Primary Instrument: Trombone
William Cepeda - trombone, composer, producer
William Cepeda comes from a well known family rooted in music. The Familia Cepeda is famous for their performances of folkloric music with African roots, the ‘Bomba,’ and as keepers of traditional Puerto Rican music for many years. The legendary Cepedas’ have produced many of Puerto Rico's most respected Afro-Rican percussionists, singers, dancers, composers and instrumentalists. Now, in William Cepeda, the young multi-instrumentalist, composer and arranger who was nurtured by the twin spirits of bomba and bebop, Puerto Rico's potent rhythms and entrancing melodies radiate out to enthrall an international audience hungry for new Latin sounds.
Despite his family’s intimate association with folkloric music, as a soloist Cepeda went his own way. His interest in jazz and great talent has enabled him to develop a unique jazz style which he calls “Afrorican Jazz”. The music is a fusion of jazz with the musical themes so prevalent in the folk music he grew up with.
Born in Loiza, Puerto Rico, Cepeda was immersed in the rhythms and melodies of the native danza, bomba and plena and even the folk music of the jibaro. With this background and family history, he started playing percussion with friends by age ten. In his teens, Cepeda picked up the trombone and got an early start as a professional musician.
Cepeda’s formal musical training includes BA degrees from Berklee College of Music in Boston and from the Conservatory of Music in Puerto Rico. He also attended the Aaron Copland School of Music at Queens College in New York, on a full scholarship, where he was awarded a Master’s Degree in Jazz Performance. The training exposed Cepeda to some of the greatest jazz musicians and taught him complexities of jazz improvisation and composition. He studied and played with such notable jazz musicians as Slide Hampton, Donald Byrd, David Murray, and others. He also played and recorded with Latin music artists such as Oscar De Leon, Paquito d’Rivera, Celia Cruz, Tito Puente and Eddie Palmieri. When he is not touring, Cepeda is busy in the recording studio. As a recording artist, he appears on over 100 recordings as well as jingles and movie soundtracks.
Cepeda also played with and learned much from Dizzy Gillespie, one of the founders of Latin Jazz. The association began in 1989 when Cepeda was hired by Gillespie during a tour by Gillespie’s United Nation Orchestra. Joining the tour with Miriam Makeba, Cepeda participated in the fusion of jazz with South African music. On his return to Puerto Rico in 1990, after the tour, and inspired by collaboration with Gillespie and Makeba, Cepeda created his Afrorican jazz style. He had made a unique contribution in fusing the distinct musical styles and traditions of Africa and Puerto Rico, in a way that only Rafael Cortijo had done before with the major difference being the addition of jazz.
A chance encounter with Gillespie had opened a great artistic vehicle for Cepeda. It turned into an invitation to tour Europe with Gillespie, a lasting relationship, and unique musical style. It has afforded Cepeda to show his talents as a composer as well as an accomplished trombonist.
In 1997, Cepeda was selected one of the most important and influential Puerto Rican composers. His talent has brought him more than just popular recognition. It has won him many awards as well as grants from such diverse groups as the American Composers Orchestra, the American Composers Forum, the Association of Hispanic Arts and the Latino Arts Advancement Program. In2002 Cepeda was honored with a Meet The Composer’ New Residencies Program award to be a composer-in-residence of the Conservatory of Music of Puerto Rico for the next three years. During this residence Cepeda began writing music for many different kind of groupings, from chamber ensembles to big bands and symphonic orchestra, and developing artistic collaboration with dance and theater ensembles. Cepeda is currently on the faculty at the Brooklyn Conservatory of Music, teaches part-time and conducts seminars and workshops.
But Cepeda has also been successful as a record producer. He produced “Bombazo” (1998) for Grupo Afro Boricua,( highly recommended) as well as his own CD’s on the Blue Jackel label. “My Roots and Beyond,” (1998) and “Branching Out,” in 2000. He has started his own record label Casabe and has released “Live at Montreux,” and “Unity,” both in 2007.
Trombonist /composer /arranger William Cepeda is part of a new generation of musicians who have not only mastered the skills a jazz artist requires, but combine them with the traditional music of their homeland, creating a new and challenging repertoire. Cepeda calls his own variation on this theme Afrorican Jazz.
This is my contribution to Puerto Rican music...Nothing like this has been done before, because while there are plenty of great jazz albums inspired by Cuban rhythms and music, Cuban-jazz fusions and such, there's nothing quite of the same calibre out there for Puerto Rican music and jazz. And there should be. It's time. You know, don Rafael Cepeda said that when the Puerto Rican people understand the value of their music and folklore, they will fight with great force to defend their honor. This music is about my people and for my people.
Traditional Puerto Rican music isn't heard that much outside of the island and it's a shame. We have a very strong music. By using a variety of instruments and the wealth of jazz resources, I have brought this rich tradition to another level, to a wider audience but also to a new level of feeling, more in line with the experience of today. I'm putting a little fire into it, with the result, I hope, of offering a dynamic and beautiful music for many, many people to enjoy. William Cepeda