Nestor Torres Lets The Music Speak
by Paula Edelstein
| Jazz flautist and Latin Grammy Award winner Nestor Torres has been captivating audiences with his sexy, sensual mix of Latin, jazz, and pop sounds for more than 15 years. With SIN PALABRAS, the handsome, charismatic Torres is well on his way to claim another major share of the music market with this exceptional debut for Heads Up. With the addition of label mates James Lloyd of Pieces of A Dream and Jimmy Haslip of The Yellowjackets, co-writing several songs, Torres’ fresh, positive, sound and major talent is sure to come to the attention of his peers but better yet, just about anyone headed for the dance floor. Also on board are Richie Bravo whose impressive percussion work for Ricky Martin and Christina Aguilera have garnered him major recognition, and Italy’s Carlo Pennisi, who co-wrote “Piper Dance” and “Maybe Tonight” with Nestor, Daniel Sembello and Baby Boy, among other special guests.
Born in Mayaguez, Puerto Rico, Nestor Torres took flute lessons at age 12 and began formal studies at the Escuela Libre de Musica, eventually attending Puerto Rico’s Inter-American University. At 18, he moved to New York with his family and that is where he first developed his improvisational skills as a charanga flutist. In charanga, the flutist improvises a great deal – the focus of his solos is to make people dance. Even when he plays today, his approach is still very rhythmic and melodic.
Let’s just tell it like it is. SIN PALABRAS is wonderful! Eleven great songs keep you in tune with all of your musical needs. Whether Nestor’s flute is dancing over a hip-hop beat on “Labios Dulzes” or beautifully asking you to “Stop Staring,” Nestor Torres is at the top of his game with or without words. We caught up with the musical genius recently and had a great conversation about SIN PALABRAS, jazz education and much more!
P.E.: Congratulations on SIN PALABRAS your debut for Heads Up. It is being lauded as an instrumental pop masterpiece and we agree! At what point did you feel compelled to write the songs for this new CD?
Nestor: When the association and the opportunity to work with the likes of James Lloyd and Jimmy Haslip came about. But actually working with them is really what got things started. It’s what I call the “Da Muse.” Sometimes the muse will pick up the momentum of the songs and I think you can really say that this is something that really happened that way. We started trying new ideas and things took its course. Also, once when I worked with James, and got to spend time together then he’d come up with some kind of groove and I’d start to play on top of that to give him an idea of what my style and my approach was. So he came up with some other idea. It was back and forth…building upon each other. Something I brought in and he built on it so it was a very symbiotic thing.
P.E.: From the sound of the CD, it seems as if you had a lot of fun!
Nestor: Oh yeah, we certainly did.
P.E.: There’s James Lloyd from Pieces of A Dream, and Jimmy Haslip of The Yellowjackets wearing a few different hats themselves and of course your sensitive inspired flute playing. What was it about the flute that made it your instrument of choice?
Nestor: Oh, simply put, it was different. See my father is a musician so the whole aspect of being around music is very natural for me from the beginning ever since I can remember. So when I had a chance to study music, they asked me what instrument what I wanted to play. So I was looking around and I saw the picture of a flute and thought, “Oh, you know that’s different, I want to try that.” Needless to say with my father being a musician he wasn’t very excited. (Smiles) Flute player??? (Smiles) Oh man!! But he supported me and turned me on to the great musicians like Herbie Hancock and the like…so that’s how I got started.
P.E.: Great, fabulous. Nestor, you’ve included such Latin classics as “Contigo Aprendi,” and “Regalame La Silla Donde Te Espere,” and nine original tunes. This CD will definitely have a long life.
Nestor: I certainly hope so!
P.E.: You guys are “killing” on SIN PALABRAS. This CD is as beautiful as it is hot! What do you want your listeners to gain from your music?
Nestor: Well that’s interesting … the way you asked me that! What do I want them to gain? (Smiles) Okay, the official answer… the light-hearted one. I want them to enjoy and have a good time and make it the soundtrack of their daily lives. And the REAL answer is that I want them to be empowered. To be inspired. Yes, I want them to use this music as the soundtrack of their daily lives whereas they can actually feel that they are actually on a great musical adventure…feeling a great story.
P.E.: What a great way to say it…con palabras! There is a lot of great music on SIN PALABRAS. Who were some of your early supporters along your road to fame?
Nestor: Well I have to start with my family of course. After living in Miami for over 20 years, little by little I started playing in little places here and there and developed a wonderfully devoted following. There is a gentleman named Jeff Fisher who was the music director of a radio station there and he said, “Nestor, please give us a record.” And when he said that, I thought, “Gee, how many recording artists are knocking on the doors of this radio station and here he is asking ME for it.” So that brought about yet another supporter and later a gentleman by the name of Richard Siedel, who was at Polygram at the time, signed me. That’s how is all started.
P.E.: And good for us that they were open minded, reached out and tapped your potential and drew from your vast well of creativity. Nestor, there are so many great songs from around the world. How did you choose which songs would be included on SIN PALABRAS?
Nestor: Well, I wanted…there were two things that I wanted to accomplish. One was to expand my range a bit…to delve more into the R&B, hip-hop language. I specifically use the word “language” because sometimes when a musician is expanding or trying to become more relevant or current, there is a danger or perception that “this is not my style, this is not where I come from” or “if I need to do something other than what I have done up until now, then I guess I’m not really being myself.” And I’ve had to confront those fears myself. But what I discovered through this process of this record was that once I started working with James Lloyd and Jimmy Haslip, it was not so much about my doing some other music that is not who I am, or doing something different, but rather learning a new “language.” It’s very much like me speaking with you in English, but if need be, we can engage in a conversation in Spanish. I’m still the same person; I’m still conveying the same ideas with the same intent. It’s simply a different language. With “Sin Palabras” with that word, I really felt that it was like learning a new language and expanding my range. But on the other side of the spectrum, I did want to bring something of the essence of who I am in terms of my culture and in terms of being Latino. So with “Contigo Aprendi” we decided that we wanted to do something that is very much a Latin standard but that is not necessary known to non-Latin audiences. That way it brings a sense of freshness and originality to non-Hispanic audiences but at the same time, giving the Latin folks a sense of familiarity and a sense of recognition with a song that is loved by many. On the other hand, “Regalame La Silla Donde Te Espere” is a song that I wanted to do to pay homage to one of my favorite artists, Alejando Sanz. He is really such an important artist, very real, very legitimate and during the time that I was in production of the record, his new CD came out. So I got it, listened to it and I loved it. And this song, “Regalame La Silla Donde Te Espere” really inspired me and I wanted to do it. It was just like when I first heard Janet Jackson’s song “Doesn’t Really Matter,” and just had to do it. I included her song on my Grammy winning CD THIS SIDE OF PARADISE and that same feeling happened when I heard Alejandro Sanz’s “Regalame La Silla Donde Te Espere.” I just had to do it.
P.E.: That’s cool, very cool. In terms of inspiration and education, you’ve studied at some of the best music colleges in the world including Berklee College of Music, The Mannes College of Music, and the New England Conservatory of Music. You have really honed your skills and craft over the years and your music is better than ever. Is there one educator/flautist that stands out more so than others with respect to their influence on you to continue playing the flute?
Nestor: Hmmmm, that is a good question. There were really a number of professors but there was this one professor named David Org and he was really a good teacher. Academically it was a combination of factors. But the one that I would have to say even though I never studied with him but his example was my guiding light throughout my process– is that of Hubert Laws. He has set a standard that is yet to be attained by anyone.
P.E.: Wow! You’re absolutely on it. Hubert Laws is an amazing flautist and teacher. I was reminded of his great flute playing after seeing him duet with Chick Corea at a club called Platinum Live in Studio City, CA where Chick was demonstrating the SACD. Hubert was in the audience and Chick invited him onstage to play a couple of songs including “Spain.” It was totally improvised and they were absolutely amazing. So your choice of influences and jazz educators couldn’t be more profound. On another note, I’m sure that you realize had you considered mining another genre other than contemporary Latin jazz i.e., R&B, Pop, Hard Rock, etc. — that the commercial success may have been much more advantageous than most jazz artists realize. I’ve noticed you’ve included Richie Bravo who has worked with Ricky Martin and Christina Aguilera on the CD. Having his pop influence on the CD is probably going to bring in another audience for your music and it’s a brilliant way to introduce your music to another generation. Was this a marketing plan?
Nestor: No, it just so happens that he’s a good friend and has worked with me before. He just said, “Hey man, when you’re doing another record, let me know.” He is a very well versed musician and has his own studio. He was very generous. Richie Bravo understands everything – the hard-core Latin approach, he understands my music well…and having worked with Christina, Ricky and other folks, he has that understanding of where Latin percussion fits within a pop sensibility.
P.E.: He sure does. Nestor, I’m going to change the subject a bit and this question is not to pull you into some political debate about jazz radio, but today, very few jazz stations come close to airing the vast amount of new releases on the market. Give us your strongest argument for jazz radio including new releases and fresher material on their play lists as opposed to just playing oldies or having consultants determine what the consumer will hear. I mean many folks have to turn to satellite radio or Internet radio to find out what’s new out there or to hear the new releases.
Nestor: I am going to be honest. It’s really a mute point because the purpose of radio today is the commercials. But once radio stations realize that their listeners are no longer listening and are going to satellite radio…that a significant portion of the market or the consumer is no longer listening, that will be the day that they make the changes.
P.E.: Hopefully that day will be soon because we all have our favorite radio stations and personalities but sometimes that’s just not enough. Well, Nestor, I’ll tell you, it’s been a real pleasure talking to you. I wish you all the success you’ve ever had and more with SIN PALABRAS. Your music definitely says it all. We really appreciate the interview and thank you so much for all the great music over the years.
Nestor: Thank you, my pleasure.