José Luis Rodríguez –
On December 9, 2009, the Institute for Puerto Rican Arts and Culture (IPRAC) sponsored its first annual NaviJazz Concert held at VLive nightclub (2047 North Milwaukee). The concert will become a regular feature of the Institute’s work in promoting Puerto Rican musicians who have, and continue to make, significant contributions to the musical genre of Latin Jazz.
The very first concert featured the legendary William Cepeda, Puerto Rican trombonist, composer, and arranger. Cepeda brought with him a legend in his own right, pianist Edwin Figueroa, formerly of Batacumbele. These two legends were backed up by Chicago’s very own Latin jazz band, Latin Inspiration, led by Johnny Rodríguez, who has been recognized as one of Chicago’s top trombone players, along with Afri-Caribe, Chicago’s premier bomba group, led by Tito Rodríguez.
The night outside was in a deep freeze with temperatures bottoming out to the single digits. Inside was quite another reality. The temperature was beyond hot—slowly rising with each melody and each note that the musicians played. Cepeda showed his mastery as composer, arranger, and conductor by effortlessly fusing the genre of Latin Jazz— its emphasis on the trombone, trumpet and saxophone— with the rhythmic heart beating percussions of bomba.
On stage, Cepeda challenged each musician to give their absolute best performance. The crowd, which included more than 500 people, was awed while treated to a once-in-a-lifetime experience in seeing Cepeda not only lead these musicians, but watch as he himself put down the trombone and picked up his shells and began to blow into them. He played the shells as if they were his trombone, blowing melodic sounds that combined and blended smoothly with every note. It was a showcase of the best that our musicians have to show, both from the Puerto Rico and from Paseo Boricua/Humboldt Park, Chicago—the common denominator certainly being they were all Boricua. This was undoubtedly a memorable night—one that has set the bar high for the future of NaviJazz.