Born in Santurce, Puerto Rico Enrique “Quique” Talavera gravitated to the drum when his parents gifted him a set of toy drums on his 13th birthday. The same year, with money he earned from his newspaper route, he purchased a set of timbales.
His early influences include the orchestras of Lito Peña, Mario Ortiz, and the contemporary sounds of Tito Puente and Rafael Cortijo. But it was a performance by Tito Rodriguez and his Orchestra at El Escambron, a popular beach resort in San Juan, that inspired Talavera to become a professional musician.
In 1964, at 16, after working with several local conjuntos, Talavera became a member of Pito Suarez’s orchestra. At the same time, he took classes in theory, fundamentals, and piano. After stints with La Orquesta Ingenieria, Micky Juarbe’s band, Atilio Bruni’s trio, and Pijuan y su Sexteto. Also, Talavera was the house drummer for the television shows of Myrta Silva, Show Goya, Show Corona, and the popular Noche de Gala, among others.
In 1972 Talavera organized an orchestra and accompanied the singer Sophy. Also, he worked with the musical director Pedro Rivera-Toledo in productions for Lucestia Benitez and Danny Rivera. Afterward, his career as a musical director took off with the debut presentation of Sophy at the Club Caribe. He also directed and arranged recordings for the international group Flor de Loto (1975-1978) and the television program Show de Carmita (1976-1978).
From 1978 to 1981, Talavera became the musical director for the Venezuelan superstar Jose Luis Rodriguez (El Puma). After traveling the world, he returned to Puerto Rico in 1982 and worked with Julio Angel and Trio Los Condes, and assumed the position of musical director for the house band of the Club Caribe, where his band accompanied Marco Antonio Muniz, Iris Chacon, The Fifth Dimension, Chita Rivera, and Danny Rivera, among others.
Talavera was also the musical director for the Mexican superstar Marco Antonio Muñiz, as well as the arranger for the Puerto Rico Symphonic Orchestra, Armando Manzanero, Chucho Avellanet, Ednita Nazario, and the Trio Borinquen, among others.
Today, The Quique Talavara Orchestra is one of the most sought-after bands for conventions and special events. Also, he is the musical director for Carolina’s municipal band and the author of the book, Metamorfosis Musical de Puerto Rico Del 1959 Al Presente. Last December, I had the pleasure of speaking with the Maestro about the book.
Tomas Peña: Congratulations! Thank you for speaking with me and making time to discuss this significant period in Puerto Rico’s musical history.
Quique Talavera: To date, no one has written about it. I was part of the era. I started playing in 1965 when there were more jobs than musicians!
TP: Before we get into the details, the current Edition is in Spanish. I’m curious to know if you plan to release an English version?
QT: Yes, there’s a lot of interest in the subject. I’m working on it as we speak. I believe the English version will be well received.
TP: I agree! You’re known as a highly respected musician and musical director. What prompted you to step out of your comfort zone and write a book?
QT: When I speak with young musicians, and I say, “Forty years ago, music was a profession on the island. We played seven days per week, afternoons, evenings, and into the wee hours of the morning,” they don’t believe me! So, the book is for them. Also, for people that lived and participated in the era, it’s a remembrance, a fond memory of a bygone era.
Also, when the Smithsonian’s traveling exhibit, American Sabor: Latinos in U.S. Popular Music, visited Puerto Rico I participated in the inauguration and a panel discussion titled, The Music from Full-Time to Part-Time, which focused on the disintegration of the musician’s union in the 70s. While the panelists spoke, I presented photos of Puerto Rico’s music scene from 1960 to 1980. Afterward, several people said, “You know so much, you should write a book.” So, that was another reason.
TP: The book covers a lot of ground: The hotels, the nightclubs, and lounges (cabarets), which no longer exist. The Big Three – Machito, Tito Puente, Tito Rodriguez – musical directors, producers, arrangers, recording studios, the musician’s union, radio, television, festivals, publicity, jingles, and the rise of urban music. Above all, Puerto Rico’s “Golden Age” of Music.” Also, it contains 400 vintage photographs, which I assume are from your private collection.
QT: It’s a long story. Some of the photos are mine. Others, I obtained from colleagues such as (the legendary timbalero) Monchito Muñoz and others who have since passed away.
TP: With respect to Puerto Rico’s Golden Age of Music, where does the story begin?
QT: It begins in 1959 with the Cuban Revolution, Fidel Castro’s rise to power, and the expulsion of the U.S., which included the mob (Mafia) and the entertainment industry. When Cuba closed down the entertainment industry relocated to Puerto Rico and, from the 60s to about the mid-80s, it was the entertainment capital of the Caribbean.
TP: Describe what it was like.
QT: On any night given night you could see Liza Manelli, Tom Jones, Sammy Davis, Danny Rivera, Chucho Avellanet, The Fifth Dimension, The Temptations accompanied by a 25-piece orchestra. In the hotels, the action started in the afternoon with live music by the pool, followed by dinner and a show at, say El San Juan’s Tropicoro and dancing to live music at Armando’s Hideaway in Condado until 6 AM. There was a very high volume of opportunities for musicians. The hotel shows changed weekly and plenty of work opportunities were generated by television, which featured live orchestras backing the artists on a nightly basis.
TP: The book features brief histories of the hotels: El Escambron Beach Club, The Hotel Americana, The Caribe Hilton, The Hotel Cerromar, The Condado Beach Vanderbilt, The Hotel Dorado Beach, El Conquistador, El Convento (which, still exists), La Concha, the Mayaguez Hilton Resort, The Hotel Normandie, The Sheraton, and The Marriott. Also, nightclubs and cabarets such as The Hipocampo, El Josco, El Sombrero, Monte Casino, Tres Palmas, Club Caborrojeño, San Juan 2000, Collage, Lomas del Sol, Tropicana, Ochos Puertas, Granada Lounge, La Rue, and Club del Campo among others. But, in the 70s things began to change.
QT: Yes, the singers and crooners started to go out of fashion. Also, artists started performing shows for large crowds at stadiums and outdoor performance spaces.
TP: Also, social and economic factors played a role.
QT: The rise in crime led to a decrease in artistic musical presentations. People were afraid to go out. Also, the “regulars” who were most likely to attend nightclubs and cabarets sought other forms of entertainment. The availability of videos and cable television had a negative impact on the music scene. I led the house band at The Club Caribe, which closed in 1988.
TP: Which marked the end of an era.
QT: As I mention in the book, “Todo a tono con su Epoca!” (Loose translation: Everything in tune with the times).
TP: I take it, there is no comparison between Puerto Rico’s “Golden Age” of music and what’s happening now.
QT: There is no comparison.
TP: Obviously, you are still very active.
QT: Some years ago I was asked to put together a band and play Cuban music in the El San Juan hotel’s lobby two days per week, which evolved into six years. The experience gave me the opportunity to prepare a band that plays a wide variety of music, including Motown, Sinatra, traditional Jewish songs, and more. Before I ever led a band I vowed if I got the chance I would sound like Sinatra, Eddie Palmieri, Wilfredo Vargas, and Donna Summer rolled into one. That’s the secret to my success and over one-hundred performances per year!
TP: Congrats! Tell me about the CD, Quique Talavera y sus Amigos, which features Andy Montañez, Gilberto Santa Rosa, Chucho Avellanet, Pedro Brull, Domingo Quinones, Choco Orta, Raymond Torres Santos, Danny Rivera, Michelle Brava, Luis “Perico” Ortiz, Willy Chirino and Jose R. Negroni among others.
QT: I wanted to do something different. Also, I wanted to get together with my friends and create music for the next generation and leave something behind so people will remember me. The CD features 27 guests, some of who insisted on participating for free.
TP: The recording features a medley of Chucho Avellanet’s hits, a tribute to Marco Antonio Muñiz, traditional and popular music, salsa, and merengue. It’s a lively and uplifting retrospective and a testament to your ability as a musical director and your body of work. I wish you much success with the book and CD. Also, I look forward to reading the English version. Before we close, how are things in Puerto Rico with respect to the pandemic?
QT: For an island of 3 1/2 million people, we are doing OK. The Government started the lockdown early and the public has been following the protocols. So far, so good.
TP: Good to hear. Thank you for speaking with jazzdelapena.com.
Mangual, Rudy – Puerto Rico’s Drum Master, Quique Talavera (Latin Beat Magazine, February 2007, Volume 17, Number 1)
- Metamorfosis Musical De Puerto Rico – 1959 Al Presente (Cover)
- Quique Talavera (Publicity Photo)
- Quique Talavera and Friends (CD Cover)
© 2020 Tomas Pena
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