NYC Concerts Raise Funds for Puerto Rico

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Luis Perdomo (left), Miguel Zenón, Peter Bernstein and Branford Marsalis perform at The Jazz Gallery in New York on Nov. 1.

(Photo: Jonathan Chimene)

Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico on Sept. 20, causing unprecedented devastation, knocking out most of the island’s power grid and water supply. It also destroyed a large part of the housing and transportation infrastructure. Musicians were hit particularly hard, with shows in hotels, clubs and dance halls all but halted.

Generous artists in the New York jazz community rallied to assist the people of Puerto Rico with a pair of benefit concerts.

On Oct. 23, more than 300 attendees jammed (Le) Poisson Rouge for a show billed Salsa Meets Jazz For Puerto Rico, which raised money for the Jazz Foundation of America. Organized by drummer/percussionist Bobby Sanabria, the show featured his Multiverse Big Band with an array of guests.

At the start of the two-and-a-half-hour concert, Sanabria told the cheering crowd, “Despite the fact that our government has treated the people of Puerto Rico as second-class citizens, tonight they will be treated with the respect, the honor, the majesty they deserve.” Then taking his seat center stage behind his drum kit, Sanabria kicked othe musical proceedings with “Mosaico Puertoriqueño,” a lively homage to the island’s many indigenous rhythms.

The poet Mariposa delivered her piece “What Does It Mean Be Puerto Rican,” accompanied by violinist Ben Sutin, unfurling the flag of Puerto Rico at a climactic moment. Fittingly the band followed with Eddie Palmieri’s “Puerto Rico,” which featured trumpeter Jon Faddis.

Vocalists Brenda Feliciano and Antoinette Montague followed, singing “Capullito De Aleli” and “Let The Good Times Roll,” respectively, with alto saxophonist Patrick Bartley joining the band on the former and pianist Valerie Capers and trumpeter Jimmy Owens on the latter.


Paquito D’Rivera joined the Multiverse ensemble on clarinet for a powerful rendition of Puerto Rican-born Ellington trombonist Juan Tizol’s “Caravan.” The band’s percussion section was featured on “El Lider,” before trumpeter Randy Brecker stepped into the spotlight for a rousing version of “Cumbanchero.”

Candido wowed the crowd with an extended conga recital on “Manteca” before the night ended with vocalist Rachel Kara Perez’s moving rendition of “Preciosa.”

On Nov. 1 The Jazz Gallery hosted Fuerza Puerto Rico, a sold-out show organized by alto saxophonist and San Juan native Miguel Zenón. His quartet with pianist Luis Perdomo, bassist Jorge Roeder and drummer Rudy Royston opened the evening’s first set with his “Cantor.” Afterward Zenón addressed the crowd, noting that 41 days aer Hurricane Maria, conditions had not improved much, with many on the island still without electricity or water.


Other artists performing at The Jazz Gallery included Peter Bernstein, Dave Douglas, Kurt Elling, Larry Grenadier, Jon Irabagon, Branford Marsalis, Christian McBride and John Scofield. The evening ended with just about everybody gathering onstage for a rousing “Caravan.”

In addition to raising thousands of dollars, these two concerts raised awareness about the obstacles Puerto Rican musicians now face. The Jazz Foundation of America has been assisting with relief efforts. Its co-director Joe Petrucelli said, “We have taken on 50 cases in Puerto Rico and are providing direct financial support to musicians and their families. We expect the number of cases to continue growing, as there are no prospects for employment, with venues closed and tourism cratering.”