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Origins of Jazz in Puerto Rico: The San Juan Workshop

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THE FOLLOWING IS AN EXCERPT FROM AN IN-DEPTH PIECE ON THE HISTORY OF JAZZ IN PUERTO RICO. TO READ THE FULL ARTICLE, PLEASE CONSIDER SUBSCRIBING TO MY PATREON PAGE FOR AS LITTLE AS $5.00 PER MONTH. YOUR SUBSCRIPTION SUPPORTS THIS WEBSITE AND THE FREE, HIGH-QUALITY CONTENT YOU ARE ABOUT TO READ. YOUR SUPPORT IS CRUCIAL! THANK YOU! TO SUBSCRIBE PLEASE VISIT JAZZDELAPENA2/PATREON. THANK YOU.

According to Warren Pinckney, “the ‘renaissance’ of Puerto Rican art music in the late 1950s and 1960s created a cultural climate in Puerto Rico that enabled jazz to reach its peak.” Other factors include increasing economic prosperity, the Cuban revolution, the unavailability of Cuban music, and the establishment of businesses and organizations that promoted jazz and jazz courses in academic institutions.

Enter the Portuguese saxophonist Charlie “El Gato” Rodrigues, who studied at the Boston Conservatory of Music and the Naval Music Academy. Sometime later, he returned to the island, married a Puerto Rican woman, and lived there permanently. Also, he performed with many of the island’s leading bands. 

Also, the trombonist and french horn player, William D. Wales (also known as William T. “Dale” Wales and Dale Wales), who married the actress and performer Liz Sheridan, mostly known for her portrayal of Jerry Seinfeld’s mother on the TV series, Seinfeld

How Rodrigues and Wales met is not clear. Nevertheless, they were responsible for organizing events that exposed the Puerto Rican public American Jazz. Also, they co-founded The San Juan Jazz Workshop (sometimes referred to as The Puerto Rico Workshop), a collective whose objectives were to: Stimulate musicians and increase productivity by offering opportunities to compose and perform and present a wide variety of music to a genuinely interested audience.

Workshop members performed in local bistros, plazas, and venues such as The Cellar and the Penthouse. Also, at the hotels: Dorado, El San Juan, La Playa, the American and El Geronimo and military bases and universities. According to Billboard magazine (October 12, 1962), the Workshop’s monthly performances were some of the most well-attended jazz events in Puerto Rico. Also, the duo and fellow musicians appeared on the weekly TV series Taller de Jazz, which aired on WIPR TV6 on Monday evenings from 8 to 9 PM.

Members The San Juan Jazz Workshop who gained notoriety include the percussionists Monchito Muñoz, Ray Romero and Walfredo de los Reyes, the pianists Joe Vallejo, Nestor Torres (father of the flutist), Berto Torres, Raymond Concepcion (also known as Ray Coen) and Rene Barrios, El Cuarteto Los Hispanos, trombonist Pito Sepúlveda, arranger Ray Santos and the trumpeter Juancito Torres, the visual artists Lorenzo Homar and Rafael Tufiño and photographers and dancers.

The inclusion of graphic artists and photographers is worth noting—their artistry (posters) document the era, the artists, the groups—also, names and locations of venues that no longer exist. 

Newspaper ads for performances at nightclubs such as The Cellar and The Quiet Village in Old San Juan document the lineups: The Charlie Rodrigues Quartet, Renee Barrios, The Workshop Octet, Liz Sheridan, Soni Venturum -Woodwind Quintet, the Dale Wales Quintet, Gwen Cleveland to name a few.  

Another important figure in the advancement of jazz in Puerto Rico is the pianist, Paul Neves who moved to San Juan from the mainland and founded the Caribbean Jazz Workshop, a place where musicians gathered, rehearsed, and held jam sessions. Velez is mostly credited for helping Puerto Rican artists disseminate modern jazz techniques.

The San Juan Jazz Workshop, The Caribbean Jazz Workshop, and The Don Pedro Jazz Workshop played a significant role in introducing jazz to Puerto Rico. Also, they whet Puerto Rican public’s appetite for jazz and were the precursors to the Puerto Rico Heineken Jazz Festival and Humberto Ramirez’s Puerto Rico Jazz Jam. 

Charlie Rodrigues, Dale Wales, and the members of the San Juan Jazz Workshop deserve recognition for introducing American jazz to Puerto Rican audiences and sparking a movement that exists to this day.  

THE SAN JUAN WORKSHOP HONOR ROLL
Saxophonist, Charlie Rodrigues, Trumpet and French Horn player, William Dale Wales, 
Pianist Don Baaska, Rafael Martinez, Angel Dueno, Freddie Thomas, Paul Dillinger
Percussionist Monchito Munoz, Pianist Lee Shaw, Pianist Joe Vallejo, Pianist Nestor Torres
Michael Tschudin, Freddy Silva, Pianist Renee Barrio, Los Hispanos, Pablo Elvira, Charlie Medina, Tommy Corazon, Fernando Arbello, Al Sutton, Dante Jones, Musician, Composer, Educator Ray Santos, Trombonist Pito Sepulveda, Luis Santos Cruz, Jordan Meinster, 
Domingo Garcia, Bill Roberts, Soni Verntorum Woodwind Quinteto, Bill Thun, Nikki Price
Dadue McKay, Trumpeter Juancito Torres, Gladys Johnson, Percussionist Ray Romero
Pianist Ray Coen, Stan Shaw, Ramon Lara, Trumpeter Miguel Peña, Skippy Lake.

RECOMMENDED LISTENING

  1. Charlie Rodrigues Quintet – Invitation to Dorado Beach (Fragoso House) 
  2. Charlie Tees Off at the Dorado Hotel (Marvela)
  3. Charlie Rodrigues “El Gato” (Dorado Records)
  4. Charlie Rodrigues and his Orchestra – Things from Here (Triumph)

    SOURCES
  1. Maldonado, William Sostre – Boricua Jazz: Desde Rafael Hernandez a Miguel Zenon – La Historia del Jazz Puertorriqueño (Independent, 2019)
  2. Pinckney, Warren – Puerto Rico Jazz and the Incorporation of Folk Music: An Analysis of New Music Directio
  3. Ramirez, Humberto – The History of the San Juan Jazz Workshop (www.indicepr.com)
  4. Rodrigues, Charlie – El Gato Liner Notes (Dorado Records
  5. Talavera, Quique – Metamorfosis Musical De Puerto Rico Del 1959 al Presente (TM Recording, 2020)
  6. Wikipedia – Charlie Rodrigues Biography (2020)

ARTWORK: Rafael Tufiño, Lorenzo Homar.

© 2020 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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