Saul Rayo’s vision |

Saul Rayo’s vision

Carol Feineman

Saul Rayo dreams daily. And not just in Technicolor, but dreams reaching epic proportions.

His latest vision, which is the catalyst behind Friday’s and Saturday’s Cocina Del Mundo Orchestra gala performances at the Center for the Arts, has been brewing for years. The weekend performances include 23 percussionist, horn and string players of all ages and genres from different groups, including Rayo’s own world music band Cocina Del Mundo, along with the classically oriented Music in the Mountains, Twin Cities Concert Association and Apollo Opera Orchestra. Many of the musicians have just met for the first time through this collaboration, which doubles as a benefit for the center.

“This is a first for me, it’s a big deal; I’ve been building up to this since the mid- 1990s,” Rayo said last week. “That’s why I did the Paul Simon tribute in January. I wanted to make a splash and get people’s attention, see if we could do something else.”

Rayo did indeed catch the attention of Nevada County audiences last January. The Simon tribute was such a successful benefit – again for the Center for the Arts – that it sold out both nights. A third show was added hours after the first performance, which also sold out entirely through word-of-mouth without any advertising or media coverage.

“I work really, really hard. I don’t do anything small or tiny. Most of the time I do gigs, I lose money. It’s not about money, it’s all about the music. It’s a drive I can’t help,” Rayo said. “It’s constantly changing. I never do the same thing twice. I got offered big bucks to do the Paul Simon tribute in Santa Rosa right after the show but I turned it down because I don’t want to do it; that’s over.”

Rayo has happily switched gears with this orchestra, rehearsing new material for the past few months.

“I’ve always wanted to put together an orchestra because it’s an emotionally moving thing. It’s a feeling that we’re all connected around a song; there’s nothing like it,” Rayo said.

Rayo’s prior orchestras have featured cover songs. This time around, the new community orchestra will play Rayo’s originals, which were scored for string by now local composer Craig Palmer.

From the 1970s to 2001, Palmer made his living in San Diego by composing production music or corporate industrial music, a term coined by music historians to describe Palmer’s fully symphonic compositions used in television and radio productions (including “Energy” from “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous”).

“Saul’s music is music of the people, for young and old,” Palmer said. “Working with musicians like Saul Rayo is truly the best. For Saul Rayo and people like him, none of the magic of music has been blurred by headiness or corporate influence. For Saul Rayo, music is still primordial, like a child discovering something for the very first time in their life. There is the ‘Corporate Music Scene’ and then there is the ‘Saul Rayo Music Scene.'”

It’s been thrilling for Rayo to hear his songs take on added dimensions.

“I sit there and play these songs by myself on guitar,” he joked. “I can’t stand all these songs bouncing around in my noggin. I can’t stand it; I’ve wanted to hear it in full forever.”

So how was hearing his bluesy world beat originals played during the string section’s first rehearsal last week?

“That was a crackup. When the violins came in, I looked over at my bass player and we all had misty eyes,” Rayo said. “It was so beautiful. The violin, the scores, are pretty amazing stuff. Ken Hardin (Twin Cities Concert Association conductor/artistic director and Music in the Mountains concert chorale conductor) is conducting the rehearsals. To have people of that caliber playing my music and liking it is quite exciting.”

Orchestra Cocina Del Mundo

Percussionists: Jack Martin, Mike Lessing, Gary Greenberg, Walter Webb and Mark Thayer

Horns: David Vaughn, Doug Davies, Josh Ford and Walter Webb

String Section: Rondi Soule, Robert Russel, David Gortner, Rosemay Nicholsen, Amy Villwock, Brenda Bellizi, Anna Gold, Arthur Gould, Andrew Selby

Singers: Kate Fingerson, Kim Kinjo and Beth Moore Haines

Sitar and Tambura: Jonathan Meredith

Rhythm section: Lou “Gulu” Meyer, Thomas “Tominator” Schubel,

Joshua “Tree” Letcher and Saul Rayo

Conductors: Ken Hardin and Jerry Grant

All band members sing.


WHAT: Saul Rayo and Cocina Del Mundo Orchestra Gala Performance

WHEN: Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m.

WHERE: Center for the Arts, 314 W. Main St., Grass Valley

ADMISSION: $15. Advance tickets at Love Shack Records, Yabobo, BriarPatch, The Book Seller, Cherry Records and online through


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