Jorge Gomez is the highly acclaimed, multi-talented, Cuban-born musician who is the driving force behind the three-time Grammy-nominated, seven-piece Afro-Caribbean musical group, Tiempo Libre (Free Time). We met to discuss his life and music in his new Saratoga Springs basement studio in the home he shares with his wife, SPAC Director, Elizabeth Sobol.
Gomez's personal journey is entirely unique and the perspective he has gained along the way adds bright color to everything he creates.
"Growing up in Havana, we would be forced to study classical music all day," Gomez told me in reflection. "But then at night, we would go to the rooftops with a radio and a coat hanger as an antenna so we could hear Chick Corea's Elektric Band, Keith Jarrett, Chaka Kahn, you know, all the new American sounds. Then we would make up our own interpretation of the songs we heard. It is the way we grew as musicians."
Part of the demands on young Cuban men is a mandatory term of military service. Gomez served for two years; his second year was fittingly as musical director for a band that entertained the troops.
In 1995 after completing his military service, Gomez was able to travel to Guatemala on the pretense of visiting a sick relative. He never returned to Cuba. After five years in Guatemala, he finally moved to America.
"It was heartbreaking to leave everything behind in Cuba. I took just one small bag. I did not even take my musical instruments. Yet, I knew my destiny was elsewhere and it was time for change."
Gomez's music school friends fled Cuba at about the same time, and ended up in Miami working in different bands. Once they discovered each other, they founded Tiempo Libre in 2001. With Gomez as director, the band started moving upwards quickly and has never slowed down.
Tiempo Libre has appeared in concerts and events around the globe, and has been featured on television shows, including The Tonight Show, Live from Lincoln Center, and Dancing with the Stars, as well as many entertainment programs on Univision and Telemundo. They have produced seven successful albums that feature the unique style of Timba, dance music based on salsa, American funk/R&B, and Afro-Cuban folkloric music.
Gomez created the music and lyrics for a semi-autobiographical musical stage play, Cuba Libre, which successfully premiered in Portland in 2015. "The music we create is about our lives and so is the play," Jorge said with pride.
At this point in the interview, Gomez began to review some new musical tracks on his studio midi system. As the joyous rhythms filled the space, Gomez talked about performing in Saratoga this upcoming summer season.
"We are looking forward to performing in the intimate stage setting at the Performing Arts Center and our open jam session at Caffé Lena. Saratoga has very knowledgeable audiences and great musicians. We are anxious to share our culture and music with them." S