Jazz Boot Camp

Imer Santiago (center) jazzes it up with members of The Imer Santiago Quintet.

Imer Santiago (center) jazzes it up with members of The Imer Santiago Quintet.

By day, Imer Santiago is a music educator, teaching at two Nashville, Tennessee, schools, directing a program that focuses solely on Mariachi music. By night, Santiago has “a couple of bands” and plays jazz in clubs and festivals around town. (That’s putting it lightly—he just released a new album and even garnered consideration for a Grammy nomination this year.)

He said it was Ohio State that put him on the fast-path to musical success. “Ohio State has a ‘boot camp’ in jazz,” he said. “They kicked my butt for four years, and I know for sure I wouldn’t be in the position I’m in today without the education I got at Ohio State, particularly the School of Music jazz studies program’s focus on improvisation.”

His road to Nashville continued with a master’s degree from the University of New Orleans, then a stint with an Austin, Texas-based Latin/Christian rock band. “We came through Nashville a lot, and I said, there’s a whole lot more here than just country (music),” he said. “I wanted to settle down, and I love it here!”

He said Nashville’s Music Makes Us initiative seeks to bring music from a “diverse musical landscape” into the city’s public schools, thus his Latin-based Mariachi program in a middle school and high school, where students learn violin, trumpet, guitar, vihuela and guitarron.

His own bands include the seven-member El Movimiento, co-led by three of the musicians, which has belted out Latin jazz tunes since 2008. He also leads the Imer Santiago Quintet, in his words, playing “mainly straight-ahead jazz with a little R&B influence and some Latin jazz.” And he just released his first solo album, Imer Santiago: Hidden Journey.

"People who know me know three things about me: I’m a man of faith. I’m Puerto Rican. And I’m a Buckeye." {Imer Santiago}