Ray Gonzalez

Ray Gonzalez leads his Big Band Orchestra in Hartford on Sept. 6. (Pablo Delano / August 29, 2014)

Update: Event has been rescheduled to Sunday, Sept. 7 at 5 p.m.

It takes Hartford trumpeter and bandleader Ray Gonzalez 10 months out of every year to organize the festival that bears his name. And this year — as usual — he'll fine-tune the music until the moment he hits the bandstand.

"I love the challenge," Gonzalez says. "When it's over, that's why I'm proud: that I did something really nice for the people and for the enjoyment, to make life better for people who go to the festival and listen to the music I write. It's not what they pay me — that's insignificant. It's the spiritual part for me."

The Ray Gonzalez Latin Jazz and Salsa Festival honors the music of legendary Puerto Rican composer Rafael Hernandez Marin (1892-1965), who wrote both wide-reaching hits (John F. Kennedy once referred to the composer as "Mr. Cumbanchero," after one of his most famous numbers) and gentle miniatures (listen to the Debussyan "Perfume De Gardenias," for example, which also evokes Franz Liszt and Jelly Roll Morton). Hernandez was also a decorated World War I hero who served alongside bandleader James Reese Europe in the U.S. 369th Infantry Regiment, dubbed the "Harlem Hellfighters" by German troops.

"When I first started studying music, even before I began playing in bands, in school in Puerto Rico, they told me about Rafael Hernandez," Gonzalez says. "His music was all over: 'Cumbanchero,' so many tunes that he made famous. Since I was 8 or 9 years old, I started hearing about him and how great he was."

The festival takes place at Mortensen Riverfront Plaza in Hartford on Sunday, Sept. , from 5 to 10 p.m. Chali Hernandez, Rafael's youngest son and the director of his museum at the Interamerican University of Puerto Rico in San Juan, will appear as a guest singer. Other performers this year include singers Grysell Ramirez, Jose Salgado, Raul Santos, Jesus Pagan and Tito Guadalupe; musicians Alex Apolo Ayala, Sammy Gali, Mario Castro and others; and ensembles Trombeatz, Conjunto Antillano, Gonzalez's own Big Band Orchestra and youth group Guakibomjazz.

"People always wait for this festival because it's unique," Gonzalez says. "Every year we see more and more people coming."

There's a virtual ocean of Hernandez performances and recordings on YouTube and elsewhere. Stilll, Gonzalez say he ended up having to arrange nearly all of the music himself.

"It's been recorded so many times all over the world, so many groups and styles: symphony orchestras, trios, quartets, you name it," Gonzalez says. "But sometimes to get a hold of that music isn't easy, because people are all over the world, even though we have computers … Some of the tunes that I want to do in this festival: they sent me the lead sheet, just piano and the melody line, and I have to arrange it for the big band. It's tough work, because you have to create. It's not that it's there already and I just have to work on it. I have to compose an arrangement."

The success of the first festival in 2007, which was dedicated to Tito Puente, set the bar high, and every year Gonzalez has to jump over it.

"That was the first time we started with a big band," he says. "The people in the community fell in love with [the big band sound], and now [every year] I have to do a big band [laughs]."

Eventually, Gonzalez hopes to record his Hernandez arrangements, if possible.

"We have to talk to Chali Hernandez for rights and so on," Gonzalez says, "but it would be nice idea, at least the ones we made from scratch."

THE RAY GONZALEZ LATIN JAZZ AND SALSA FESTIVAL is Sunday, Sept. 7, at Mortensen Riverfront Plaza in Hartford. Showtime is 5 p.m. Tickets are free. Information: riverfront.org.