Dancers Andrzej and Jennifer Przybyl will join the TSO and guest conductor Victor

Vanacore for a Latin-dance-themed concert at Tucson Music Hall.


The Tucson Symphony Orchestra is serving up some spicy salsa to heat up the Thanksgiving weekend.

Under the baton of Grammy-winning arranger, composer and conductor Victor Vanacore, the orchestra will open its Super Pops series on Saturday and Sunday with the Latin-themed “Hot, Hot, Hot!” The orchestra is billing the concert as “an evening of Latin music, dance and romance,” which Vanacore said pretty much sums it up.

There’s the husband and wife dance couple Andrzej and Jennifer Przybyl, who Vanacore said is terrific.

“They are incredible dancers,” he gushed. “They have so much poise. You can see the oneness when they dance. It’s incredible.”

And the music, much of it arranged by Vanacore, includes works by Chick Corea, Carlos Santana, Tito Puente and Gloria Estefan, alongside a slow rumba version of “Over the Rainbow” that he has redubbed “Rainbow Rumba.” Vanacore won a Grammy for his arrangement of “Over the Rainbow” for Ray Charles on the famed bluesman’s final album “Genius Loves Company,” released two months after Charles died in June 2004.

“The whole thing makes for a pretty romantic evening,” Vanacore said last week from home in Los Angeles. “It’s got a little bit of everything in it. It’s got mambos, it’s got cha-chas, it’s got salsas. I think we’ve got every dance. We play a tango, but they don’t dance one. They play nine dances in all and the orchestra is featured heavily between each dance number. … I have a medley that’s sort of a tribute to (Estefan); we do ‘Conga’ at the end and the dancers come out for that. It sort of shows our fabric as Americans.”

Vanacore also pulls in classic Gershwin with a samba arrangement of Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” that he calls “Samba in Blue.” The arrangement marries Brazilian accents.

“It’s such a big moment when you hear that melody,” he said. “There’s something about it that just kills me. It’s Gershwin, it’s samba, it’s dancing, it’s strings. It just gets to me.”

Vanacore, an accomplished pianist who was the keyboardist, arranger and conductor for The Jackson 5, will perform on piano throughout “Hot, Hot, Hot!” His son, Victor Vanacore III, will accompany on drums.

Vanacore also spent two years touring with Johnny Mathis and six years working with Barry Manilow. He was Charles’ arranger and musical director for 14 years, culminating with the singer’s platinum-selling “Genius Loves Company” album.

Vanacore said he was inspired to create the salsa symphony show by the old Cuban Tropicana-style shows — think Ricky Ricardo from “I Love Lucy” — that featured orchestras and dancers in brilliant costumes, with little comic interludes thrown in.

“Watching the audience reaction, I love it. I think that’s why I got into music. People seem to enjoy it. You’re hearing (the music) the way the composers composed the songs and the way I heard them as an arranger.”

Contact reporter Cathalena E. Burch at or 573-4128.

I cover music for the Arizona Daily Star.