Raíces (Roots) pays homage to the originators of Latin Jazz such as Cal Tjader, Tito Puente and Mongo Santamaria and also performs original music composed in the same genre. The group was founded by Chicago percussionist Ruben Alvarez and is currently led by vibraphonist Joe Sonnefeldt. Since their post-pandemic return in 2021, Raíces has played to packed audiences at Fitzgerald’s Night Club and enthusiastic crowds at several area music festivals. Their debut CD will be released on Sept. 12, 2022. You can order it now from the menu above.
Vibraphonist/percussionist Joe Sonnefeldt spends most of his time performing, recording, and teaching music around Chicago and the Midwest. He has enjoyed a 30+year friendship with Ruben Alvarez since Joe first sought out Ruben for lessons in Afro-Cuban percussion. In 2018 Ruben asked Joe to join Raíces on vibes. In 2021 Joe assumed the leadership of Raíces following Ruben’s retirement.
Joe has recorded albums with several other Chicago-based groups including “Azul Oscuro” from Sueños, “Seconds” from The Pan Go Steel Band and Poi Dog Pondering’s “In Seed Comes Fruit” and “Natural Thing”. Other artists Joe has played or recorded with include, Fareed Haque, David Amram, Martin Short, Marshall Vente, Ten City and The Fifth Dimension. His work can be heard on radio/TV commercials for United Airlines, Bally Total Fitness, Hoover, Sears, Carrier, Corona, the Illinois Bureau of Tourism and many others. A highly sought-after steel drummer, Joe has played numerous events with some of the city’s top bandleaders. Since 2003 Joe has been busy as a member of the pit orchestra for various Broadway shows that have come to Chicago including Mean Girls, Disney’s Aladdin, Newsies, Wicked and The Lion King.
From 1986 to 1994, Joe studied and performed with Master Drummer Midawo Gideon Foli Alorwoyie of Ghana, West Africa. He performed with Gideon and The African-American Unity Ensemble at the annual Percussive Arts Society International Convention, in a collaboration with the world renowned Trinity Irish Dancers, and at the citywide memorial service upon the passing of Chicago’s mayor, Harold Washington.
Pianist Stuart Seale has been based in Chicago since 2008 and met percussionist Ruben Alvarez (Raíces’ founder), while performing with his own group, “Charangueo” which Stuart started in 2013 with bassist Rene Avila. He had already played with many of Ruben’s former students over the years and was very excited to join “Raíces” in 2018- led by the master percussionist himself. Ruben’s musicianship and passion for teaching continues to be a constant source of inspiration to Stuart, even since Ruben’s retirement.
Originally from Downers Grove, IL, Stuart studied music education and voice at Illinois Wesleyan University and then earned his Masters degree in Jazz Studies from DePaul University where he studied with Ron Perillo. He has also studied with organist Chris Foreman.
Bobby Delgado (timbales) is a self-taught hand percussionist of Puerto Rican descent. He’s influenced by Afro-Cuban and Caribbean styles and the music Puerto Rico. Bobby honed his skills while being mentored by Julian Lugo, the bandleader of “Interlude”. Bobby performed with Ricky Minor and other American Idol contestants on the Ellen DeGeneres Show and has worked with local artists Darwin Noguera, Harley Figueroa, Joshua Ramos, Jesus Enrique, Lamar Jones, and Khari Parker among others. He currently plays with a number of bands including The Tim Gant Project, CeCe Penningston, Jose Valdez, Tino Melecio & The Latin Swing Factor, and Jimmy “Conga” Rodriguez.
Bobby has known Ruben Alvarez for more than 15 years and first saw him play with Chuchito Valdez. He considers Ruben to be one of the “best in Chicago and the Midwest”. Ruben asked Bobby to join Raíces as timbalero in 2019 and since Ruben’s retirement, Bobby has become the driving force of the percussion section and a featured soloist.
Conguero Jorge Leal was born in Mexico City and raised on the south side of Chicago. Jorge began playing drums in high school and went on to attend Columbia College in Chicago and receive a B.A. in Jazz Studies. Columbia is where Jorge met and studied with Ruben Alvarez, the founder of Raíces.
In 2017 Ruben invited Jorge to join Raíces as timbalero. Upon Ruben’s retirement, Jorge has taken over as conguero and hopes to honor Ruben’s legacy in that chair. Jorge also performed with Ruben for the 20th Anniversary concert of Sones de Mexico at Millennium Park in Chicago and currently plays congas with Joaquin Garcia’s “Tematica” and a number of other Afro-Latin ensembles around Chicago.
Eric Wilman Ferrer Yard (bass) was born in Cuba and plays both the bass guitar and guitar. After studying music in Cuba, he began teaching young adults the art of guitar in 2009. Soon after, Eric began his musical career with multiple bands and orchestras. In 2013, he joined Puertas Abiertas as Musical Director, singer, songwriter, and guitarist playing the group’s original fusion music. Eric later joined Son Atrevido as guitarist and vocalist playing traditional Cuban music. Before immigrating to Chicago in 2018, Eric joined Espectacular Habana, Yamil Peralta y La Union, and Marquetti y Habana Swing playing both Timba and Salsa music. He later recorded electric guitar on Marquetti y Habana Swing’s CD, “Dejala Que Baile”.
In 2019 Ruben Alvarez invited Eric to sit in with Raíces at one of their monthly Paladar gigs. Soon after that first meeting, Ruben asked Eric to join Raíces as the group’s bassist, adding his unique Cuban style and passion to their sound. The new CD includes an original composition by Eric titled, “Cha A Mi Manera”.
Rubén P. Alvarez is a Chicago based Latin percussionist, drum set artist, and educator and one of the original founders of “Raíces”. His credits include musical theatre as a percussionist and musical consultant for the Goodman Theatre Production “Crowns”, and the Broadway In Chicago run of “The Lion King”, performances and recordings with blues artists John Mayall and Junior Wells, rock artists Dave Mason and Dennis De Young, and jazz artists including Grammy nominee Ramsey Lewis, Patricia Barber, Dave Valentín, Slide Hampton, Grammy winner Arturo Sandoval, and 2010 Latin and Latin Grammy nominees Sones De Mexico. He is a 2013 Latin Grammy nominee for his work on the Chuchito Valdés Album “Made in Chicago”, and is a member of Chicago’s premier Latin jazz ensemble Chévere De Chicago.
Rubén has taught percussion and directed Latin Jazz combos at Roosevelt University, Columbia College Chicago, and Prairie State College, and is a teaching artist for the Jazz Institute of Chicago “Jazz Links” residency program. He is a featured presenter at national and international music education conferences. Rubén has served on the Board of Directors of The Jazz Education Network, the Board of Governors of the Chicago Chapter of the Recording Academy and as Vice President of the Illinois chapter of the Percussive Arts Society. He endorses Latin Percussion ®, Remo percussion products, Vic Firth sticks and mallets, and Zildjian cymbals.