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Luis Álvarez: A Passion for Jazz

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In 1990, on a typical office day, Luis Álvarez, vice president of Méndez & Company’s liquor division, received a crucial phone call that would alter the course of his life. The San Juan Jazz Fest faced severe financial difficulties and was on the brink of immediate closure. Despite having no experience other than his passion for jazz, Alvarez instinctively shifted into problem-solving mode and took on the role of executive producer.
Reflecting on his journey, Álvarez shared: “The path that led me to the San Juan Jazz Fest, later transformed into the Puerto Rico Heineken Jazz Fest, was not only a professional effort but a deeply personal one.”
Music has always been part of Álvarez’s life. At six, he began playing the accordion and studied keyboard in high school, where he also formed a musical group. He later started at Berklee College of Music in Boston and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in arranging and composition. While at Berklee, he formed connections with Humberto Ramírez, William Cepeda, and many other musicians, fostering a deep love of jazz that would last a lifetime.
Led by Álvarez, with the support of Méndez and Company and Heineken and a team of dedicated volunteers, the Puerto Rico Heineken Jazz Fest faced unique challenges. Aside from logistical obstacles, jazz is less popular than merengue, salsa, and reggaeton in Puerto Rico. However, resilience and strategic thinking helped the PR Heineken Jazz Fest make musical history and firmly establish Puerto Rico as a premier jazz destination.
Over the years, the PR Heineken Jazz Fest has featured local, established, and emerging musicians such as Paquito D’Rivera, Arturo Sandoval, William Cepeda, Poncho Sánchez, Ray Santos, Carlos “Patato” Valdés, Gal Costa, Eddie Palmieri, Jerry and Andy González, Gato Barbieri, Chick Corea, Chucho Valdés, Charlie Sepúlveda, Alex Acuña, Humberto Ramírez, Ramsey Lewis, Michel Camilo, Monty Alexander, Néstor Torres, James Moody, the Dizzy Gillespie All-Star Big Band and the Caribbean Jazz Innovative projects and lineups.
Thanks to Álvarez’s vision, music education was essential to the PR Heineken Jazz Fest. ‘If we have something great on the island, it is our talent, especially artistic talent. It seems essential that these young people are allowed to enhance it. Berklee also comes here year after year because he knows there is an impressive pool of talent here.
In 2017, the Puerto Rico Heineken Jazz Festival held its final performance due to the devastating impact of Hurricane Maria and the subsequent COVID-19 pandemic.
In 2018, Álvarez founded Make Music Happen, Inc., a Puerto Rican nonprofit organization that connects music students with educational and informational opportunities, creating a supportive environment to develop local talent and encouraging them to pursue opportunities in the music industry.
It is worth mentioning that the Puerto Rico Heineken Jazz Fest recorded and filmed performances and a television special that was never completed. The Jazz Fest also produced a compact disc series comprising some 30 CDs, discontinued when listeners switched to digital downloads (mp3) and has since become a collector’s item.
Will the Jazz Fest film footage ever be released? Or will the story ever be documented in a book? Only time will tell.
Álvarez is an accomplished individual with a wide range of accomplishments. He earned a Bachelor’s in Business Administration from the University of Notre Dame. Additionally, he was honored with Berklee’s George Wein Entrepreneur Award, which recognizes individuals committed to the discovery, mentorship, presentation, and promotion of creative musicians and their music. Additionally, Alvarez is a National Guard veteran, certified air transport pilot, and commercial fixed-wing pilot. He also served as president of the Board of Cervantes del Sur and the Historical Society of the Supreme Court of Puerto Rico.
In 2023 and 2024, Álvarez organized and produced the Master Card PR Jazz Fest. His partnership with Make Music Happen and Berklee in Puerto Rico remains strong. Álvarez says: “I want this to continue because what is important here is not just jazz; “They are the doors that jazz opens, through education.”
FOR A SPANISH VERSION OF THE ARTICLE VISIT: EL PERIODICO EL ADOQUIN TIMES

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