All That (Latin) Jazz

Irakere became phenomenally popular, lauded at home and abroad for its jazz experimentation. Torres did not do quite so well with his own band. Although he recorded albums that were well received by the public, he had problems with state officials, who controlled the careers of musicians more severely then they do today. He received offers to tour and record with Astor Piazzolla and other acclaimed artists, but for five years he was not allowed to travel. Soon, the work had all but dried up.

Torres says the restrictions placed on him came after a trip he took to Spain in 1972, when he spent New Year's Eve in the home of exiled musician Juanito Marquez, who now lives in Miami and works as a producer for Emilio Estefan. Torres made the mistake of telling the wrong person where had spent his holiday -- which was enough to make him persona non grata in Seventies Cuba.

Finally, in 1992, Torres was granted permission to return to Spain, where he had been offered a teaching position. He arranged the trip under the premise of a tour and took his whole band with him, including Elsa, who applied for a visa as a back-up singer, not as his wife. The band members returned to Cuba but the Torreses stayed on. They ended up in Miami in December of that year.

Since then, Torres has been on something of a crusade to foment a local Latin jazz scene. "I don't just live in Miami for the weather," he says. "There are so many great musicians here, there are great recording studios, why not do things here?" Torres's goal is to establish a regular venue where he and other Latin musicians can jam. That search has led him from Teatro Trail on SW Eighth Street to Centro Vasco to South Beach's Ritz Plaza Hotel. All of those ventures were short-lived, mostly because of inadequate advertising and club owners too impatient to let the events build a word-of-mouth following.

In 1995 RMM released his first U.S. album. Produced by Paquito D'Rivera and featuring Hilton Ruiz and other respected artists, the critically acclaimed Trombone Man has brought him enough recording and road gigs to pay the bills. He even played at one of Bill Clinton's inaugural parties. Torres is currently preparing a South American tour, and he will perform at the Heineken Jazz Festival in Puerto Rico in June.

Still, he hasn't given up on Miami. Last month he led a 22-piece orchestra that played at a black-tie party at Vizcaya hosted by the Little Havana Kiwanis Club. Dressed in white dinner jackets, the musicians played "Guantanamera" and other Cuban classics, filling the dance floor. On April 11 he opens for Tito Puente at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts. And starting next Thursday Torres and his quintet will be playing at Yuca every Thursday, featuring special guests such as conga player Giovanni Hidalgo and singer Israel Kantor. The bandleader says that he'll be playing some of the American-style jazz he's been favoring lately, but his idea is to spark a Latin jam session, like the ones that he and D'Rivera used to sneak off to in clubs in Havana.

"I've come to jazz from Cuban music," he says with pride. "I'm heir to a great legacy and I've always wanted to bring that to a wide audience. I'll never be a traitor to that cause.

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