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Court officer keeps order by day, improvises by night

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Ever since he was a little boy, lifelong Corona resident Glen Lowe said he has had a love for music. That love grew when he was 7 and his mother took him to meet local jazz legend Louis Armstrong.

"I told him I wanted to be a musician. His advice to me was, 'You go, boy,' " he said.

The 50-year-old percussionist took that encouragement to heart and today uses his skills as a member of the Latin Jazz band Mambo Negro to entertain and inspire people all over the world. The band wooed a crowd at the AirTrain station in Jamaica last Thursday as the penultimate act of the Jamaica Alliance's Jamaica Jazz Lunchtime Concert Week.

Lowe said gigs like that are always fun for him and his band members, who come from various parts of New York because he enjoys seeing his audience take in the soothing sounds of the mambos, bass instruments, drums, xylophone and guitar.

"It's like a tightrope act," he said. "I has to work together otherwise it sounds like clutter."

The musician's first experience came when he was in the marching band at Our Lady of Sorrows in Corona. He said he instantly found a connection to the drum and decided to pursue the instrument.

His father, a jazz fan, and his mother, an opera fan, encouraged Lowe's passion when they bought him a drum set during his teenage years. Along with some friends, he began forming bands and playing all sorts of genres.

"It was the early '70s and a lot of kids starting creating bands," he said.

After graduating from Xavier High School in Manhattan and taking some classes at Queens College, Lowe decided to become a Queens court officer in Civil Court. Although the job took up most of his time, he still kept drumming during his free time and would do independent gigs from time to time.

"It may seem like a dichotomy, but I've got my job and I've got my music and it doesn't interfere," he said.

In some ways, Lowe said being a musician helps him stay upbeat while working in the court, because he uses his background to meet new people.

"In the courts, you meet a lot of people and sometimes you may find a connection with them musically," he said. "It helps with the job a lot."

Lowe got more serious about his music when he and fellow artist Charles Alletto decided to form Mambo Negro in 1997. He and Alletto were attracted to the Latin jazz genre because it required the musicians to be physically and melodiously in tune with their notes.

"I'm drawn into Latin because of the rhythms," Lowe said.

Since then, Mambo Negro has grown in size and popularity. The seven-member band has produced two CDs and their songs have been played in other countries, such as Venezuela and Columbia.

Lowe said he enjoys playing in his hometown to local audiences at performances like last week's concert, which was part of the Downtown Jamaica Lunchtime Entertainment series. For him, it is a way to pass his skills onto a new generation and hopefully inspire them to do the same.

"It's always been about artistic expression and community. Queens has a real rich jazz tradition and playing in that context is like playing to that legacy," he said.

Reach reporter Ivan Pereira by e-mail at ipereira@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 146.

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