Multi-percussionist and Grammy winner Raphael Cruz was born
on May 27th, 1947, in the
Republic, in the town of
Villa Vasque, located in the
Monte Cristi. His
parents arrived there from
Cuba, later settling in Santiago de los Caballeros. While he was still very
they moved to the capital city of Santo Domingo,
where he initiated his grade school education in the "Escuela Chile".
Young Raphael had always been drawn to music, so when the
opportunity came along, he joined the school's marching band, initially
the snare drum, then the bass drum and finally mastering the xylophone.
there he graduated to the "Colegio Don Bosco", where he continued his
studies. He also played in that school's marching band, while studying
theory and solfeggio, acquiring the necessary reading skills and
were needed in order to become a classical musician. By the time he
Don Bosco he had also mastered orchestral percussion. Although this
did not usually include drum set studies, he mastered that instrument
Raphael was quite proficient on all of the percussion instruments, but
his interest in hand drums that began taking him down a different road.
the so-called "British Invasion" Raphael submerged
himself deep into the waters of popular American music. He was
fond of rock 'n' roll. Eventually
formed his own group, which he called "Los X 6".
It turned out to be an invaluable learning
experience for him. This band was greatly influenced by iconic American
and pop artists like Jimi Hendrix, Cream, The Beach Boys, Chubby
even Bill Haley & the Comets.
They played at numerous social events, and were even
featured regularly on Dominican television, via "Teenager's Matinee," a
that aired every Sunday. The
getting tighter, until they had memorized just about every rock
& roll tune
known to mankind. They were the official "house band" for this very
popular show, which ran consecutively for a number of years.
By 1964 American popular
music had crossed over into the
mainstream. Raphael was quite aware of this, as were most young people
Dominican Republic. The American influence was
evident in his
choice of music. There was a certain type of assimilation that was
Caribbean. Rock was the new sensation
on the island, but
exposure to the "typical" sound of Dominican music had also shaped his
expression, along with an awareness of the ever-popular Cuban dance
namely mambo, guajira, bembe and cha cha cha.
Drummer and timbalero Carmelo Garcia was one of many
musicians who left their mark on the emerging music scene in
influencing just about
everyone. Raphael soon became friends with Garcia, who passed on much
own knowledge, introducing Raphael to the rudiments of Afro-Dominican
including the rustic salve and palo rhythms, as well as the folkloric
learned all about the sacred religious music, with its roots in the
Congo region of
During his adolescent years, much of this music had been alien to
as he matured he grew closer to these popular strains. Under Garcia's
he began to understand and appreciate the significance of the folkloric
his formative years in
Raphael was exposed to a lot
of great Cuban music as well. At home, his parents listened to all the
Cuban soneros and guaracheros, such as Arsenio Rodriguez, Trio
Vicentico Valdes, Rolando La Serie, Beny More and Duo Los Compadres. He
fortunate enough to have heard such visiting Cuban artists as Mongo
Los Munequitos, La Lupe, Olga Guillot and Miguelito Valdes, as well as
Puerto Rican bands, which visited regularly, such as Cortijo y su
later on El Gran Combo.
Cuban radio was very influential at that time, but
were also quite a few local public radio stations that featured various
of Caribbean music, as well as the music of
Like most caribenos, Raphael was enamored
with the beautiful melodies of Antonio Jobim, Vincius de Moraes and Joao
Gilberto. The exciting samba schools, the carnival ensembles and the
tinged bossa nova of Stan Getz and other North American musicians all
contributed to his new awareness. Yet it was the heavily orchestrated
big band mambo that moved him closer to traditional jazz, and
real jazz gig was with pianist Jorge Taveras, who
was leading a trio at the time. Taveras was a very popular jazzman, and
would learn much from his as well. Through assimilation, Raphael Cruz
venture into an experimental wall of sound, incorporating everything he
into his own pop/rock ensemble.
While still in the
Raphael formed part of a trio with Orly Vazquez
and Francisco Tirado, two Puerto Rican musicians who needed a drummer
local engagement in
They immediately clicked, playing what was then known as “acid rock.”
returned with them to
lived for ten years, expanding his musical awareness as he learned the
African-based rhythmic patterns of that island.
after his arrival, the trio played in nearby
St. Thomas at
Spot. From there
they got an offer to
where they played in the
famous Red Zone, a bohemian corner of aristocratic roots, something
Greenwich Village. The trio was called
Mexico City Orly was replaced by Dominican
guitarist Hector Gutierrez. They
subsequently went on to play in
as well as other Mexican cities. While in
they recorded an album for
the prestigious Orfeon label. That album, which was made over forty
is now being reissued in
Raphael became the consummate all-around percussionist, thereby
himself a steady flow of work. He performed with such luminaries as
Benitez, Julio Angel, Danny Rivera and Alberto Carrion, all of who were
influenced by American rock music.
each also embraced the traditional jibaro style, plus a 'tropicalized'
of the nueva trova, a movement in Cuban music that emerged around 1967,
was related to the 'nueva canción' of Latin America, especially Puerto
like Coltrane, Parker, Gillespie and
Monk had became household words among the up and coming musicians.
mingled feely with the in-crowd, which dug these contemporary sounds. He began collecting vinyl
albums, which he
purchased at a local record store that catered to the island’s jazz set. It was all coming to him
second hand. But at
least he was getting his first taste
of hip jazz.
"Funk" was in also the
tropical air and it was
penetrating the old vanguard. It
this point that Raphael formed his first band, Raices, in 1976, with
islanders Monchi Sifre, Roberto "Pura" Cazar, Carlos Melendez and
all of whom were swimming the same musical currents as Raphael. Shortly after their first
gig together Raices
was off to
to record at Criteria Studios for Brian Epstein's Nemperor Records. Raices' executive producer
was Nat Weiss, the
lawyer for the Beatles. Things
looking good for them.
After the Raices album Raphael decided to stay in
where he worked
the metropolitan club-circuit for about three years. As a group, Raices
last very long. But
within a relatively
short period of time they did manage to get booked in all the top clubs
New Jersey and
Connecticut. In 1977 they opened at the
Dr. Pepper Jazz
Festival in Central Park for the great Miles Davis, and garnered some
reviews from the
went on to become a studio musician, working for the
all the major labels, such as Warner Bros., Arista, CBS and a host of
He toured with the likes of Stanley Turrentine, Herbie Mann, Dr. John,
Simon, Bette Midler and of course The Crusaders, who kept him busy all
round. He didn’t
because studio work was quite lucrative at the time.
Raphael was privileged to have recorded some
great music alongside the likes of Steve Gadd, Jack DeJohnette, Ray
and Ralph MacDonald. On
stage he was
featured with such notables as Mongo Santamaría, George Benson, Paquito
D'Rivera, Herbie Mann, McCoy Tyner, Bette Midler, Flora Purim and Chaka
Khan. He also
managed to work a few of
the Broadway shows before returning once again to
Puerto Rico, where he formed a
quintet along with Ender Dueno, and Eddie "Guagua" Rivera.
his second stay on the island Raphael received a call
from percussionist Mark Sanders in
asking him if he wanted to work with Sanders'
band Caliente. He
decision led to his
leaving the island permanently. He
relocated to the birthplace of jazz where he lived for about four years
performing in the company of such notables as Dr. John and the renowned
Ellis Marsalis. Raphael
was maturing in
an environment that was exposing him to the best musical traditions and
practices of that historical city.
first gig in the
with the Neville
Brothers at the 1984 World's Fair.
himself in a very privileged position, he absorbed
the music that had by now become such an integral part of his life. Harry Connick, Jr. was
during that period, whenever he led a Latin jazz group in
The group played locally in all the clubs in the
city and would prove to
be the prototype for the band that he now fronts.
This was the group that more or less
established Raphael in
New Orleans. He felt comfortable there. But at the same time he
was still searching
for a particular sound that kept spinning around in his mind. Three years later Raphael
York City and began
to seek out the musicians who would eventually make his new sound a
During the 1980s, an era that was actually quite grim
Latin-flavored jazz, Raphael nearly dropped out of the scene. But thanks to an
incredible resurgence in
this type of music he began appearing regularly in clubs, theaters and
halls, headlining in such venues as Town Hall, CBGB's Gallery, The Blue
Birdland, The Zinc Bar, New Jersey Performing Arts Center in
and many other venues that catered to
jazz and related forms.
traveled abroad, often fronting a quintet made up of a who's
who in jazz, and surfaced again in
New York at
the tail end of the 1990s. Returning
to the studio in 1998, he organized
a group of excellent young musicians, recording his first date as a
leader. The result
was the very creative "A Mano," which was released a year later.
It was labor of love for all involved. The entire CD was recorded
in one 14-hour
session, with minimal overdubs. Memorable
versions of "Stella By Starlight," "Night and Day," "Body and Soul," and "Footprints" were recorded.
Even Bob Dylan's "Mr. Tambourine
Man" got the Raphael Cruz treatment.
Throughout the next
decade, an extraordinary amount of jazz
area. Yet Latin
definitely on his way. It
satisfying to have had such an institution out there.
His second production, "Bebop
Timba," won him the prestigious Grammy award for musical excellence in
2004. It won the
coveted prize for the "Best Latin Jazz Recording."
It is rich in beauty, nuance, controlled passion and
recent endeavor; "Time Travel," is equally
satisfying and includes quite an impressive guest list of stars: Sonny
Claudio Roditi, Dave Valentin, Raleph Vowen, Danilo Aviles, Stefan
Valera, Sergio Brandau, Pablo Vergara, Greg Murphy, Roman Diaz,
Valladares, Diego Lopez, Alexis Zayas, Victor Prieto, with special
by vocalists Pedro Martinez, David Oquendo and Chico Alvarez. This
production was handled by Raphael and Luis Damian Guell, who recorded
mastered all of
Raphael's albums. Starting with "Bebop Timba," Guell had a more direct
hand in the way the
music was recorded. The
result has been
currently resides with his family in
a very active member of the arts community in the
area, often touring outside the area as well. To most of his friends and colleagues however, he is
simply known as "Raffi." His work
as an innovative
leader and producer is not yet finished.
More projects are on the horizon.
Meanwhile he continues to perform with his group and
can be heard
favorite jazz spot, Moonstruck. To
credit he has surrounded himself with a crew of equally adept musicians
Ariel de La Portilla, Enrique Henaine, Manuel Valera and Diego Lopez,
the nucleus of his working unit.
Collectively they conjure up feelings that are
refined and deep, hot and