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, the Grammy-nominated musician, professor, educator, author Benjamin Lapidus makes a compelling case for how New York-based musicians shaped the sound of international music.

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

If the glowing reviews are any indication, worthwhile indeed! Ruben Blades writes: “There are very few books that document the origin and development of Latin music in the US. This work is of tremendous importance because it illustrates many unknown facts about Latin musicians’ identities and contributions to the Latin and jazz genres that would have continued to be ignored, if not rescued by Ben Lapidus and his reporting. The book is obligatory reading and I fully recommend it.”

In brief, New York and the International Sound of Latin Music is a comprehensive assessment of New York as the capital of Latin music from 1940 to 1990, as told by an active participant and an astute observer. Based on extended interviews and insightful musical analysis, Lapidus explores a swath of interesting and enlightening 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 the “invasion” of the Cuban Marielito’s in the 80s.

Chapter 4, titled, This Guy Does Not Look Latin: The Panamanian Connection focuses on “the unique Panamanian community in New York, particularly Brooklyn-based musicians, and their contributions to the development of Latin music in New York.” Also, how Panamanian musicians felt solidarity with the musicians whose cultures were similar to, yet distinct from their own, such as Cuban, Puerto Rican, West Indian, and African American. Though it’s not well-known, Panamanian musicians performed with Louis Armstrong, Machito and his Afro-Cubans, Tito Rodriguez and Tito Puente 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 debunks the narrative that Puerto Ricans artists were, “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 Latin Music is obligatory reading. Particularly, as it relates to the history and development of Latin music in New York. Benjamin Lapidus deserves credit for following the facts, countering the false narratives that surround the history of Latin music. Only an artist and deep thinker could have written a book such as this. 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)
  • Lapidus, Ben – Origins of Cuban Music and Dance – Changui (Scarecrow Press, 2008)
  • 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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