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Nestor Torres — Featured Smooth Jazz Artist Archives

Oct. 2014

Nestor Torres – The Pied Piper of Latin Jazz

Being one of the most creative Latin music artists around, flutist Nestor Torres has been both expressive and imaginative in his approach to the music that he soNestor Torres loves. In fact, his love for the music and the way in which he conveys that love have been infectious, literally making him a sort of Pied Piper, especially where  Latin jazz is concerned.

Torres was born in Mayagüez, Puerto Rico, in the early 1950s. Initially, at a young age, he began playing drums, encouraged by his musician father who was a pianist and vibraphonist.

The young Torres complemented the training he received at home with studies at a special music high school where, in addition to percussion, he also studied saxophone. Eventually, however, he decided to focus on the flute as his primary instrument. “[T]o study drums, well, I didn’t see it for me,” he told Angel Ortiz in an interview for the To Salsa website. “Then, I saw a picture of a flute.  I started playing when I was twelve.”

From this rather unusual inspiration, Torres put aside the drums and saxophone and set his sights on the flute. He was further encouraged when he saw piccolo player Hubert Laws perform, an occasion that “changed my life forever,” Torres has said. “He set such a high standard. I have yet to reach that standard,” he added modestly.

The young flutist’s life took a new direction when his father moved to New York City in the early 1970s. The elder Torres found some success in New York and played regularly at the Chateau Madrid. Later, he sent for his son and two of his nephews (the latter also being musicians).

In his interview with Ortiz, Torres recalled a highlight of his move to New York: his introduction to Tito Puente, a major figure in Latin music. “It was a cold, rainy December winter Sunday. And after [my father] was done [playing], we go to the Cabo Rojeno because Manchito and Tito Puente were playing there. I have no idea how I got the nerve to ask Puente’s band to let me sit in. They let me! … and after that, Tito would always ask me how I was doing with the music because he knew I was going to the conservatory in Boston.” The New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, MA, is one of the leading music schools in the United States.

In addition to his friendship with Puente, Torres also met a number of other musicians on the Latin music scene, which eventually led to some regular gigs in New York. Just out of his teens, Torres had already established a career as a professional musician.

In addition to his appearances in New York, Torres continued his formal training at the Boston Conservatory. He also took classes at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, where he graduated in 1973.

After receiving his degree, he returned to New York to begin his professional career in earnest. By the end of the 1970s, Torres had released three solo albums on small, independent labels; he had also gained improvisational experience by playing with charanga bands around New York. A style of music that adapted classical instruments such as flute, piano, and violin into Cuban danzón rhythms, charanga was an ideal style for Torres to explore as both a classically trained musician and a rising star on the Latin scene.

After moving to Miami in the 1980s, he became part of a flourishing music scene that included Gloria and Emilio Estefan and the legendary bassist Israel “Cachao” López.

Torres faced his biggest challenge, however, when he suffered life-threatening injuries in an accident during a celebrity boat race in Miami, Florida, in 1990. It took him several months to recover, and it was questionable whether he would regain his full capacity as a musician.

Determined to make a comeback, Torres not only continued with his career but entered an even more productive phase. In addition to releasing four more albums, he took part in a documentary detailing Cachao’s life, Cachao: Como su ritmo no hay dos (Cachao: No Rhythm Like His), and even made his debut as a vocalist on his 2001 Grammy award winning album This Side of Paradise.

Torres’ discography includes:

• No Me Provoques - Released: 1981 • Afro - Charanga Vol. 2 - Released: 1983 • Morning Ride - Released: 1989 (Polygram Records) • Dance of the Phoenix - Released: 1990 (Polygram Records) • Burning Whispers - Released: 1994 (Sony US Latin) • Talk to Me - Released: 1996 (Sony International) • Treasures of the Heart - Released: 1999 (Shanachie) • This Side of Paradise - Released: 2001 (Shanachie) • Mis Canciones Primeras - (Shanachie) • Mi Alma Latina - Released: 2002 (Shanachie) • Sin Palabras - Released: 2004 (Heads Up) • Dances, Prayers & Meditations For Peace - Released: 2006 (Heads Up) • The Very Best Of Nestor Torres – Released: 2005 (Diamond Light Records)  • Nouveau Latino – Released: 2008 (Diamond Light Records)

Some of this super-talented flutist’s accomplishments include collaborations with collaborations with Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, James Moody, Jon Faddis, Chris Botti, Larry Coryell, Hubert Laws, Arturo Sandoval, Michel Camilo, Paquito D’ Rivera, Danilo Perez, David Sanchez, Pablo Zigler, Makoto Ozone, Patrice Rushen, Bob James, George Duke, Wallace Roney, Peter Nero and Clare Fisher, among others; and symphonic performances with the New World, Singapore, Springfield Missouri, Charleston, Signature (Tulsa, OK), Puerto Rico, and Stanford Symphonies; Philly Pops Orchestra; and the Naples, Florida; Malaysia, and Florida Philharmonics.

Torres’ music, along with bearing a haunting beauty to an already extremely becoming and exotic genre, truly enhances the definition, reach, and character of Latin music. His contributions to Latin jazz are unquestionably among the most palatable around, and I fully expect that he will remain a bar of excellence upon which aspiring Latin music artists can and should focus. – Ronald Jackson