art of the big band and received a Grammy nomination. Quarteto Aché in 2003 was hailed a "classic" by Modern Drummer Magazine showcasing him in a small group context. 50 Years of Mambo – A Tribute to Perez Prado, another big band recording, received a Grammy nomination in 2004. Big Band Urban Folktales followed in 2007 again receiving a Grammy nomination and also becoming the first Latin jazz CD to chart at #1 on the Jazz Weekly National Chart. With the Manhattan School of Music Afro-Cuban Jazz Orchestra he has recorded two Grammy-nominated albums: Kenya Revisited Live!!! (2009) and Tito Puente Masterworks Live!!! (2011). In 2012 Multiverse, again with his big band featuring original music as well as compositions by Don Ellis and Frank Zappa, was nominated for two Grammy Awards: Best Latin Jazz Recording and Best Instrumental Arrangement – Afro-Cuban Jazz Suite for Ellington. He was featured in the BBC documentary West Side Stories – The Making Of a Classic (2017). His current CD, released in July of 2018 on the Jazzheads label, West Side Story Reimagined, is an ambitious Latin jazz treatment of the entire score of Leonard Bernstein's masterpiece, West Side Story interpreted by his 21 piece Multiverse Big Band in celebration of the Maestro's centennial (2018)and the shows recent 60th birthday (2017). The majority of the proceeds form the sale of the double CD set goes to the Jazz Foundation of America's Puerto Rican Hurricane relief Fund to aid the musicians on the island. Receiving worldwide critical acclaim and again the #1 spot on the JazzWeek charts Will Friedwald of the Wall St. Journal wrote in his review of the CD, "There’s every reason to hope that Steven Spielberg’s remake of 'West Side Story' will improve upon the 1961 film, but I doubt if we’ll ever hear a more thrilling interpretation of that immortal score than that of the Bobby Sanabria Multiverse Big Band."
He has been producer, consultant and featured on air personality in the documentaries The Palladium: Where Mambo Was King (2003), From Mambo to Hip Hop – A South Bronx Tale (2006) where he also composed the musical score, Latin Music U.S.A. (2009), We Like It Like That – The Story of Latin Boogaloo (2016), the BBC documentary West Side Stories – The Making Of a Classic (2017). He composed the musical score for the documentary Some Girls (2017). He and a reduced version of his big band are featured in episode 4 of the hit TV series, The Marvelous Mrs. Mazel (2018). He recently was awarded the 2018 LeJends of Jazz Lifetime Achievement Award for his work as a musician and educator in the field of Latin jazz by the Jazz Education Network. He is an endorser of TAMA Drums, Sabian Cymbals, Vic Firth Sticks, Remo Drumheads, and LP Percussion.