By Ruth Ann Ruiz
The Post Newspaper Features Editor
Energy, and cohesive teamwork define the Mambo Jazz Kings, a favorite dance band since 1985. The band delivers a sound that brings the audience to their feet, grabbing their partners and proving Southeastern Texans love to dance.
Leslie Boone, manager at Jackie’s Brick House in Kemah, looks forward to evenings when the MJK are playing. “They bring out an awesome crowd and I love to see the dance floor full,” said Boone.
The Mambo Jazz Kings consists of a trombone, trumpet, alto saxophone, percussions, key boards, strings and vocalists. Currently the band has 14 members. A typical show will include three sets with about 34 songs. Musical selections come from R&B favorites. The band books gigs from Galveston to Houston and throughout the Bay area with occasional shows in Louisiana.
Most of the members have jobs or are retired because the band does not make much money.
“They do it because they love music not for the money,” said founder and owner Art Lopez.
Bono Thomson has been with Lopez since the beginning. “I’ve been a roadie for close to 30 years, and I do it because I love music,” Thomson explained. He is responsible for setting up and taking down all equipment for each gig along with Carla and TJ Dewitt, who assist him with the equipment.
“My dad used to play trumpet with Art,” Carla shared.
Musicians have come and gone, but with Lopez’s passion for the band, he continues to find professional musicians who work well together. Drummer Reggie Wheatley said, “It’s a good group of mature players, everyone gets along well.” Tony Richardson plays alto saxophone and agrees, “This group is easy to get along with.”
Fritz Shiring, lead guitar player, started with garage bands as a teenager. He has been with the band just over a year. “I enjoy the camaraderie of the band, we all get along really well,” said Shiring.
Keyboard player and backup vocalist Ron Davis enjoys the band and has been playing with the group for six years. “I love it, all we have to do is come in and play,” he said.
Danny Hernandez, a member of the Houston Fire Department, also plays the keyboards and provides background singing.
Trombone player Craig Zlatnik has been with the band eight years. He first picked up the trombone when he was in fifth grade.
“It was the cheapest instrument,” he shared with a smile.
Trumpet player Brad Neimi comes from Chicago; like Zlatnik with the trombone, he started on the trumpet in the fifth grade.
Tejano music was Mike Ramirez’ first love, which eventually allowed him to play with some of the giants of Tejano music. He brings the congas, timbales, and other percussion instruments to the band.
Performing started for vocalist, Stormy, on her 30th birthday. She sang a song in public and Lopez was in the audience. He liked what he heard and invited her to meet the band. After passing her audition, her journey as a vocalist began.
“My first year I was so scared. The other members were good teachers. One day they told me just let go and have fun. That was when I really started to connect with the audience,” she said.
More than 20 years later, she is a natural at captivating and leading her audience.
Born and raised in Galveston, the youngest member of the band, vocalist Chip Clarke, is a worship pastor in Baytown. Clarke believes music moves people and he is proficient at engaging with his audience.
The band also includes vocalists Keith Ward and Brenda Guy.
Edward Salinas graduated from Dickinson High School in 1996. When asked why he chose his role he said, “I love the way music makes people feel.”
“I love my band, music is my life and the band is my family!” Lopez exclaimed. He takes care of all the details so his band members can focus on being musicians.