Town Crier: East Bay’s Pacific Mambo Orchestra wins Grammy

MONTCLARION: January 31, 2014

This is the stuff dreams are made of. An East Bay big band has won its first Grammy for “Best Tropical Latin Album.”

Pacific Mambo Orchestra — or PMO — beat out a field of heavy hitters Sunday night to bring home the gilded gramophone. What makes this story even sweeter is that several of the musicians are from Oakland and two even help run the Bay Area-based school music program — M.U.S.E.

Trumpeter Steffen Kuehn and pianist Christian Tumalan founded their 19-piece mambo group three years ago and were playing regular Monday night gigs at Café Cocomo in San Francisco. Not unlike most “starving artists,” they looked for backing for their first album — and found it through Kickstarter, the world’s largest crowd-funding website. It’s been one wild ride from there.

“We did a national tour about three months ago,” Kuehn says, “and that was the turning point. Three weeks later, we got the Grammy nomination.”

Kuehn still teaches music in two East Bay schools — All Saints in Hayward and Holy Rosary in Antioch. He’s been the regional coordinator for M.U.S.E since 1999.

And although he no longer lives in Oakland, a number of Kuehn’s band mates still call our town home. Two of them, timbales player Karl Perazzo and trombonist Jeff Cressman, have won multiple Grammies with the band Santana. Also from Oakland are M.U.S.E teacher and multi-instrument musician Pete Cornell; saxophonist Tony Peebles; lead vocalist Alexa Weber Morales; percussionist Omar Ledezma; trombonist Mike Rinta; and Aaron Lington on baritone sax. Rinta and Lincton are two of the main arrangers on PMO’s album.

The future holds big things for PMO. Kuehn says their success is bringing in the bookings. Now, they’ll work to get Mamba mainstream.

“We’re trying to get into the R and B markets and present music to people who would not normally listen to this kind of music. Bridge the gap. Go mainstream. I think we’re on the right track,” says Kuehn. Check out PMO’s music at

About town: One of Oakland’s new eateries is building a buzz in Jack London Square. Centouno is so authentically Italian, we even had to wait for the lasagna to “set” the other night. Owner Fabio Dalle Vacche kept the charm of the old brick building with the tile floors at 101 Broadway, adding warm accents and a symphony of salamis hanging near the open kitchen. His chef, for the next couple of months, is his mama Luigina, who has flown out from Parma to run the kitchen. You can taste the love. Dishes like the fried dough and cured meats are comfort foods that give you the feeling you’re in Luigina’s own home. And the pasta is perfect — especially accented with a side of locally made Italian sausage sautéed in red wine sauce and onions. Centouno gets the ultimate compliment from my Italian husband, who calls it “delizioso.”

Animal tales: Tuuuunnnna. That’s how reader Judy Jacobs calls her cat, Curious Claws, or C.C., for short. She has trained her tabby to come in from her rural environs by crooning about tuna. “Whenever we hear the coyotes howling, or any weird animal noises, we want her inside,” Jacobs says. Calling out Tuuuunnna, the cat comes like lightning. And just in case you’re wondering, C.C. also responds to the siren call “Shrimmmmp.”


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