Something of a musical prodigy, Nestor Torres came to the United States from his native Puerto Rico and studied at two renowned institutions: the New England Conservatory of Music and the Berklee College of Music. After making guest appearances with mambo master Tito Puente and releasing a series of albums on an independent label in the 1970s, Torres’s career as a leading Latin jazz flutist was full of promise. 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, however, 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 album This Side of Paradise. A decade after his brush with death, Torres’s hard work and superb artistry were recognized in 2001 when he won a Latin Grammy Award for Best Pop Instrumental Album.
Torres was born in Mayagüez, a city on the western end of Puerto Rico, in the early 1950s. His father was a piano- and vibraphone-playing musician who encouraged Torres to follow his interest in the drums, which he started to play at a young age. 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 that the flute would be his main 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 and I also remember seeing a picture of an old man playing the flute when my mom went to visit his wife. I started playing when I was twelve.” From this rather unusual inspiration, Torres put aside the drums and saxophone and focused primarily on the flute. He was further encour-aged when he saw piccolo player Hubert Laws perform, an occasion that “changed my life forever,” Torres told Ortiz. “He set such a high standard. I have yet to reach that standard,” he added modestly.
The life of the young musician 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; after a year, he sent for his son and two of his nephews, who
For the Record…
Became part of Latin music scene in Miami, FL, 1980s. first major-label album released, 1989; suffered injuries in a boat accident, 1990; released four albums, 1990s. released This Side of Paradise, 2001.
Awards: Latin Grammy Award, Best Pop Instrumental Album for This Side of Paradise, 2001.
Addresses: Record company —Shanachie Entertainment Corporation, 37 East Clinton Street, Newton, NJ 07840, website: http://www.shanachie.com. Management —Central Entertainment Services, 123 Harvard Ave., Staten Island, NY 10301-1312. Website—Nestor Torres Official Website: http://www.nestortorres.com.
were also 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.” 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 New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, one of the leading music schools in the United States. 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.
In 1981 Torres reached the first crossroads in his career when some of his New York City-based colleagues decided to relocate to Miami. Despite the success he had achieved, he later told Ortiz, “At that time, for me [the decision] was either leave the Latin scene altogether and do my own thing in New York, or go elsewhere. I chose to go to Miami.” Fortunately, Torres’s move coincided with a great revival of interest in Latin music, much of it made by emigré musicians from Cuba who had relocated to Miami.
Over the next decade, Torres established a number of close friendships with some of the leading musicians in Miami. One such contact led him to appear on Gloria Estefan’s celebrated Mi Tierra album, released in 1993. He also played with legendary Cuban-born bassist Cachao and was part of the 1992 tribute concert to this elder statesman of the Latin music community. In 1994 Torres appeared in Cachao: Como su ritmo no hay dos (Cachao: No Rhythm Like His), a documentary about the musician’s life that was produced and directed by Andy Garcia.
In 1989 Torres released Morning Ride, his first majorlabel recording on Verve Records. Most of the album’s ten tracks were written by Torres; one track, “Sculptures,” featured guest pianist Herbie Hancock. A mixture of jazz and Latin rhythms, Morning Ride became a best-selling album on the contemporary jazz charts after its release. The following year, however, Torres suffered major injuries—including damage to his lungs—during a celebrity boat race in Miami. The accident temporarily sidelined his career as he concentrated on making a full recovery. His next album, Dance of the Phoenix, was released in 1991, and Torres returned to a full schedule of concert appearances, including dates with the Florida Philharmonic Orchestra and the New World Symphony.
In the wake of his exposure on Gloria Estefan’s Mi Tierra album—which included an appearance with the singer on the Grammy Awards telecast—Torres released a much-anticipated album on Sony’s new imprint, Sony Latin Jazz, in 1994. The album, Burning Whispers, was followed by 1996’s Talk to Me. Torres then switched to the Shanachie label for his next releases, 1999’s Treasures of the Heart, which earned a Grammy nomination, and 2001’s This Side of Paradise. This Side of Paradise showed Torres continuing to expand his musical accomplishments by making his debut as a vocalist on the track “No Te Enamores.” He also returned to his roots by including some charanga rhythms on “Cafe Cubano” and “Danzón de Amor.” “In my early days, I did some independent recordings of charanga music with a string quartet and trombones,” Torres explained in a profile on his website. “Today, as a Latin jazz flutist, this is the first time I’m using the rhythm as a reference, and taking it to a Latin pop setting.”
The reviews for This Side of Paradise were universally positive. A Jazz Contemporaneo reviewer concluded that the album “shows us one more time the great virtuosity and versatility of Nestor Torres, who is capable of transmitting different types of sensations and sentiments through the flute [author’s translation].” A Samurai Latino writer agreed, raving, “Nestor Torres expresses our longings for paradise and he’s one of the few who can pacify our needs for tropical comforts!” The accolades were confirmed when This Side of Paradise earned the Latin Grammy Award for Best Pop Instrumental Album in October of 2001.
Morning Ride, Verve, 1989.
Dance of the Phoenix, Verve, 1991.
Burning Whispers, Sony, 1994.
Talk to Me, Sony, 1996.
Treasures of the Heart, Shanachie, 1999.
This Side of Paradise, Shanachie, 2001.
Broughton, Simon, et al., eds., World Music: The Rough Guide, Vol. 2, The Rough Guides Ltd., 2000.
Hispanic, December 1994, p. 9.
Los Angeles Times, October 31, 2001.
Jazz Contemporáneo, http://www.jazzcontemporaneo.com.reviews/mensuales/0501.htm (December 17, 2001).
“Nestor Torres Biography,” Flute 4u, http://www.flute4u.com/Nestor.html (December 17, 2001).
Nestor Torres Official Website, http://www.nestortorres.com.test1/main1.html (December 17, 2001).
“Nestor Torres Triumphs in This Side of Paradise” To Salsa, http://www.tosalsa.com/forum/interviews/angel_ortiz/article011013nelsontorres.html (December 17, 2001).
“Review—Nestor Torres: This Side of Paradise” Contemporary Jazz, http://www.contemporaryjazz.com/reviews/Nestortorres.html (December 17, 2001).
“Review—Nestor Torres: This Side of Paradise” Samurai Latino, http://www.s-latino.com/review/0104.html (December 17, 2001).
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