Home Reviews Review: New York and the International Sound of Latin Music (1940-1990)

Review: New York and the International Sound of Latin Music (1940-1990)


In his second and most ambitious book to date, Grammy-nominated musician, professor, author Benjamin Lapidus makes a compelling case for New York-based musicians and how they shaped the sound of international music.

According to Lapidus, “the book started as an idea in 2010, and the research began in 2012. It’s easy to feel alone and even futile when tackling such a large project, but the encouragement and interest from the musicians and collectors who shared their time with me really made me feel like it was a worthwhile endeavor.”

The result is a comprehensive assessment of New York as the capital of Latin music from 1940 to 1990, as told by an active participant.

Based on extended interviews and insightful musical analysis, Lapidus explores an array of fascinating topics, including Latin Music Education in New York; Latin Music Instrument Makers in New York; Sonny Bravo, Tipica 73 and the New York Sound, Jews and Latin Music in New York and Invasion del 80/Yo vine del Mariel!

Chapter 4, titled, This Guy Does Not Look Latin: The Panamian Connection explains how Panama was and continues to be an incubator for jazz, Cuban, and West-Indian Caribbean music traditions and the musicians feel solidarity with similar cultures, yet distinct from their own such as Cuban, Puerto Rican, West Indian, and African-American. Though it’s not well-known, Panamian musicians performed with Machito and his Afro-Cubans, Tito Puente, Tito Rodriguez, and Louis Armstrong among others.

Chapter 5, titled, Puerto Rican Engagement with Jazz and its Effects on Latin Music explains how “Puerto Rican and Nuyorican (New York-born Puerto Ricans) in New York City used jazz harmony, arranging, improvisation, and musical aesthetics to broaden the sound of Latin popular music from the postwar period into the 1990s and beyond.” Also, it counters the narrative that Puerto Ricans artists are, “adopters, copiers, or appropriators of Cuban music.” According to Lapidus, “many historians, authors, and researchers have neglected the specific musical advances and innovations in Latin music made by Puerto Ricans and others (ethnic groups) in New York City.”

New York and the International Sound of Music is obligatory reading for anyone interested in the history of Latin music, particularly as it relates to New York City. Kudos to Benjamin Lapidus for his tenacity, following the facts, countering false narratives, and conveying the complexity and richness of Latin music. Highly recommended. 



  • Flores, Juan – New York Latin Music of the Sixties Generation (Oxford University Press, 2016)
  • Glasser, Ruth – My Music is My Flag – Puerto Rican Musicians and Their New York Communities 1917-1940 (University of California Press, 1995)
  • Salazar, Max – Mambo Kingdom, Latin Music in New York (Schirmer Trade Books, 2002)


© 2021 Tomas Pena

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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