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Cepeda, William

Accomplished on the trombone and a noted composer and arranger, 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, and as keepers of traditional Puerto Rican music for many years.

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. Cepeda is currently on the faculty at the Brooklyn Conservatory of Music, teaches part-time and conducts seminars and workshops.

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.

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, Meet The Composer, the American Composers Forum, the Association of Hispanic Arts and the Latino Arts Advancement Program.

But Cepeda has also been successful as a record producer. He produced “Bombazo” for Grupo Afro Boricua, as well as his own CD’s on the Blue Jackel label. One of these was My Roots and Beyond“ a wonderful example of his Afro-Rican music style with songs such as Ponte P’al Monte.

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