How Salsa & Cuba changed my life

August 2014.

I fell in love with Cuban dance and culture in Melbourne while attending classes at the Cuban Dance Academy. The director, Christina Monneron, shed the light on this wonderful culture. I was particularly interested in the communal aspects of Rueda dancing, which is like a complicated Salsa version of the barn dance. It resonated with me. I felt the need to connect with people; I was missing being involved with the community on other levels than music.

When the dance school closed, I continued to lead a group of rueda lovers to practise every weekend. I’ve been dancing Rueda de Casino for over 8 years. Fundamentals in music training and improvisation enabled me to explore salsa dancing in a creative way and provided the discipline to improve quickly. Rueda can be as simple or as complicated as you desire, offers an enormous amount of creativity and improvisation, and requires the caller to react to the changes in the music. It’s dynamic. In many ways it’s very similar to playing jazz; constantly creative and interactive. My rueda friends and I have created many original moves over recent years. The dancing puts me in the “zone” and always puts a smile on face.

Paul Van Ross_Rueda Dancing

My interest in Cuban culture extends to Afro-Cuban elements of the music and dance, polyrhythmic elements and its earthly roots. I found the development of the music and dance particularly interesting. I travelled to Cuba in 2009 as part of a dance school, studying salsa, son, and Afro-Cuban dances. I even managed to get a few flute lessons in too.

I really enjoyed Cuba, on so many levels. While I was there, my camera was stolen, and as part of filing the police report in Havana, I had to ride in the standard issue police car (a Russian Lada – imagine 1950’s). I thought it was so ironic, because I needed the camera more than ever to take a photo of this slice of Cuba.

I felt particularly privileged to be able to see what ‘real’ Cubans are like, and not be influenced by what the media reports. After that first trip, I knew I would be back someday with a more musical focus.

Being a musician has helped build a stronger connection between the dancers and the musicians on stage at Latin gigs. People overseas are often surprised when I jump off stage at a Latin gig and bust out a few moves on the dance floor. I managed to convince a few dancers to visit jazz clubs and have new musical experiences.

Melbourne musicians have had a strong affiliation with Cuban musicians over the last few decades. My recent recording in Cuba is undoubtedly one of the highlights of my music career and I hope that it inspires other musicians to discover and experiment with Cuban music.

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2D photoshoot for Cuban album cover with Paul Van Ross

8th July 2014.

Today was AMAZING. A photoshoot with a difference.

Last year my incredible friend and fellow artist Michael Teo said “I want to take the photo for your next album cover”.

Well, today was the day. A week ago we caught up for a meeting and Michael shows me several photos outlining a 2D concept whereby people were painted to look like a painting. They looked sensational. I often had to look closer to see that it actually wasn’t a painting….thick brush strokes, beautiful colours….I LOVED IT.

So, I spent the week finding suitable clothing in opp shops that would suit my frame and that paint would adhere to well. Also managed to source a saxophone that we could paint.

Michael, the photographer, had in mind a particular make up artist, Ollie Savage, to do the painting. She was Sooooooo enthusiastic and excited about doing the project.

So Today it came to fruition. A collaboration between artists – musician, make up artist, photographer. Today the concept became reality.

In summary:

– 11 hours standing relatively still
– 1 hour taking photos
– 20 tubes of acrylic paint
– 50 paint brushes
– 1 painted tenor saxophone
– painted shoes, jeans, shirt, vest & tie
– 7 organic apples, 4 coffees, 4 slices of pizza
– Lots of pins and needles in the legs
– 3 extremely patient people with a vision
– 1 make up artist lost in my armpits (working non stop for 12 hours)
– many touch ups
– lots of laughs

= 1 x 2 dimensional looking sax player

A truly memorable day.

Ever grateful to Michael Teo & Ollie Savage.

Can’t wait to get the pic for the album cover.

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Here’s a few pics from behind the scenes in chronological order……..

























Let the Cubans Loose…

July 2014.

Let the Cubans loose…….

Well that’s what it felt like I’d done when I let some of the greatest Cuban musicians loose in the studio in Havana, Cuba in late 2013.

And, I’m truly thankful too. A fascinating recording is on it’s way.
By not constricting these wonderful musicians too much I had hoped to allow them more creativity and expression in the music making.


You can get an idea of their playful energy and general craziness on this video…..especially at the end.

Let the Cubans loose…



ClaveMania play 21st Birthday

June 8, 2014.

Not your typical 21st birthday party.
Venue: Paris Cat jazz Club
Band: ClaveMania
Theme: French colours

A sensational gathering of young intellectuals with a sense of humour.

Very happy with the band performance. Our focus, apart from having a great time, was to play softer with the same simmering energy. After tweaking the PA (which had been masterly tampered with) we successfully entertained the party goers and created some wonderful music at the same time.

A great end to the weekend. Look forward to playing again at open Studio on Friday.

Very glad to catch up with the mother of 21st celebrant early in the night, as alcohol would have made conversation tricky later in the night.

Many thanks to:

Jonathan Cohen – piano
Elizabeth Obando – bass
Damien Ellis – drums
Rodolfo Hachaverria Panga – percussion

Love this band.







Paul Van Ross Trio hit castlemaine Jazz festival

June 7 & 8, 2014.

I took the PVR trio to perform at the first ever Castlemaine Jazz festival. We had three gigs over 26hours, and I was determined to have a great time and show the locals some higher level playing.

What I didn’t realise is that we were the headline act. My good friend and photographer, Michael Teo, had received a call earlier in the week to request the use of one his photos of me playing saxophone for use in the local newspaper.

All three gigs were extremely well attended, audiences loved the chordless trio, a few CDs exchanged hands, and perhaps more importantly my trio helped create a “BUZZ” for the festival.

The weekend was a great mix of jamming, wonderful local hospitality, good coffee (actually YES), maximum use of minimal set up time, and a hilarious catch up with the legendary violinist Nigel MacLean (who explained in detail that “women are on a different trajectory”).

A great country town and successful festival. Look forward to going again soon.

Many thanks to Aaron McCoullough & Daigo Nakai.