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Boricua Pioneer: William Cepeda

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WILLIAM CEPEDA is a highly regarded trombonist, percussionist, shell player, composer, arranger, bandleader, producer, and visionary. In 1992 he revolutionized Puerto Rican music with the introduction of Afro-Rican Jazz, an innovative blend of traditional Puerto Rican roots, Folk, Dance, Progressive Jazz, and World Music. 

A protégé of the late, great Dizzy Gillespie, Cepeda was a member of the United Nations Orchestra. Also, he has traveled the world and performed with Lester Bowie and his Brass Fantasy, David Murray, James Moody, Steve Turre, Bobby Watson, Miriam Makeba, Slide Hampton & the Jazz Masters and on the “Latin Side” with Tito Puente, Paquito D’Rivera, Arturo Sandoval, Eddie Palmieri, Celia Cruz, Marc Anthony, Ruben Blades, Oscar de Leon, and countless others. 

In 1997, Cepeda founded Casabe Records and produced a series of seminal recordings by Isabel Albizu (Matriarch of the Bomba, 2011), which was proclaimed by The National Foundation for Popular Culture as one of the best of the year. Cepeda also recorded Felix Alduen (leader of the Grupo Afrocuba and expert in the Bombas of Mayaguez, 2015), Los Hermanos Ayala, Angel Luis Torruellas (2017), Bomba Sinfonica (2017), and his group, Afro-Rican Jazz.

Cepeda is also the mastermind behind the 4-volume Encyclopedia titled: La Musica de Puerto Rico: Raices y Evolucion (Spanish Edition, 2012), which provides a comprehensive understanding of Bomba, Plena, La Danza, and La Musica Jibara through teaching materials, high-quality recordings, videos, monographs, songs, a curriculum, and teacher guides for elementary, middle, and high school levels. Currently, the encyclopedia is out-of-print but an updated, bilingual, interactive edition is in the works. 

In 2019, Cepeda launched the Lo Nuestro Tour, whose goal was to travel to Puerto Rico’s 78 municipalities and educate the youth about the roots and evolution of Puerto Rican music. When the pandemic struck, the tour was canceled and went virtual. The same year, Cepeda received a historic grant from Chamber Music America, which led to performances at The Ponce Museum of Art, The Culebra Foundation, and The University of Puerto Rico (Rio Piedras). The grant and the performances marked the first collaboration between art institutions in Puerto Rico and the United States.

Unknown to many of his followers, William Cepeda holds multiple academic tiles, including Doctor of Music, Major: Jazz Performance and Composition (Berklee College of Music), Master of Arts in Music (Aaron Copland School of Music), Major: Performance (Trombone) and Composition (Queens College, CUNY), Major: Music Education and Trombone (Puerto Rico Conservatory of Music), Bachelor of Music (Berklee College of Music). Also, his artistic excellence, authenticity, and advocacy for research and comprehensive documentation of Puerto Rican music, dance, and culture earned him multiple awards and grants.

Cepeda appears on over fifty recordings as a leader and sideman. Also, he is the composer of roughly 150 original compositions. Also, he is the subject of the 2003 documentary film, El Trombón de Bomba and El Jazz de William Cepeda by the French filmmaker Louise Ernst.

When I spoke to Cepeda last, he was taping a series of virtual concerts, composing a score for a play, and putting the final touches on several new recordings. 

In a career that spans over 40 years, Cepeda has seen and done it all. In this writer’s view, two of his most significant achievements include putting Puerto Rican music and culture on the world stage and creating a genre that is unique to Puerto Rico. Puerto Rican icon, William Cepeda represents the past, present, and future of Puerto Rican music!

ARTIST WEBSITE: http://williamcepeda.com

Reference

  • Casabe Records
  • Cepeda, William – Website, Pagina Oficial (Facebook)
  • Cepeda, William -Encyclopedia: La Musica de Puerto Rico: Raices y Evolucion             (Spanish Edition, 2012)

Article Updated: February 11, 2021

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© 2021 Tomas Pena
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A graduate of Empire State College with a dual major in journalism and Latin American studies, Editor-in-Chief Tomas Peña has spent years applying his knowledge and writing skills to the promotion of great musicians. A specialist in the crossroads between jazz and Latin music, Peña has written extensively on the subject. His writing appears on Latin Jazz Network; Chamber Music America magazine and numerous other publications.

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