How and when did jazz take root in Puerto Rico? For years, the question has been a source of fascination and frustration. Several books shed light on the subject, including Basilio Serrano’s Puerto Rican Pioneers in Jazz – 1990-1939 – Bomba Beats to Latin Jazz (2015), William Sostre Maldonado’s Boricua Jazz: La Historia del Jazz Puertorriqueño – Desde Rafael Hernández a Miguel Zenón (Spanish, 2nd Edition, 2020) and Quique Talavera’s Metamorfosis Musical De Puerto Rico Del 1959 Al Presente (Spanish Edition, 2020). Also, several scholarly papers provide clues, including Warren Pinckney Jr’s Puerto Rican Jazz and the Incorporation of Folk Music: An Analysis of New Musical Directions (1989).  
According to Pinckney, “The renaissance of Puerto Rican music in the 1950s and 1960s created a cultural climate in Puerto Rico that enabled jazz to reach its peak.” Various factors drove the renaissance, such as the Cuban Revolution, Fidel Castro’s rise to power, and the ousting of the Mafia and the U.S. entertainment industry. Left with nowhere to go, between 1960 and 1980 tourists flocked to Puerto Rico and it became known as “The Entertainment Capital of the Caribbean.” The increase in tourism also led to improved economic conditions and the establishment of organizations, institutions, and venues that supported jazz. Among them, the San Juan Jazz Workshop, The Caribbean Workshop, and The Don Pedro Jazz Workshop. 
San Juan Jazz Workshop Posters by Rafael Tufiño


In 1962, the Portuguese saxophonist Charlie “El Gato” Rodrigues and American trumpeter Dale Wales founded The San Juan Jazz Workshop.
From the beginning, their “mission” was, “Allow musicians to write, perform, collaborate and present a wide variety of music to the public.”
Rodrigues was born in Massachusetts. He studied music at the Boston Conservatory and the U.S. Naval Academy. In 1949, Rodrigues visited Puerto Rico as part of the U.S. Navy’s Special Service Division and fell in love with the island. Later, he returned, married, and quickly established himself as a first-call leader and sideman.  
Information on Dale Wales (1917-1985) is scant. However, he and his wife, the dancer, and actress Liz Sheridan, who is perhaps best know for appearing on the Jerry Seinfeld Show, resided in Puerto Rico and performed regularly together and apart.  
The Workshop began with a membership of eight musicians, which quickly grew to seventy-three including Don Baaska, Monchito Muñoz, Joe Vallejo, Michael Tschudin, Nino Silva, Nestor Torres Sr., Freddy Silva, Carlton Smith, Bob Smirton, Renee Barrios, Los Hispanos, Pablo Elvira, Charlie Medina, Tommy Corazon, Fernando Arbello, Al Sutton, Dane Jones, Ish Eguarte, Ray Santos, Pito Sepulveda, Luis Hernandez Cruz, Walfred De Los Reyes and the visual artists Lorenzo Homar and Rafael Tufiño, who deserve recognition for their artwork, which played a significant role in promoting and documenting the venues, artists, and dates. 
Workshop members performed at nightclubs, bars, military bases, universities, outdoor plazas, and venues such as El Botella, The Jazz Metro Bar, The Buccaneer Club, The Music Hall Lounge, Al’s Little Club, Francesca’s Pub & Garden Restaurant, El Batey, Danny’s Green Room, Café Matisse, Jack’s Club, and The Place, none of which exist today.
Also, the Workshop hosted a weekly radio show on WIPR on Mondays titled “Taller de Jazz,” and a  quarterly “Live, in Concert” series at the Tapia Theater which was well-attended. 


Musician, educator and founder of The Caribbean Jazz Workshop, Paul Neves is an unheralded artist who played a significant role in developing jazz in Puerto Rico. Neves moved from the mainland to Puerto Rico and created a space for musicians to commiserate, rehearse, participate in jam sessions, and disseminate modern jazz techniques.


David Sanchez
The Don Pedro Jazz Workshop was the brainchild of jazz aficionado Ana Vélez, who, as the story goes, discovered jazz LPs at her local pharmacy in the 60s and became enamored with the genre.
The Workshop was founded in 1969 and located on Esteban Gonzalez Street in Rio Piedras. Its director Ramon Soto Vélez (Ana Vélez’s son), viewed jazz and Don Pedro Albizu Campos as symbols of freedom and felt Campos’s name would attract Puerto Ricans to jazz. 
Vélez was not a newcomer to jazz. Before he relocated to Puerto Rico, he worked at a jazz club in New York City and was a booking agent in Europe. Interestingly, it was the renowned African-American pianist Mary Lou Williams who encouraged Vélez to promote jazz in Puerto Rico.
Under Vélez’s leadership, the Workshop presented clinics conferences, published a bulletin, and housed a rehearsal space and record store. Also, it provided opportunities for emerging artists, such as saxophonist David Sanchez, who made his solo debut at the Workshop in 1991.
Vélez also hosted the series, ‘Pintando al Ritmo de Jazz” (Painting to the Rhythms of Jazz), which combined music and visual art and produced the radio program “El Tiempo a Jazz” and “Escala Internacional” on WIPR TV.
From 1977 to 1980, the Workshop presented Gato Barbieri, Tito Puente, George Benson, Sonny Fortune, Hilton Ruiz, Eddie Gomez, Jackie McLean, Rogelio “Ram” Ramirez, the Heath Brothers, Kenny Barron, Ray Mantilla, John Hicks, Major Holley, George Coleman, Sonny Stitt, Major Holley, Betty Carter, and Clifford Jordan among others.
The Workshop offered performances until early 2000 however Don Pedro Inc. was active until 2014. Its closing marked the end of a significant era in the development of jazz in Puerto Rico. 


Furito Rios

Another significant figure in the development and advancement of jazz in Puerto Rico is the multi-instrumentalist, composer, arranger, musical director, producer, and visionary Jose “Furito” Rios.

Following in the footsteps of the San Juan Jazz Workshop and the Don Pedro Workshop, between 2001 and 2004 and 2006 and 2007, Rios directed the “Festival De Jazz Boriquén,” which presented a wide variety of local and international talent, including Paoli Mejias, Jerry Gonzalez, Hilton Ruiz, John Benitez, David (Piro) Rodriguez, Hector Matos, Endel Dueño, Alex Acuña, Ricardo Pons, Jerry Medina, Angel (Papo) Vazquez, Hector Veneros, Ramón Vazquez, Eddie Gomez, Carli Munoz, Jane Bunnett and Dave Valentin, among others.

What sets the “Festival De Jazz Boriquén” apart is the fact that Rios had the wherewithal to record the performances for posterity and history in the making. Also, Rios wanted to demonstrate, “There are musicians on the island who know their roots, and we are evolving on that with our music.” From 1999 to 2004, Rios also directed a series of free jazz concerts in plazas and parks in San Juan titled “Jazzeando En La Plaza.”

Rios is arguably best known for fusing Afro-Caribbean rhythms with the music of John Coltrane, Art Blakey, and Charlie Parker, among others. However, his long-standing advocacy for Puerto Rican music, art, and culture is deserving of wider recognition.


It is impossible to speak about jazz in Puerto Rico without mentioning The Puerto Rico Heineken JazzFest, which ran from 1991 to 2017. The JazzFest presented the finest local and international jazz artists and put Puerto Rico on the map as an international jazz destination.
Over the years the JazzFest paid homage to Michel Camilo (1992), Mongo Santamaria (1993), Tito Puente (1995), Ray Barretto (1997), Charlie Palmieri (1998), Poncho Sanchez (2006), Chucho Valdes (2001), Carlos “Patato” Valdes (2002), Gal Costa (2005), Jerry and Andy Gonzalez (2008), Giovanni Hidalgo (2009), Chano Pozo and Dizzy Gillespie (2011), Ray Santos (2016) and Danilo Perez (2017) among others.


Humberto Ramirez
Trumpeter, composer, arranger, producer, and director Humberto Ramírez’s name is synonymous with jazz in Puerto Rico.
In 2010, Humberto Ramírez drew on the success of his acclaimed 1999 recording “Puerto Rico Jazz Jam,” which featured over sixty renowned local musicians, and organized, produced, and presented the first live “Puerto Rico Jazz Jam” at the historic Tapia Theater in Old San Juan. Now in its 12th year, the Jazz Jam has taken on a life of its own and put Puerto Rico on the map as a jazz destination. Past performers include Eddie Palmieri, Ray Santos, David Sánchez, Bobby Valentín, Willie Rosario, Roberto Roena, Eddie Montalvo, Giovanni Hidalgo, Oskar Cartaya, William Cepeda, Lucy Fabery, Angel David Mattos, Angel David Mattos, Julito Alvarado, Negron’s Trio, Luis Marín, Eguie Castrillo, Elías Lopés, Luis “Perico” Ortiz, Iván Renta, Andy Montañez, Nydia Caro, Chucho Avellanet, Dagmar, Tito de Gracia, Luis Rodríguez, Puerto Sax among others. Thankfully, most, of the Jazz Jams were recorded for posterity.
Ramirez is also the driving force behind “Big Band Mondays,” which occurs at the Metropol restaurant in Isla Verde and features seventeen musicians in an acoustic setting performing jazz standards, Latin jazz, and tributes to renowned musicians, past and present. Humberto Ramírez’s significant contributions to the advancement of jazz on the island deserves recognition.


According to Founder, saxophonist, composer, and bandleader Miguel Zenón, “CARAVANA CULTURAL” is born out of the desire to present music at its purest form, with no other motive than bringing it directly to the people. “By focusing on Jazz, we look to bring this music to places where the public has had little or no exposure to it while making a case for the importance of culture in our daily lives and the fact that culture should be available to all.”
The concerts focus on standard songs from the Jazz Repertory, and the performances pay tribute to jazz icons, such as Miles Davis, Charlie Parker, and Duke Ellington, among others. During the performance, a previously chosen group of local students join the band on stage and perform a song. Also, a “Pre – Concert Talk” occurs before each performance. The talks include insight into the music to be presented at the concert and the basics of jazz and jazz Improvisation. Thus far, Caravana Cultural has presented concerts in the municipalities of Yauco, Barranquitas, Adjuntas, Vieques, Quebradillas, Hormigueros, Humacao, San Germán, Cidra, Arroyo, and Isabela, among others. The concerts are free of charge and open to all ages.


In 2010 the Fundacion Banco Popular collaborated with Berklee College of Music, the largest independent college of contemporary music in the world, to offer educational experiences to talented Puerto Rican youth interested in a musical career. In 2010, the collaboration was strengthened. The Berklee in Puerto Rico program offers access to the Berklee method of music education, encompassing theory, ear training, improvisation, ensemble performance, and instrumental instruction. Also, it offers students the opportunity to attend Berklee College of Music in Boston. Berklee in Puerto Rico alumni include cuatro players Fabiola Méndez and Carlos Gabriel Cabrera, guitarist Lolivone de Rosa, flutist Diana Valentina Rodriguez and percussionist Zayra Pola, among others. The Berklee in Puerto Rico Program also provides $1.5 million in scholarships for musicians’ undergraduate studies.


Pianist and writer Carli Muñoz is another significant artist who plays a significant role in presenting jazz in Puerto Rico. His restaurant, Carli’s Fine Bistro, and Piano, was one of the first venues to feature live jazz regularly. Carli says, “Opening the restaurant was self-serving because I couldn’t find a cool place to hang out. Old San Juan has good restaurants and many funky little water holes. Some featured live music occasionally, but there wasn’t a hip and permanent restaurant and jazz club on the island, let alone in old San Juan. After a year of creating a concept, I met my partner Jim Bonbright. We secured a historic local space with a plaza overlooking San Juan Bay. I gathered my closest friends, who were primarily artists, sommeliers, and chefs, and in a loving joint effort, created the logo, remodeled the room, painted the walls, built a classic bar, equipped the kitchen, trained staff, created a menu, selected the wines and featured some of my paintings, pictures and a Steinway 9′ concert grand and the place came alive. Carli’s was successful beyond my expectations from the first day it opened, but we did go through our growing pains. The space allows me to play for a live audience almost every night, get audience feedback, and introduce other players.”


Until recently, trumpeter, composer, bandleader, professor, and 4-time Grammy nominee Charlie Sepulveda was best known for his rich tone and sizzling ensemble, the Turnaround. These days, he and his business partners, (wife and vocalist) Natalie Mercado, Lori Bluett, and Érika Suárez, hold the distinction of owning and operating the first and only bonafide jazz club in Luquillo. Just steps away from the beach, the C-Note also doubles as a bar, restaurant, and rooftop lounge.
Sepulveda emerged in the 80s, playing with Charlie and Eddie Palmieri, Tito Puente, and Dave Valentin, and has recorded with artists across the musical spectrum, including Dizzy Gillespie, David Byrne, Danilo Perez, and They Might be Giants. With his sizzling group, the Turnaround, Sepulveda has released a variety of acclaimed albums, including “The New Arrival” (1991), “Algo Nuestro” (1992), and 2017’s “Mr. EP: A Tribute to Eddie Palmieri,” among others. Sepulveda has also earned accolades, including a Latin Grammy for the big-band album with Jon Secada, “To Beny More With Love.” In 2021, he celebrated the release of the acclaimed “This is Latin Jazz” at Dizzy’s Club (Jazz at Lincoln Center) to a full and enthusiastic house.
Since the C-Note opened in 2022, Sepulveda and his business partners have presented a wide variety of primarily local Puerto Rican artists, including William Cepeda, Luis Marín, Pete Rodriguez Jr., Humberto Ramirez, Fabiola Méndez, Henry Cole, Glenn Monroig, Edgar Abraham, Humberto Ramirez and Jibaro Jazz, among others.
For Sepulveda, the C-Note is a dream come true. For local artists, Puerto Ricans who appreciate jazz and tourists, the C-Note is living proof that jazz is thriving in Puerto Rico!


Berklee in Puerto Ricohttps://www.berklee.edu/berkleeontheroad/berklee-puerto-rico
LaPlaca, Damian, R. – The C-Note: Luquillo’s First Jazz Club to Open (The Weekly Journal, October, 2021)
Maldonado, William (Wil) Sostre – Boricua Jazz: Desde Rafael Hernández and Miguel Zenón – La Historia del Jazz Puertorriqueño (2nd and 3rd, English Edition, 2019, 2023).
Pinckney, Warren– Thesis: Puerto Rico Jazz and the Incorporation of Folk Music: An Analysis of New Music Direction (2015).
Ramírez, Humberto – The History of the San Juan Jazz Workshop (indice.com), Puerto Rico Jazz Jam Website
Rios, Furito – Festival De Jazz Boriquen Liner Notes by Jaime Torres
Rodrigues, Charlie – El Gato Liner Notes (Dorado Records).
Talavera, Quique – Metamorfosis Musical de Puerto Del 1959 al Presente (TM Recording, 2020).
Zenón, MiguelWebsite


Serrano, Basilio – Puerto Rican Pioneers in Jazz 1900 – 1939: Bomba Beats to Latin Jazz (iUniverse, 2015)
Talavera, Quique – Metamorfosis Musical De Puerto Rico – Del 1859 Al Presente (Spanish Edition)


BORICUA JAZZ: SOWING THE SEEDS is a work in progress. Information will be added periodically. Most recent update: May 30, 2023.


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