Cuban Rhythms in the Suburbs

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Author: Alison Kjeldgaard

After almost four years at Oxy, L.A. is finally growing on me. Sarcastic comments about the traffic or the fact that I’m probably getting smoker’s lung just from living here no longer dominate conversations with my parents. Friends previously used to me speculating about my post-college life in more hip places like San Francisco or Portland stare wide-eyed at me when I say I might just stay here.

This unforeseen warm feeling has a lot to do with me finally being able to appreciate the never-ending number of unique spots that only a huge, sprawling place like L.A. can offer.

Craving a classy night out, a group of Oxy friends and I ventured into the wannabe small-town suburb of Glendale in search of the newly-opened Left Coast Wine Bar that boasts live jazz music seven nights a week. Fridays feature singer and pianist Iliana Rose with her band — Sergio Gonzalez on drums, David Zasloff on trumpet, and Roy Alnashef on bongos — who play Cuban-style jazz every Friday.

The wine bar sits tucked away on Harvard St. and Brand Blvd., around a darkened corner from the Americana metropolis.

The cozy upstairs loft holds only about five small tables with a few large couches resting in the corner, making for an intimate gathering. The quartet began playing as we lounged on the cushy red couches and languidly sipped Argentinian malbec wine. Though I am no wine expert, the not-too-fruity malbec went perfectly with the rich, smooth sounds of Latin jazz. The set became more lively as our group and surrounding neighbors tentatively picked up the percussive instruments lying on our tables. With Rose’s enthusiastic encouragement, we, along with fellow audience members, shook tambourines and drummed on mini bongos.

Rose thinks that making her performance an interactive experience is the most important part about playing music.

Raised in Miami by her Cuban parents and grandparents, Rose loves to perform traditional Cuban folk songs that her grandfather sang to her as a child. The sets reflected her Cuban roots, interspersing renditions of Buena Vista Social Club songs between more popular tunes like “Guantanamera.” Rose also sang Bossa Nova-style songs in Portuguese, including hits by Astrud Gilberto and the crowd-favorite, “The Girl from Ipanema.”

By the second set, the low-key, quiet corner of the classy wine bar had transformed into a swaying mob of rosy-cheeked audience members dancing merengue and shaking maracas around the crowded tables.

No wonder Rose finds her gig to be more play than work, and continues to come back to perform twice a week.

“I love this place,” Rose said. “The owners and manager are doing an unbelievable thing.”

Owner Ed Mamigonian is intent on offering his customers a chance to sample a wide variety of wines, music and art exhibited on the restaurant’s walls.

“I like to hear good music with good wine or beer, and good conversation,” Mamigonian said. “It always adds to a good aura, ambiance and good memories.”

We wholeheartedly agreed. Clustered around the quartet, my friends and I danced, sang and shook the night away to the Latin rhythms of Rose’s husky voice and talented band. Two fellow audience members taught us how to dance the merengue, and Rose joked around between her vocal solos.

“That’s the whole point of music,” Rose said. “To have fun.”

My Fridays have been upgraded. Instead of chugging Natty-light and eating at taco trucks, I will spend my weekends sipping wine and immersing myself in the warm melodies of Cuba.

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