Jillian. Vocalist of Los Jovenes del Barrio



   Sometime in 1996, while searching at the shelves in a local music store, I found a CD called "Evolucionando." The cover of this release called my attention, because it depicted a boy, with a piece of chalk in his hand, writing on a sidewalk, "Johnny Almendra y los Jóvenes del Barrio - Charanga lives!." I recognized Johnny's name due to his incredible work as a timbalero/percussionist with almost every Salsa band in New York, so it only took a second for me to decide to buy it. Once I heard it, I was not disappointed. This was good music, played with heart.

 However, I was invaded by doubts. You see, by the time "Evolucionando" came out, the Afrocaribbean music that dominated New York was Salsa romántica, today called Salsa Monga. This was a tepid trend that decreased the quality of our music. So I told myself, "Johnny has guts. He just released a Charanga record in the middle of the Salsa Erótica movement. He's going to be eaten alive." But I decided to wait: if he survived his first effort, it could be the beginning of something good. Fortunately, a second CD, "Reconfirmando," came out. The title of this record was appropriate, because it reconfirmed that this band was here to stay. Needless to say, the rest is history.

"Reconfirmando" was followed by "Jóvenes del Barrio, Live" and "The Best of Los Jóvenes del Barrio." All these productions were released by RMM Records. This year, however, this charanga band changed labels, "Shanachie Records", and delivered its latest record: "Es Diferente!   

But the truth is that, for the success of his dream, Johnny received help from a very special person: his wife, Jillian, who has been with the band basically from the beginning. Her singing and rich background have given this group an identity and force that is hard to ignore. Los Jóvenes del Barrio are probably responsible for the rebirth of charanga in New York at the opening of the new millennium.

I met Jillian some hours before her appearance in Los Angeles at the Second Bacardi Salsa Congress, held May 26-28, 2000, in the City of the Angels. Jillian was in great spirits as she ordered a scotch. Yours truly, due to medical reasons, had to keep himself happy with a diet cola. What can I say about Jillian? Well, she can be a perfect date. She is smart, attractive, funny, passionate, and down to earth. And talented. Very talented. Her rich background in many kinds of music, plus the teachings of Johnny Almendra, put Jillian in a very favorable position in today's market. You don't believe me? Find out for yourself...

Interview conducted May 26, 2000. Reedited February, 2009.

Acknowledgements:  My sincere thanks to Ana Araiz, who made this interview possible, and Albert Torres, for all his support.

Eric E. González (EEG): It has been quite a ride for you since you joined Johnny Almendra y Los Jóvenes del Barrio. How do you feel about it?

JILLIAN: Well, it has been tremendously rewarding, not only as an artist being able to sing, but for the whole education factor, because as an American, I have been so captured by the music and the culture. You know, I studied many languages for a long time, because I was trained in opera. So, when I started singing in Spanish, it wasn't so much the language that was the tremendous challenge, but the rhythm -the clave-, the feeling inside, you know, and this music is so rich and so beautiful. As somebody who loves to research and study the depth of the roots of whatever I'm doing, this music has tremendous depth and I really enjoy it, and still continue to enjoy what I'm doing. I'm also married to Johnny Almendra, so...

EEG: You have the best teacher...

JILLIAN: We are a good team and it's really part of my journey.

EEG: Alright, since you mentioned opera, tell me about your beginnings.

JILLIAN: Well, I have really been onstage for a long time. I was born...Nmeewrrnnk (Jillian mumbles something and laughs very hard)

EEG: Oh, come on...What was that...Newark?

JILLIAN: No, I'm trying NOT to tell you my age.

EEG: Okay, okay. You don't need to. What city was that?

JILLIAN: No, I have been onstage for a long time. I started in theater. I'm from the Pacific Northwest. I was born in Spokane, Washington, and I was raised in Oregon. I started doing community theater when I was nine and I just ran the gamut throughout my life. I was a dancer for many years. I studied...I am a formally trained dancer, and, as a dancer, I knew that I wanted to do Broadway in New York. So, I figured, "let me study voice, because you have to sing on Broadway...the dancers have to sing, you have to be able to participate." So, I started studying and just discovered music as being the most fulfilling, expressively, as an artist. For me, I would say that I am a performer; I'm not just a singer. When I get onstage, I love to perform. I'm a strong singer and I am very trained, my education is heavy in that area. I just feel that this has been my destiny. I do this because I can't help myself. This is what I do. I have done this my entire life. I continue to be curious in maintaining an open mind as far as other types of music and anything that captures me. Just to be onstage is my thing!

EEG: How do you think that you developed this interest, this craving to know....?

JILLIAN: Well, it is curiosity, I think. That's innate, you know, it's inside and we are all complex people. But, I'm definitely a performer that goes deep inside to pull out, to share with my audience. I don't want just to go through the motions. I'm interested in interpreting on a deeper level...and you have to study the roots, and you have to study the culture, and you have to know where it all comes from, in order for that to happen. So, as an American studying this music, it is very important for me to go back to studying Celia (Cruz), to study Graciela (from Machito), to go back and study the people...Beny Moré, you know, all the people that came before, so I could feel that, as far as Latin music. But, I mean...I listen to everything.

EEG: I can see that.

JILLIAN: Yeah, it's important to know the roots, to know who came first and what they did. It is very important and that is what is missing with the young Latinos today. These kids, they don't know their history, they don't know their roots, and I was just thinking about that before I came down here. I was thinking, "I am an American. I am a white American, just about as white as you can come (LAUGHTER)...German, English, Scottish...I have direct lineage to the Mayflower, okay?" My lineage is super, super European, but I was raised in a black family. My father married a black woman when I was three. I was raised in the sixties, you know, that whole cultural upheaval, and I was just thinking as I was getting down here, "how beautifully rich this music is, this Afro-Caribbean music, this Latin Music...And why these kids today don't embrace that?" It amazes me. They don't embrace their culture. You know, so many young Puerto Rican and young Latinos in New York, they don't even speak Spanish. It looks like they don't want to; they have a shame about it. It really amazes me, you know, that that is, because the culture is so rich and so beautiful. How do we go about making that change?, you know, about having the kids today embrace their culture. It's rough.

EEG: That's true. We also have that problem here in California. For several reasons it happens, and we have to train them, we have to educate them. Now...you were talking about training yourself. Before you began studying Spanish-speaking singers, what was your main musical interest?

JILLIAN: Wow! Yeah, I would say that my cultural environment coming up as a kid was very Jazz / R & B / Soul oriented. I grew up listening to Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding, James Brown, John Coltrane...all the Motown stuff. And it was always something very important to me as a kid...music. My parents loved to party. So there were always lots of different kinds of music. Of course, I always heard Tito Puente and Mongo Santamaría, also, because my father loved Latin Jazz. By the time I was eighteen, I would say that my main influences were Lena Horne, Judy Garland, Billie Holiday. Later on, I started really getting into Etta James, Sarah Vaughn, Ella, Dinah...You know, I'm a researcher and those women, particularly Judy Garland, Billie Holiday, and Lena Horne were heavy influences in my early stages in being curious about singing, because those women were really emotional singers.

EEG: That reflects in your singing, too.

JILLIAN: Yeah, I mean, you pick up pieces as you go along, and that's the byproduct of listening a lot.

EEG: You are developing into something very special, because you are mixing all these things together...

JILLIAN: Thank you. Yeah, sometimes, as I'm getting older...I am seeing it more as a blessing, but as I go along it's like a blessing and a curse, you know, you have so much and so many different things. How do you define it?, when you are like a chameleon. (LAUGHTER) And I really am. I mean, I am a R & B, Pop singer; that's what I do. I do session work. I do all different kinds of stuff. Trained in opera, but I so happen to be working in Latin music. And doing pretty well. It amazes me, you know, the reaction that I'm getting is very loving. At the beginning, it was a little bit like, "What's that white bitch doing...thhhjgh!!! You get that and it's unfortunate.

EEG: Yes, it's a sad thing, and one of our functions at our website is to give voice to new talent that may enrich our music. But you are in a good position, Jillian, because the world is moving towards globalization, and the more you know, the more niches you can occupy and exploit. Plus, you have a good teacher in your husband. I really think something good might come out of all this...Now, did you get into the Salsa thing before you met Johnny?, or...

JILLIAN: No. It's interesting, because it sort of happened this way. We didn't expect that I would be singing full time with Los Jóvenes del Barrio. He formed the charanga at a workshop band at Boy's Harbor Conservatory, just to teach the students and the people that were wondering, "Why do we need the 'Baqueteo'? Where do we play THAT rhythm? We don't need that today." Well, "This is why. Let me show you why: the roots of this music." So we started the charanga as a workshop to educate the students and it just developed into something that we didn't expect. A lot of interest was generated. Veteran musicians came to help out...Víctor Venegas in the bass...We needed those people to really make it happen. Forget about it! Víctor was making records before I was even born ! (LAUGHTER). Karen Joseph on the flute, veteran charanga flutist, African-American woman. We needed a stable rhythm section to make this work. So it developed, and we went out and started at the "Nuyorican Poets Café," down at the Lower East Side. We played for the door. We played there for a year, just to 'shed' the music; sometimes it would be Five bucks at the door.

EEG: What is the time frame that we are talking about?

JILLIAN: Well, the workshop was about eight months and then we took it out.

EEG: In what year, more or less...?

JILLIAN: I would say '94, '95. Like around '95. There we started shedding all the traditional charanga standards, "Kikiriki"...all those songs. And then we slowly started going through musicians, replacing of one person, new person comes in, refining the ensemble to make it better. And we started getting arrangements, and I would go there every week and sit there like Lucy, getting addicted, you know. So, Johnny figures out, "Well...what's the way to get Jillian involved in here?" I was working with some other producers, doing R & B stuff, and I had just recorded "Telephone" with an R & B producer. Johnny heard the clave right away; it was right in the song. So we had "Telephone"...Johnny and Kimson (Plaut), our piano player, arranged "Telephone." Actually that wasn't the first one. The first song we did was "Stop Slow Down," and I had done that before also. I was under a contract with another producer, and that was another R & B song, and Johnny heard the clave inside it, too. He said, "Let get this arranged, and we'll have the charanga instrumentation, and you will sing it in English. We'll just have a special arrangement for you." "Stop Slow Down," that was my first song. So, you know, little by little we get one song, two songs for me. So...I was sitting there every week. I was just listening to the coros, and learning, and learning, and learning...you know, little by little, more songs...Now I'm onstage all the time.

EEG: In control...


JILLIAN: That's right! Me, Maggie Ramos - we have two new singers in front -, Marco Bermudez, tremendous two singers. They are just really tremendous onstage and we have a real chemistry in front, we have a lot of fun. You know, it has taken some time, but I told Johnny that I don't want to be a feature anymore. I don't want just to be called up. I want to learn, so let me sing coro. So, that's how I'm gonna learn. Let me learn, just have me sing coro and, even if I don't sing leads, let me sing coro. That way I would feel it inside, and I can really start seeing how the music works.

EEG: The timing...

JILLIAN: Yes! Learning about the form and getting that second nature feeling about how the music works, because it's different. It's an instinctive thing, and I didn't have that. So...still working on that, but it's gotten much better.

EEG: Now...lets begin with the music. Your first album was "Evolucionando"...

JILLIAN: "Evolucionando" was released in '96. Ralph Mercado and Johnny have been friends for a long time. He's the head of RMM Records. Johnny used to "poster" for him. And Ralphie loved the music. He heard "Telephone," and he loved it. So he decided to give us a chance, and we weren't intending to do this. I mean, we were like, "let's just do this band and see what happens." We were not intending to record or trying to get a record deal. But it happened; he gave us a chance and he opened the door for us.

EEG: Is there anything about this recording that you remember, that brings back memories? Any anecdote?

JILLIAN: Well, for me...It's funny that you ask that. It's funny because the first thing that comes to my mind is that it was the first time that I have ever tried to "sonear." Johnny wrote my soneos in Spanish and I wrote some in English, so there's two in Spanish...right? And I took it for granted that I could just do it, right? So I go into the studio and I'm trying to "sonear," and he says, "No, no, no, you have to play this in clave." And I felt that I was in this box. It was very uncomfortable for me, because I just didn't think about that. I took it for granted, that it was no big deal, right? So, you know, that's a good memory. There was some education there. And...we just had fun. It was exciting to be able to just go in and know that we were going to have an opportunity to get our record out.

EEG: Okay, let's move to your second release. How did this one come about?

JILLIAN: "Reconfirmando" was our second record for RMM, and we decided that...you know, the sales from the first one...

EEG: That one is my favorite, by the way...

JILLIAN: "Reconfirmando" is your favorite, really? Wow!, that's interesting. You know, the sales weren't that great for "Evolucionando." because RMM does not promote. He only promotes the people on the top, so we just got lost in the shuffle. So, he gave us another chance and we recorded another album. We decided, "Let's get some names in there." So we invited Miles Peña., who sang the first cut, "Todo El Mundo Necesita." We invited Tito Nieves, Ray Sepúlveda, Ozzie Meléndez...I did a vocal arrangement for "Everybody plays the fool," which is on "Reconfirmando." We invited those guys and we did a special thing with that. And, you know, he didn't do a video for the second record. The third record has a video- sorry to jump ahead -, it is a "live" record, which all the profits went to benefit the Bronx-Lebanon Hospital. The thing about RMM, is that he doesn't promote, he doesn't put money into promotion. And that's one of the biggest problems for all of his artists. And they all left. I mean, who does he have now? You got Tony Vega and Domingo Quiñones. God bless Ralphie. He's been doing this a long time and maybe he's tired.

EEG: Ok, tell me about the solo project that you were going to release with RMM?

JILLIAN: Yes, Ralph was trying to get me to sign under him, solo, for a while. Finally, I did. I made a beautiful record for him. Mostly a Pop and R & B record. I did a couple tunes in Spanish. I mean, I hired producers...God bless Ralphie. He said, "Jillian, you want to do this? I believe in you. Go ahead, do what you are gonna do." And I hired Rob Mounsey, who was recently nominated for a Grammy for an arrangement that he did for Aretha Franklin. You know, this is a producer who works with Bobby McFerrin, Madonna, Chaka Khan...This guy is no joke! And he produced three songs in my record. I also hired Albert Sterling-Menendez to produce. You know, I have great music in my CD and Ralph thought that Universal would do a joint venture with him. They did not want to do it. So Ralphie, you know, that's not his game. The American thing is not his game. So, truthfully, he did not know what to do with it. So, what I did is that I went to the studio and recorded one of the ballads in Spanish. It's called "Hold on to love," and it's the title track for the "Guiding Light," which is a novela - a soap opera -, and is a Rob Mounsey, Emmy award- winning song. So I went in, I paid for it myself, I paid the money, I re-recorded in Spanish.

I went and had a meeting with Ralphie. I said, "Ralphie, let's redo the vocals, let's do it in Spanish. I"ll do the whole thing in Spanish. Here's an idea." And I played him the record. It's beautiful, it's like a movie. So we decided to approach some producers in Spain and Puerto Rico, and Cuco Peña, who's a great producer, agreed to do it. I was very excited. He called my house and said, "Okay, you are a great singer, Jillian, when can we get started?" Time goes by. Time, time, time. Six months had passed and nothing is going on. I go, "Ralphie, what's going on? Are we going to do the record or what?" So, it turns out Cuco wants too much money to redo it. And he wants to have an orchestra and strings. Ralph just didn't want to do it. So I ask, "Ralph, I thank you from the bottom of my heart. You have done nothing but believe in me. And, unfortunately, we are not going to make it work. Any time you need me - you want me to do a concert, you want me to do anything -, I'll be there for you, but I need my release." He gave me my release. No problem.

EEG: So it is your property now.

JILLIAN: That's right. Well...he owns the master. But, you know, I'm free - which is a good thing! (LAUGHTER)

EEG: Alright. I hope that somebody reading this interview gets back to you on this...

JILLIAN: Oh, it's a beautiful record. It has beautiful material. It's just too bad, but that's what happens, and I learned a lot.

EEG: Any interesting stories on the making of "Reconfirmando"?

JILLIAN: Well...the session with Tito Nieves, Ozzie (Meléndez), and Ray Sepúlveda was magical. It was like a cartoon. There is a whole section in which we were, like, goofing around. The song was "Everybody plays the fool." I told Johnny, "Let me do an arrangement and I will figure out how I will get those guys in there." The way we recorded it...we all faced each other in the studio, so that we could really communicate, you know. We all became little kids. It was like a cartoon session, very special, really magical, and...Miles Peña, forget about it, great artist from Cuba. He sang the first track ("Todo El Mundo Necesita.").

 You know, the thing about what we do is that we like people to be themselves and we want just to be ourselves. So when Miles came in and sang "Todo El Mundo necesita," people have never heard him sing like that, because he is so busy trying to be "Salsa Monga." I don't know about now...he knows. He was able to just be himself and sing "de la calle," just be himself. We like the record a lot and we feel that this one (The new release - "Es Diferente") is the best one, though.

EEG: Let's talk about the next recording, the "Live" one...I noticed that you got rid of the trombones. I like the trombones, the way you used them in "Reconfirmando"...

JILLIAN: Yes, we used one and he doubled up. That was Ozzie Meléndez, as well, who played the trombone. Just to add a different flavor. The "Live" record was a performance that also Eddie Palmieri took part in, Chucho Valdés... to create a series of records that would serve to benefit the Bronx-Lebanon Hospital. Bob Sancho (Producer, with René Lopez) is an amazing...very generous person. He called us to do this record, to benefit the Bronx-Lebanon Hospital. And...it was a lot of fun. It was more geared towards instrumental Jazz kind of thing. That's why I did the Blues, and we did "Camínalo", "No me toque ese punto"...

EEG: My favorite...

JILLIAN: A lot of energy. The audience was very energetic and the feeling on the record is different...it's live.

EEG: You know, I actually like the record better than the video. The way they made it, it looks like it was all staged and for some reason you don't feel the energy and the spontaneity.

JILLIAN: Also, the dancers were in the way too much. They could have been positioned better. But they did show that on PBS (Public Broadcasting System), Channel 13 in New York, and throughout the country. George Rivera is a very well known producer. He worked for PBS a long time and now he's an independent producer. Now he's actually producing an entire show on Tito Puente. And we are doing a street dedication. Tito Puente is having a street in the Barrio dedicated to him. So you know is going to be Tito Puente Avenue or Street. It's going to be in August. He asked us (Los Jóvenes del Barrio) to play at the street dedication.

(Note: Unfortunately and ironically, this interview was

conducted on May 26, 2000. "El Rey del Timbal",

Mr. Tito Puente, died on May 31, 2000. )

EEG: Ok, Jillian, we have to move on. You have to do your sound check shortly. Your new release, "Es Diferente!," plays like a homage to the Cuban Charanga...

JILLIAN: Yeah, it is a particular tribute to some of the great composers and arrangers from Cuba. And then we add our own flavor, of course. This is a new label that we are on, "Shanachie" Records (Note: Shanachie is also home to Wayne Gorbea & Salsa Picante and Ralph Irizarry & Timbalaye). Shanachie is a Gaelic word that means "story teller," and we like that already. We are very comfortable at this new label, so far, because it is a grass-roots organization. It is relatively small, although they have been around twenty five plus years. It's all "World" music and they stretch over all the lines of conformity, and that's one of the reasons why I think they signed us on. Because we are different, you know. And they are really into learning about what it is that we do and accessing all their people. They are very accessible. And they spur me on because anybody who knows me, knows that I'm one tenacious bitch.(LAUGHTER)

EEG: (LAUGHTER) (Didn't I tell that you she was passionate and fun?)

JILLIAN: Excuse my language, but I don't give a...I'm on the phone, I'm pestering you, I'm like this, "Bladada...." The thing about them (Shanachie), is that they feed on that, they like it, which is great, because that inspires me and that inspires them. That's a good relationship and that's the way it should be. So, so far we feel really good about it. This record was the first time that we have recorded "live" in the studio. All the musicians recorded live...everybody looking at each other.

EEG: Spontaneous, eh? Like the old times.

JILLIAN: That's right. The vocals, of course, go in afterwards, just to make sure that everything is alright with the vocals. But, Jon Fausty, who's a veteran -- an icon --, recorded and mixed our record. This is a classic recording and we know it. We feel that this is one of our best. And...a particular tribute to Cuban musicians and arrangers: Nachito Herrera, from Cubanismo; Lisandro Arias, who is a piano player that lives in New York now; Joaquin Betancourt, who still lives in Cuba.... He was the musical director for Isaac Delgado; tremendous writer and arranger, beautiful, sweet, humble, amazing musician...God bless him, he's a saint. And then, of course, Danilo Avilés, who contributed the danzón. He's from the famous Avilés family from Cuba. He is in the dictionary of Cuban musicians. I mean, is amazing, the story. Johnny found him. He's a bus driver in New York now. He moved his family here and he wasn't involved with music at all. Johnny found him and wants him to get active again. So now he's writing again; he's been giving us tunes. And he wrote this composition that is on the record now; it's called "Quasi Danzón." He wrote this song over 30 years ago, as a piece for a children's competition, for a children's orchestra in Cuba, that went to compete in Czechoslovakia (Czech Republic). And when you hear it, you can't believe it. It's so modern...I mean, it's so modern today. Imagine 30 years ago -- unbelievable, beautiful, complex, just deep. It's really amazing

EEG: Cuban musicians have a strong academic background.

JILLIAN: That's all they do. There's tremendous talent down there. It's incredible. They have time, so they shed what they know. And, of course, we give a tribute to Orquesta Aragón -- homenaje a la Orquesta Aragón. And we needed to do that. That was actually commissioned by Tito Puente. Tito Puente called Johnny and says, "Johnny, I want to do a tribute to Aragón. Which ones are the best songs?" Mmmm...How do you answer that question?, you know,...geezz...they are all hits! So Johnny decided to go with "Almendra," "El Bodeguero," "Clavelitos," and then we go to "Sabrosona," and then "Pare Cochero"...

EEG: The classics...

JILLIAN: Yeah, and we play it all the time and we have so much fun! And Tito is actually, you know, right now he's not too well, so he's taking a break. He has to have an operation. So, Kimson Plaut, our piano player, did the arrangement for symphony -- Tito has played all over the country and the Caribbean with different symphonies. He plays the "Aragón medley" that we do now. So, he told us, "Go ahead, go ahead and record it, that's all right." We really didn't arrange it, so it's more like a transcription. How can you re- arrange it? Those are classic tunes; you just transcribe them. But Kimson Plaut did arrangements for the symphony, for Tito. That's Kimson's transcription of that, all of the parts.

EEG: So...what are your plans for the next record?

JILLIAN: Well, we have been talking about it. We are always doing new tunes. We are doing new tunes now. Our new record just came out and we are starting to do new songs already, because that's how we work. We like to do the new stuff, so that when we go into the studio, we can lay it down. Like "Stop Slow Down" -- that was one take. I did that song in one take. No punches. That's the first time I have done that in my life. That's what happens when you are playing with the band all of the time. We are talking about doing more English stuff. Doing charanga, the same thing, but with more English lyrics. I actually have written a couple songs that are on my solo record (unreleased), that we have arranged for the charanga. One is called "For You." It's a Cha-Cha. The other one is called "Love takes over." It's a song that I wrote for George Benson. He didn't take it, but we said, "Well, George doesn't want it, so we are going to arrange it!" (LAUGHTER)

EEG: Of course!

JILLIAN: And it's really nice. It's got a really good hook and it's really happening. You know, when we go around, we travel, we do the Jazz festivals...you get such a diversity, you want everybody to enjoy, people to understand what you are saying. We find that the English lyrics really stretch. We want to do everything! But the English really stretches over the boundaries and touch everybody. Those that can't understand Spanish, they can enjoy the music and they can understand the lyrics.

EEG: They like the tuntituntitunti...(Piano intro from "Vamonos Pal' Monte)

JILLIAN: Exactly! They love it! The music is contagious, you know. So we are working on new stuff now and probably start recording either the end of this year or the beginning of next year.

EEG: Now, for yourself...What is that you want in your future? Any immediate or long-term plans?

JILLIAN: Well, immediately, we want the record to do well. We want the doors to open for us. We want to be able to travel and play in major festivals/venues, and really be able to share on a grander scale. And Johnny and I, truthfully, have been in the red for a long time. We want to get paid properly. We want to make some money, so he and I can have a house and do things that normal people do. You know, it's real simple and real basic. As for the future, we just want to keep going, want to keep learning, want to stay healthy. We want to continue to build an audience. My thing is...that I would like to do my own project...

EEG: What is your project?

JILLIAN: I want to incorporate everything....I haven't defined it yet, to be honest with you, because it takes a lot of energy to do that, and I'm very involved in what I am doing now. But, it has to incorporate everything that I have done along the way. Definitely in the Pop field, but with World music instrumentation. Definitely percussive. It's kind of abstract to describe that at this point, but, you know, something that touches everybody.

I think that I'm a New American; that's the way I describe myself. I am in this age group of people that are a combination of everything. I feel blessed: my heritage is very European, brought up multicultural in a black family, with African-American and American Indians...all different...Chicanos...everybody around me...and I'm married to a Puerto Rican! And I am very absorbed in that culture. You know, there are a lot of people like me, that are a combination of everything, not so separated. I am a New American, so I want to break down the laws. Let's just...let's just try to get along. (LAUGHTER). Just continue to be... You know, I did the Apollo. I sang at the Apollo Theater. I did Amateur night. Five times.

EEG: When was that?

JILLIAN: I don't even remember. (LAUGHTER). Let me see...I think it was probably '92,'93.

EEG: What did you sing? The Blues?

JILLIAN: I sang an Anita Baker tune, like three times. Then they hired me as a guest to just sing. And I sang "For the love of you," which was remade by Whitney Houston; "Blue Magic"...I think it was "Blue Magic". (Jillian proceeds to sing: "Driftin' on a memory, ain't no place I'd rather be." Got myself a mini concert for free!!!) Anyway, I sang that and I see this guy coming all the way from the back. He's storming down the aisles, man. He's like, "Get off! Get off the stage!!" You know what I did? I just looked at him, and I looked up at that light, and I said, "Everybody that I ever emulated stood right here, and I'm going to stand right here, and he's not going to affect me!" So the security guy came and grabbed him. They took him away. They did not boo me off, because I could sing. So they gave me a chance. "They wouldn't let me win, but they gave me a chance. But one of these days, I'm going to win, because I'm not giving up."

EEG: And you kept singing that night.

JILLIAN: I kept singing. I finished my song and people clapped. They did not clap a lot, because they knew you could sing, they were just polite. And then when I did "Showtime," I came in Fourth. I did "ShowTime at the Apollo", the TV thing. That was interesting.

EEG: You have quite a background...

JILLIAN: I have done a lot of things. I sang telegrams for a living. For two years I sang telegrams. Yeah, you can ask Johnny. I walked dogs. I have done everything. Everything in the restaurant business, I have done.

EEG: Well, your time finally came. You just deserve the best.

JILLIAN: Thank You.

EEG: One last question. What brings you to the City of the Angels?

JILLIAN: I'm here to sing at the Salsa Congress (West Coast 2nd Annual Bacardi Salsa Congress). Albert Torres (the promoter) is a very dear friend of ours somebody who is welcome in my house for dinner. And he brings us down here. Whenever we are in the West Coast, he brings us to Los Angeles to perform. I'm here to promote the record. I'm singing one song tonight and I'm singing one song tomorrow. Just tracks...the band is not here, unfortunately. But I'm just going to sing the songs, promote the record, talk to people...

EEG: Thanks, Jillian; you are a great singer in a great band.

JILLIAN: Thank you.

That said, Jillian just took off for the sound check, in order to be ready for her appearance sometime tonight. Do you believe me now? Isn't this a very special lady? Los Jóvenes del Barrio are a miracle in today's Salsa market. They have been able to succeed against all odds. The least we can do, if we want to keep the tradition alive, is to give them our support. Is that too much to ask?


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