Riff On This: Orlando sax player takes his jazz skills to downtown nightlife

Belen uses element of live music to blend with deejayed events for a new experience

Vicente Belen grew up in Orlando watching his older brother play the saxophone in high school jazz concerts.

“It was very exciting, very, you know, very dynamic,” Belen said. “The music was very crunchy and it’s loaded with a lot of feelings and nuances.”

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Things started to change in middle school for Belen after he was placed by a guidance counselor in a music class. For one period in school, Belen learned all about reading music and learned about different instruments.

In 7th grade, he joined the band where he started out playing the clarinet. The following year, he switched to the sax and found a new love for music. His brother, home from college, found out Belen was playing the sax and passed his own horn down to him.

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Belen continued to play his saxophone, but there’s one day that sticks out in his memory the most. It was the day a friend told him there was a guitar teacher over at the middle school that he wanted Belen to meet.

At the time the 9th grader at Olympia high school couldn’t understand why he was going to meet this teacher, but after walking a few miles lugging a horn nearly half his size in the Florida heat, Belen soon found out.

“Mr. Vinson was a really nice teacher and a great guitarist,” Belen said.

The teacher asked to see Belen’s saxophone. He sat in shock as he watched this guitar teacher put together his horn.

Belen's Sax (WKMG)

“In my head, I’m like, There’s no way he knows what he’s doing, or is this crazy?” Belen said. “He starts playing and that was it right there. That was the moment I knew I wanted to play the sax for a living.”

Mr. Vinson taught Belen a few songs while recounting the 27 years he played the saxophone. Belen said he taught him more than just a few songs that day.

“He taught me what discipline looks like, and also what passion is, you know. It was a very enlightening moment in my life,” Belen said.

The sweat on his brow from the walk in the heat that day was well worth it.

Vicente Belen on the set of Riff on This (WKMG)

Fast forward to 2020 when Belen is in college. He finally lands a gig playing the saxophone on a cruise ship.

Then the pandemic hit. The cruise gigs ended and everything came to a screeching halt.

Belen said while it was disappointing, he kept feeding his passion while cooped up inside by picking up the flute.

Growing up in a Venezuelan home, Belen said the music was very rich. He was inspired by Joropo music to try his hand at the flute.

“The sound is very upbeat, very dancing almost like a waltz. It’s very, very fast,” he said. “There’s a lot of flute in that kind of music. It’s almost like birds, the flute almost sounds like a bird kind of tweeting around and the music is just very alive.”

Once clubs and restaurants started reopening, Belen found himself looking at a new opportunity.

Belen playing the sax at The Social in 2019 (WKMG)

“I messaged this event coordinator about an event I saw being promoted called ‘Brunch in the City’ and said ‘Hey, I think adding a sax to this kind of event with the DJ would be something different,” Belen said.

Belen said he was eager to play, so he offered to do it for free just to get the chance to do it. The coordinator agreed. At the brunch, Belen played everything from hip hop to R&B, to soca, giving the brunch-goers a new kind of experience.

“People like live music,” he said. “When you’re in an environment where there’s live music, the feeling is just different. It just kind of it brings the room to life, so to speak.”

Now Belen plays at different events all over Central Florida, adding a little extra flavor and liveliness to the rooms or rooftops he plays in.

About the Author:

Emmy Award Winning Meteorologist Samara Cokinos joined the News 6 team in September 2017. In her free time, she loves running and being outside.