The famous street in Santurce, Puerto Rico, named Calle Loiza, has a long and colorful history as a center of culture and artistic creativity. Historically, in the late 1800s, it was an important and heavily traveled section of the road passing through Santurce for laborers from the town of Loiza en route to San Juan. The Bomba rhythms are also known to have origins near Calle Loiza among other areas in Puerto Rico, most notably the town of Loiza. More recently, Calle Loiza is known for being a place that has provided a vibrant, rich cultural background for musicians such as the famous salsa singer Ismael Rivera who was raised in the neighborhoods around Calle Loiza. It has a special significance for the members of this group, Calle Loiza Jazz Project. Starting in the late 1970s with the famous jazz club on Calle Loiza, Mini’s, it provided a place for well-known jazz musicians to come and “sit-in” on jam sessions there with drummer Jimmy Rivera, pianist Paul Neves, and saxophonist Hector Veneros. Years later, just a few blocks away, a club opened around 1990 on Calle Loiza called the Apple Jazz Club. It was there that pianist Mark Monts de Oca, Jimmy Rivera, bassist Freddy Gumbs, and leader Héctor Veneros, formed a quartet that became well known in Puerto Rico and performed in the Heineken Jazz Festival in 1993. It was also there that bassist Tony Batista had played regularly and guitarist Andre Avelino would frequently come and “sit-in” to perform with members of the quartet. It was during those years, in this rich musical setting that the core group of musicians on this recording met each other, became lifelong friends and started performing with each other for many years in the future.
After the tragic passing of a beloved friend and fellow musician in 2018, a calling arose among them to make a recording to honor not only the memory of their friend, but also of the memory of many musicians they have known that have had an influenced on them including Juancito Torres, Mongo Santamaria, Carlos “Patato” Valdez, and Dave Valentin to name a few. In the weeks and months that followed, that tribute recording, produced by pianist Mark Monts de Oca and his wife Ileana, evolved into something much greater than expected with the recommendation by friend Carli Muñoz to contact and request the participation of the Latin Grammy-winning recording engineer, Ivan Belvis, who later became a co-producer. Andre also contacted and requested the participation of the master conguero, Javier Oquendo. Mark and Andre Avelino then chose, arranged and rehearsed 8 standard songs to represent the honored musicians who had passed on and organized a “live” recording session. Close friend, Boby Acosta was gracious enough to offer his beautiful home in Puerto Rico as the setting for the “live” recording in the presence of many close friends who were lovers of jazz. Afterward in the studio, master bebop trumpeters in Atlanta Gordon Vernick and Melvin Jones, and master flutist, Xavier Barreto provided their unforgettable and iconic performances. Also, Ivan Belvis was himself able to provide percussion and vocal contributions and requested a well-known master guiro player, Candido Reyes, and Brazilian percussionist, Reinel Lopez to provide invaluable performances.
It was as a result of the collaboration of all these great friends and musicians and their common roots playing together on Calle Loiza 30 years ago that created the Calle Loiza Jazz Project.