“Only Improving With Age”

Dear Carlos,

I’ve been listening to your music for nearly 37 years. After hearing you and your band perform Sept. 19 at the Rose Garden in Portland, I decided it was time to write and say thanks.

Thank you for continuing to make your guitar sing and for being such a creative and positive force in the music world today.

A lot of middle-aged people like me were in the audience at the Rose Garden show, but there was a good number of kids, too. I know. I brought two of them.

My daughters, Lisa, 18, and Anna, 14, have grown up listening to your music. Thirteen of your albums reside in our house.

When you played “Smooth,” the kids in the audience, Anna included, were up dancing. (I had only heard Rob Thomas sing the hit previously, but your lead singer, Andy Vargas, certainly did a smooth version.)

You got rave reviews from my kids.

“That’s the best concert I’ve ever been to,” Lisa said the next morning.

I’ll second that.

You’ve always resisted going the classic rock route. When you play the old tunes, there’s always a new twist to them.

You gave fresh life to one of your oldest songs when you opened with a 15-minute, jazz-infused “Jingo.” The video in the background of an African village added to the excitement. The kids in the village looked as if they were clapping along to the music.

I read a recent interview in which you said that your shows today are not like the Santana shows of the 60s. I understand why you made that statement.

Your nine-member band today is superior to your six-member band that I saw perform five times from 1968-71. Trumpeter Bill Ortiz, trombonist Jeff Cressman and acoustic and rhythm guitarist Tommy Anthony help fuel a fuller, richer sound.

You’ve always had a three-member percussion section, but your current veteran trio — Dennis Chambers and Karl Perazzo on drums and Raul Rekow on congas — is the best. Rekow, who looked like Antonio Banderas from where we were sitting in Section 215, is one strong dude. How do his hands endure such a beating night after night? It’s amazing to watch.

Rounding out the great sound we heard were two of your longtime members, keyboardist Chester Thompson and bassist Benny Rietveld.

The catchy new songs you played, “I Am Somebody” and “Girl, You’ve Got It All Wrong,” I assume will be on your upcoming album, “All That I Am.” They will inevitably find air time in the months ahead.

I admire what you’re doing today at 58.

You have helped advance the career of so many young musicians, including Rob Thomas, Michelle Branch and Robert Randolph.

Randolph, one of the country’s great slide guitarists, and his Family Band delivered a solid blend of blues, rock and funk in opening for you at the Rose Garden.

It was fitting that you asked Randolph to join you for your encore. You guys did a dazzling “Evil Ways.”

I also applaud you and your wife, Deborah, for establishing the Milagro Foundation to help underprivileged children around the world. I understand the foundation has sent $50,000 to Hurricane Katrina relief efforts.

I’m also glad to see that you continue your tradition of incorporating colorful, intricate and whimsical art on your albums and at your concerts. The wall hangings and the giant rug onstage livened up the nondescript Rose Garden.

All the art associated with your name over the years should be on tour. I’d love to see a Santana exhibit at the Portland Art Museum.

You have been good to Oregon over the years, always making Portland or Eugene part of your tours. Some year, you should try the Oregon Amphitheater right here in my community of Albany. It seats about 12,000. I think you’d like it.

Keep up the great work you do, and thanks again for a memorable night in Portland.

Yours truly,

Graham Kislingbury

Graham Kislingbury, managing editor of the Democrat-Herald, has been a Santana fan since December 1968.