Home PR Project Dr. William Cepeda: Boricua Pioneer, Creator of Afro-Rican Jazz

Dr. William Cepeda: Boricua Pioneer, Creator of Afro-Rican Jazz

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WILLIAM CEPEDA is a highly regarded trombonist, percussionist, shell player, composer, arranger, bandleader, producer, and visionary. In 1992 he revolutionized Latin (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, and 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, and Oscar de Leon and countless others. 

In 1997, Cepeda founded Casabe Records and produced seminal recordings by Isabel Albizu (The Matriarch of the Bomba, 2011). The same year The National Foundation for Popular Culture proclaimed the production 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 working 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. Regrettably, the publication is currently out-of-print. 

In 2019, Cepeda launched the Lo Nuestro Tour, whose ambitious 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 has since gone virtual (see video below).

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 performances marked the first (but not the last) 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. He is featured in 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 impressive achievements are putting Puerto Rican music and culture on the world stage and creating a jazz genre that is unique to Puerto Rico. William Cepeda is 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

© 2021 Tomas Pena
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

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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