Home Puerto Rico Project PAPO LUCCA Y LA LA SONORA PONCEÑA: BEBOP SPOKEN HERE! (UPDATED)

PAPO LUCCA Y LA LA SONORA PONCEÑA: BEBOP SPOKEN HERE! (UPDATED)

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While browsing through back-issues of LATIN BEAT magazine, I discovered a fascinating article by writer SILVIO ALAVA, titled BEBOP SPOKEN HERE.”
In 1991, Alava wrote, “More than a decade ago, La Sonora Ponceña from Puerto Rico started to include instrumental jazz in their albums. This delighted most of the listening audience, and it certainly intrigued me. Elias Lopez’s arrangement of Dizzy Gillespie’s ‘Night in Tunisia,’ and Enrique “Papo’ Lucca’s arrangement of Horace Silver’s ‘Nica’s Dream’ are gems of the highest quality. The compositions were familiar to me as a ‘jazz aficionado’ in New York City. Having witnessed the birth of ‘bebop’ and seen many of the creators of the genre in person, I often wondered what motivated a guy in Ponce, Puerto Rico, to record arrangements by notable jazz musicians. Of course, Papo Lucca’s piano playing has always displayed a facility for using long phrases and extended melodic figures, the very essence of the bebop style. These extensions are also apparent in the long structures and variety of ‘cores” used in many of the band’s arrangements.”
In 1991, Alava caught up with La Sonora Ponceña at the Co-Op City Ballroom in The Bronx and requested an interview with Papo Lucca. The next day they met and spoke over lunch.

THE JAZZ CONNECTION

According to Alava, “He (Papo Lucca) related to me that he was a restless musical soul, who sought other experiences in Cuban music and jazz. When he was a student at La Escuela Libre de Ponce in Puerto Rico, the school director asked Papo if he was interested in purchasing his record collection. Papo bought the entire collection and brought home a treasure trove of jazz records that included the music of Bud Powell, Oscar Peterson, and McCoy Tyner. Of the three, Bud Powell was Papo’s favorite because he liked how the ‘Amazing Bud’ handled melodies, dissonance, and long-extended playing. Soon, these features entered into his playing and arranging and to this day, it is the essence of his style.”
Papo confirmed it Mary Kent’s book, “Salsa Talks! A Musical Heritage Uncovered.” “The jazz influence is very evident in our music,” says Pap. “I would say it is present in almost all the bands that play these rhythms. You can sense it in the brass phrasing, and the solos. The arrangers in particular, have the duty to dress up the numbers, making it inevitable to hear a phrase in salsa that you haven’t necessarily heard in jazz, but sounds like it originated there due to our influences.”
Some years ago, I met Papo, and asked him if he gave any thought to recording La Sonora Ponceña in a jazz context or creating a compilation of the jazz instrumentals that appear on man of Sonora’s albums. The short answer was, “yes,” but, for reasons that are not clear, the project never saw the light of day.

The legacy of bebop also lives in the music of Bobby Valentin, Willie Rosario, Robert Roena’s Apollo Sound, Papo Vazquez, David Sanchez, Miguel Zenón, Furito Rios, Charlie Sepulveda, and others, who routinely incorporate jazz and other influences and express their art uniquely. Jazz is alive and well in Puerto Rico!

THE CUBAN CONNECTION

La Sonora Ponceña was part of the evolution of son Cuban dance music of the mid-nineteenth century into the salsa of the 1970s in New York City. 
The son started in Cuba as small groups, including tres guitar, violins, flute, and percussion. In the 1920s, the son bands expanded into sextetos (sextets). In the 1930s, son bands added a trumpet and became septetos (septets). In the 1940s, son bands added congas and piano and called themselves conjuntos In 1944, Quique Lucca formed El Conjunto Internacional, which evolved into Conjunto Sonora Ponceña.
In 1954, La Sonora Ponceña was founded by Quique from the ashes of his earlier band, Conjunto Internacional (aka Orquesta Internacional). The concept of having a horn section made up entirely of trumpets was lifted from one of Quique’s favorite Cuban groups, La Sonora Matancera, as was the idea for the name of his new band. By incorporating the name of his hometown of Ponce, Puerto Rico, he was not only showing pride for his small town on the island’s southern coast but also making a bold statement about this Puerto Rican band’s place in the lineage of Afro-Cuban musical history. 
Bebop Spoken Here Playlist curated by Tomas Pena

THE INTERNATIONAL CONNECTION

Papo Lucca cites the Cuban pianists Lili Martinez and Ruben Gonzalez and the trumpeter, Peruchin (trumpeter) as early influences. Also, as evidenced by the song, Boranda, composed by the Brazilian singer, guitarist, composer Edu Lobo, Papo also draws inspiration from Latin America and other countries.
Despite Quique Lucca’s death and all manner of challenges, under the leadership of Papo Lucca, the multi-talented, multi-generational, multi-lingual La Sonora Ponceña recently celebrated its 69th Anniversary. By all accounts, the band and the music are still going strong!

REFERENCE

ALAVA, SILVIO – “Bebop Spoken Here” (Latin Beat magazine, 1991)
CANTRELL, DAVID – Contributor (Research)
EL CAOBA INTERNACIONAL – ENRIQUE “QUIQUE” LUCCA CARABALLO
KENT, MARY – “Salsa Talks! A Musical Heritage Uncovered” (Digital Domain, 2005)
© 2022, 2023 Tomas Peña ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

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