Home Reviews Papo Lucca & La Sonora Ponceña: “Bebop Spoken Here!”

Papo Lucca & La Sonora Ponceña: “Bebop Spoken Here!”

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While browsing through back-issues of Latin Beat magazine recently, I discovered a fascinating article by the 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’ were 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 the creators of this 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 ‘coros’ which are used in many of his 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 Alava met with Papo and they spoke over lunch.

THE JAZZ CONNECTION

According to Alava, “He related to me that he was a restless musical soul, who sought other experiences in Cuban music and jazz. When he was a student La Escuela Libre de Ponce in Puerto Rico, the school director asked Papo if he was interested in buying his record collection. Papo bought the entire collection and brought home a trove of jazz records that included the music of Bud Powell, Oscar Peterson, and McCoy Tyner. Of the lot, 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, remain the essence of his style.”

THE PUERTO RICAN CONNECTION

In the same interview, Papo cited the trumpeters, José Febles and Luis “Perico” Ortiz, the composer, arranger Angel “Cuco” Peña, and the bassist, bandleader Bobby Valentin as primary influences. Interestingly, before achieving stardom as a bassist and bandleader, Valentin was an aspiring trumpeter, flugelhorn player, and disciple of Art Farmer. Also, trumpeter Luis”Perico” Ortiz leads a jazz Big Band and the Jazz Boricua Ensemble.

THE CUBAN CONNECTION

La Sonora Ponceña  evolved out of the gorup Conjunto Internacional. Also, its founder Quique Lucca was a fan of Cuba’s La Sonora Matancera. As evidenced by the recordings “Papo Lucca and the Cuban Jazz All-Stars” and “Papo Lucca y Alfredo de La Fe – Tipica de Cuba,” Papo Lucca also appreciates Cuban music. Also, tunes such as “Yambeque,” “Omele,” “Hachero pa un Palo,” “Congo Carabali,” “Ecue Baroni,” and “Changuiri” demonstrate Papo’s interest in Afro-Cuban music. 

Instrumental jazz tunes in La Sonora Ponceña’s repertoire (1980-2021). 

Nika’s Dream Mambo” (Unchained Force, 1980), “Night in Tunisia,” “Woody’s Blue” (Future, 1984), “Satin N’ Lace” (Jubilee, 1985), “Capuccino” (On the Right Track, 1988), “Nica’s Dream” (Back to the Future, 2003), “Mack the Knife” (Back to the Road, 2003, “Caminando Con Papi” (Hegemonia Musical, 2021).

A classic example of Papo’s ability to seamlessly inject a jazz-feeling into La Sonora Ponceña’s repertoire is “Boranda” (composed by the Brazilian singer, songwriter Edu Lobo) and appears on the album, “El Gigante del Sur” (1977). Midway through tune (3:39), Papo rips into a jazz-inspired solo and scat, the inspiration for the “Boranda Challenge,” which you can view HERE.

Some years ago I spoke with Papo and I asked him if he gave any thought to compiling the jazz-tinged instrumental tracks on one album. The short answer was, “yes,” but, for one reason or another, the project did not come to fruition. 

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. 

Bebop Spoken Here Playlist

REFERENCE 

Alava, Silvio – “Bebop Spoken Here” (Latin Beat magazine, Volume 1, No. 2, February 1991)

© 2022 Tomas Peña 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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