jueves, 4 de septiembre de 2014

Carmelo loves jazz - Who is Don Pedro?


Carmelo Ruiz-Marrero

To Louise Maher-Johnson

(A Spanish language version of this article was published in Claridad on February 12 2004. An English language version was published on this blog on November 22 2011)

Back in the 1980's I used to walk often through Esteban González street in the neighborhood of Santa Rita in the urban heart of Río Piedras, very near the University of Puerto Rico campus. Inevitably, that meant passing by theTaller de Jazz Don Pedro (Don Pedro Jazz Workshop)...

Back in those years, the Taller emitted phenomenal sounds into the street, a hi-hat doing swing, a saxophonist inventing a new tonal vocabulary, and other equally fascinating fragments of music. Before the decade ended a hurricane flooded the basement and the locale was closed, but the Taller as an institution has lived on. Now, what is the Taller and just who is Don Pedro? The answers to those questions would have to wait until the 21st century.

Jazz is the music of the uncomprehended. Lovers of this musical genre live in a world of endless fascination, moving from one exciting sonic discovery to the next, often finding themselves in a gray, jaded world which does not share their enthusiasm. These unrepentant audiophiles collect records and interesting facts about this music and its performers with the same passion that sports fans collect and memorize statistics of their favorite teams and players.


While jazz arrived in Puerto Rico from the United States, it is no less true that Puerto Ricans have made significant contributions to the genre. Doña Ana mentions various Boricuas that left their imprint in the history of jazz, like percussionists Manuel Tió and Ray Barreto, the late great pianist Hilton Ruiz, bassist Eddie Gómez, flutist Dave Valentín, the immortal Tito Puente, Noro Morales- whose niece Alicia Torres was my neighbor and music teacher and who has been to me like a second mother since the 1970's- and Ram Ramírez, an organ player from the city of Mayagüez who in 1941 co-wrote “Lover Man” for Billie Holiday, a song that has since been performed also by Barbara Streisand, Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald, Whitney Houston, Norah Jones, Linda Ronstadt, Stan Getz, and many more.

But, she tells me, one of the most important and yet underrated Puerto Ricans in jazz was trombonist Juan Tizol, from the town of Vega Baja, who wrote some of Duke Ellington's most memorable tunes, like “Caravan", “Perdido”, “Pyramid” and “Moonlight Siesta”.

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