Home Puerto Rico Project BORICUA JAZZ: SOWING THE SEEDS (UPDATED)

BORICUA JAZZ: SOWING THE SEEDS (UPDATED)

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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 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.” Several factors drove the renaissance. 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, tourists flocked to Puerto Rico from 1960 to the mid-80s. 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 unheralded San Juan Jazz Workshop, The Caribbean Workshop, and The Don Pedro Jazz Workshop. 
San Juan Jazz Workshop Posters by Rafael Tufiño

THE SAN JUAN JAZZ WORKSHOP

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 (click to read), Monchito Muñoz, Joe Vallejo, Michael Tschudin, Nino Silva, Nestor Torres Sr., Freddy Silva, Carlton Smith, Bob nSmirton, 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 special mention for their artwork, which played a significant role in promoting and documenting the venues, performances, 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. 

THE CARIBBEAN JAZZ WORKSHOP

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.

THE DON PEDRO JAZZ WORKSHOP

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 (son of Ana Vélez), 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 returned 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 Velez 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 under the auspices of the Workshop in 1991.
Vélez was also hosted the series, ‘Pintando al Ritmo de Jazz” (Painting to the Rhythms of Jazz), which combined music and visual art. Also, he 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. 

FESTIVAL DE JAZZ BORIQUÉN, JAZZEANDO EN LA PLAZA

Festival De Jazz Boriquen Volumes 1-4

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 it was recorded for posterity and allows listeners to experience history in the making. To learn more or purchase, click HERE.

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.

PUERTO RICO HEINEKEN JAZZ FEST (1991-2017)

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 and presented jazz artists from around the globe.

PUERTO RICO JAZZ JAM

Puerto Rico Jazz Jam Cover
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, if not all, of the Jazz Jams are 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.

THE C-NOTE: LUQUILLO’S FIRST JAZZ CLUB

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 only bonafide jazz club on the island. Located in Luquillo, steps away from the beach, the C-Note also doubles as a bar, jazz club, restaurant, and rooftop lounge.
Sepulveda emerged in the 80s, playing with Charlie and Eddie Palmieri, Tito Puente, and Dave Valentin, among others. He 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 many albums, including “The New Arrival” (1991), “Algo Nuestro” (1992), and 2017’s “Mr. EP: A Tribute to Eddie Palmieri,” among others. He has earned accolades, including a Latin Grammy for his 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 sold-out and enthusiastic house.
Since the C-Note opened in 2022, Sepulveda and his partners have presented a wide variety of primarily Puerto Rican artists, including William Cepeda, Luis Marín, Pete Rodriguez Jr., Humberto Ramirez, Fabiola Méndez, Henry Cole, Glenn Monroig, Edgar Abraham, and Jibaro Jazz, among others.
For Sepulveda, the C-Note is a dream come true. For local artists, Puerto Ricans who appreciate jazz and visitors, the C-Note is proof that jazz is alive and well in Puerto Rico!

SOURCES

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).

SUGGESTED READING

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)

SUGGESTED LISTENING

Charlie Sepulveda – The New Arrival (2007), Algo Nuestro (Our Thing, 1993)
David Sanchez – The Departure (1994), Melaza (2000)
Furito Rios – Standard Bomba (2015), Festival de Jazz Boriquen series (Volumes 1-4, 2022)
Miguel Zenón – Sonero: The Music of Ismael Rivera (2019), Musica de Las Americas (2022)
Cortijo and his Time Machine (Y Su Maquina del Tiempo (1973)
AUTHOR’S NOTE
BORICUA JAZZ: SOWING THE SEEDS is a work in progress. Information will be added periodically. Most recent update: January 26, 2023.
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED 2023

2 COMMENTS

  1. Another great article. Thx Thomas!!!
    Clarification note: Humberto Ramirez’s Puerto Rico Jazz Jam moved from Teatro Tapia to Centro de Bellas Artes in Santurce a couple of years ago. The 2023 edition will be held Jan 27 & 28.

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