Reprinted with permission of Seapower, the official publication of the Navy League of the United States.I am Cuban-American, born and raised in Miami. I grew up listening to Spanish music and also rock and roll. I needed an elective in the ninth grade and thought, “Well, I’ll do music.” The saxophone was great. The first time I squawked a note on it, I thought, “Oh, this is awesome!” Within a couple of months, I went from a total beginner to playing in their top band. The band director was just fantastic. He made so many opportunities and took us places. When I auditioned for New World School of the Arts — kind of like [the television show] “Fame” — I had only been playing for five months. I was fortunate to be accepted.
I went to the University of North Texas in Denton, Texas, for a bachelor’s degree in jazz music. I played with their premier, world-class band for three and a half years. It was very competitive. You had to audition every semester to stay in the band. My saxophone teacher showed me the Navy Band announcement on the bulletin board. My initial im - pression was, “I’m not interested.” I had opportunities to go on the road and just be a traveling musician. But I got married young, and decided that wouldn’t be very good for my marriage. I took the audition and was fortunate enough to win it.
As music director of The Commodores, I decide what we play and try to find new music. I’m in front of the band, rehearsing them, getting everything together. I program all the concerts that we perform and also work with the productions team and even with conventions, some big music things, from time to time to iron out what the particulars might be. Typically, we rehearse three or four days a week as operational commitments allow. One of the big things we do is render honors for veterans or deceased veterans. We do a lot of protocol engagements for high-level military dignitaries, also for the vice president or the White House. We have a lot of public performances, especially in the summer.
It’s challenging to stand in front of 18 very skilled professionals who really know what they’re doing and many of whom have been playing longer than I’ve been alive. For a long time, I was the youngest guy in the group. I still have to be the one responsible for saying, “Let’s do it this way.” I think I have earned their respect over their years. We’re ambassadors for the Navy. We’re tightly linked to recruiting, which helps because there are a lot of young people who, when we do clinics or when we play concerts around the country, they, all of a sudden, have an interest. “Man, the Navy’s cool!”
Also, around the world, Navy musicians can go where ships can’t. Perhaps there is some issue of sovereignty and [some countries] don’t want our ships or our subs there, but a band could go and represent the rest of the Navy in a way the SEALs or some submarine can’t. It’s a great job. I’m doing what I love to do and I get to serve my country doing it and provide for my family. That pretty much covers all the bases.