BENJAMIN LAPIDUS is a scholar, educator, composer, arranger, and Grammy™-nominated musician who has performed and recorded Cuban tres, Puerto Rican cuatro, guitar, and voice on film soundtracks, video games, television commercials, and albums with some of the most notable musicians in Latin music and jazz. Some of these collaborations include performances and/or recordings with Andy and Jerry González, Ibrahim Ferrer (Buena Vista Social Club), Pío Leyva (Buena Vista Social Club), Manuel Puntillita Alicea (Buena Vista Social Club), Bobby Carcassés, Orlando “Cachaíto” López, Juan Pablo Torres, NEA Jazz Master Cándido Camero, Larry Harlow, Ruben Blades, Típica 73, John “Dandy” Rodríguez, David Oquendo, Xiomara Laugart, Nicky Marrero, Nelson González, Carlos Abadie, Los Hacheros, Pedrito Martínez, Roman Díaz, Paul Carlon, Adonis Puentes, Pablo Menéndez, Bobby Sanabria, Ralph Irizarry, Charlie Sepulveda, Luis Marín, Humberto Ramírez, Harvie S., Hiram “El Pavo” Remón, Gene Jefferson, Frank Anderson, Enid Lowe, Jared Gold, Greg Glassman, Bobby Harden, Brian Lynch, Mark Weinstein, Jeff “Tain” Watts, Larry Goldings, Chico Álvarez, Alfredo “Chocolate” Armenteros, Emilio Barretto, Eddie Zervigón, José Fajardo, Rudy Calzado, Los Afortunados, Jose Conde, Kaori and Yuko Fujii, Roberto Rodríguez, Maurice El Medioni, Michael Torsone, and many others.
As the Latin jazz group leader, Sonido Isleño (founded in 1996), he has performed throughout North and South America, Europe, and the Caribbean while releasing five internationally acclaimed albums of his original compositions. In 2007, Lapidus served as musical director and arranger for “Garota de Ipanema” (JVC/Victor Japan) with Kaori Fujii and toured Japan twice. In 2008, he recorded “Herencia Judía,” an album that Newsday’s Ed Morales called “thoughtful and passionate.” In 2014, he released his eighth album as a leader, “Ochósi Blues,” featuring NEA Jazz Master and percussion legend Cándido Camero, Bobby Sanabria, Pedrito Martínez, Gene Jefferson, Frank Anderson, Enid Lowe, and jazz organ phenomenon Jared Gold, among others. As a composer, Lapidus’s music has been recorded by groups in Cuba and Japan and featured in documentaries and television.
Lapidus was exposed to music by his grandmother, a pianist and singer active in the 1930s and 1940s. His father played in Latin and jazz bands in New York City and the Catskill Mountains in the 1950s and early 1960s. The seeds of Latin music were planted through his father’s record collection and stories of his father’s visits with his Latin American relatives. Born into this musical family, Lapidus moved numerous times throughout the United States before settling in Brooklyn and Manhattan at 14. Trained in piano from age 6, he moved through various instruments, including guitar, trumpet, and bass, before concentrating on the guitar. Yet it wasn’t until the 1980s that the youngest Lapidus became immersed in Latin music when he moved to a predominantly Spanish Caribbean neighborhood in New York City, where numerous important musicians also resided. Living a block away from Mikel’s jazz club, Lapidus still vividly remembers practicing in Mario Rivera’s house or seeing Mario Bauzá walk down the street. Deciding he needed a complete musical education, Lapidus earned two degrees from Oberlin Conservatory and Oberlin College, becoming one of the program’s first jazz guitar graduates.
In 1994, Lapidus started to play the Puerto Rican cuatro and Cuban tres professionally after first coming into contact with these instruments as a teenager through performances by musicians in his neighborhood. After leading his quartet at European festivals and clubs and winning a grant to study briefly with Steve Lacy in Paris, he returned to the U.S. He worked with Joe McPhee, Joe Giardullo, Tani Tabal, Thomas Workman, and other creative improvisers. At the same time, Lapidus began performing with Larry Harlow, Alex Torres, and other Latin music luminaries in New York and Puerto Rico.
The first trip to Oriente, Cuba, in 1997 began a solid grounding as a specialist in the music of Eastern Cuba, and subsequent trips to the island acquainted him with distant relatives on the island. Lapidus began graduate school shortly after and completed a Ph.D. in Ethnomusicology at the CUNY Graduate Center in 2002. He is now on the doctoral faculty. In 2008, Lapidus published the first-ever book on changüí (Origins of Cuban Music and Dance: Changüí). He has also published numerous conference papers, book chapters, and peer-reviewed scholarly articles on Cuban and Puerto Rican music, Latin jazz, and salsa in Spanish and English. Lapidus has also written liner notes for several CDs by artists such as Andy González, Típica 73, and Larry Harlow. Lapidus has won a wide range of local and national grants for his research, including a prestigious fellowship award from the National Endowment for the Humanities for his forthcoming book on the history of Latin music in New York.
As an educator, he has taught popular music of the Caribbean, Latin music in New York, music theory, guitar, and world music at the New School University, Queens College, and John Jay College of Criminal Justice, CUNY, where he is currently an associate professor of music and chair of the Art and Music department. In addition, he has served as a scholar-in-residence with the New York Center for Jungian Studies and the Jewish Museum during several humanitarian missions to the Jewish communities of Cuba between 2004-2016. Lapidus has also given workshops on Caribbean music, jazz, composition, and improvisation at the elementary, secondary, university, and graduate levels throughout the United States, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, and Colombia.
2018 will mark 30 years that Benjamin Lapidus has been a professional musician and 22 years since the founding of his Latin jazz group Sonido Isleño. 2020 will see the release of Lapidus’s long-awaited book, New York and the International Sound of Latin Music, 1949-1990 (University Press of Mississippi).
SOURCE: Benjamin Lapidus Website
FEATURED PHOTO: Tom Ehrlich