Disco Will Never Die

Playing in and around his native Philadelphia during the mid-'70s, jazz multi-instrumentalist, composer, and arranger Vincent Montana, Jr. was having a tough time putting bread on the table with measly $25-per-week gigs. There just wasn't a market for jazz.

The music of the moment, Montana knew, was the danceable, groove-oriented soul and funk to which people were shaking their booties in clubs. But a guy's gotta make a living, so Montana pitched the idea of a disco orchestra to contacts at the popular Latin label Caytronics in New York City. He was given the go-ahead to create a house band and in the process invented a new style of dance music, melding the snappy rhythms of salsa with the groove of soul, a little big-band jazz, classical strings, and a rock backbeat.

Montana's group, the Salsoul Orchestra, had its first hit with "The Salsoul Hustle," which was created the way Montana says music should be made. "There were a lot of talented musicians back in the '70s that had a lot of input into the individual tracks," he says by phone from his New Jersey home. "And then people like myself and some other producers would take home the basic [recorded] track at night and write the arrangement and go back the next day and record the string arrangements.

"So you can't compare that music with the garbage that they're putting out today," he continues. "They are sampling everything we did."

True enough. Today's house-style electronic dance music is a direct descendant of disco. But instead of lining up a string or horn section, most producers and DJs sample old disco cuts or create the desired sounds on a synthesizer.

They couldn't have done it without front-runners like Montana, and just to prove disco isn't totally dead, the World Disco Classic 2000 Music and Dance Convention is held this week in Fort Lauderdale. Workshops, hustle competitions, talent showcases, and, of course, nonstop dancing are all part of the '70s flashback.

Montana will be on hand to receive a Lifetime Achievement Award for his contributions. As a percussionist, he played on and/or produced such classics as the Trammps' "Disco Inferno" and the O'Jays' "Love Train."

"Run Away," another Salsoul hit, featured the vocals of disco diva Loleatta Holloway, who herself had a string of hits. She'll belt them out this weekend when she reunites with Montana for a live performance. That's right, live.

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John Ferri