By Carlotta Mohamed
Samuel Torres was only 17 years old when he left his homeland of Bogota, Colombia, to pursue a music career.
He made his way to Miami, Fla., in 1999, where he performed with renowned Latin artists and bands before settling in New York City in 2002. The window of opportunities quickly opened for him here.
Today, the versatile trained percussionist, arranger, and composer of Latin jazz, salsa and Latin pop lives in Long Island City, where he has made a name for himself at home and abroad. His new forthcoming album, “Alegria,” which means “happiness” in English, is a fusion of classic American jazz with contemporary urban Latin dance sounds such as cumbia, boogaloo, and Afro-Cuban jazz.
Music lovers can see the Samuel Torres Super Band perform at a special concert entitled “Alegria, Urban Latin Jazz Portrait” at 7:30 p.m. next Friday at Aaron Davis Hall, presented by The City College Center for the Arts, located on campus at West 135th Street and Convent Avenue. The May 18 performance will include new songs such as “Raquel’s Bolero,” “Salsa, Jazz y Choke,” and “Barretto Power.”
“I’ve always been interested in the amazing music that has come out of New York City, especially the city’s history of welcoming Latin artists and giving them a base to push through new innovations in Latin music like salsa and Latin jazz,” said Torres. “This is one of the reasons I am so happy to bring these new songs to the people of Harlem.”
The Chamber Music America 2017 New Jazz Works Commissioning program with funding from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation made it possible for “Alegria” and the “Alegria, Urban Latin Jazz Portrait” concert. Torres said he is honored to be a two-time winner of the grant in 2012 and 2017, making him the firsthand percussionist to receive the grant. The grant also funds the Boston premiere of the work in concert at Scullers Jazz Club May 24, and the upcoming Alegria album to be recorded later this spring.
Torres grew up listening to music in a household of musicians, including his uncle, Edy Martinez, a pianist-arranger who established himself in the 1970s during the New York City salsa scene. After his career took flight working with the famed American-Cuban jazz trumpeter Arturo Sandoval, Torres joined famous Latin artists, including Ricky Martin, Alejandro Sanz, Shakira and Tito Puente, among others.
“It’s very important as a musician to be open and play many different styles that reach your musical language,” Torres said. “All music can be great if it’s done well. I’m always open to playing with new artists, too.”
Torres’ 2015 album, “Forced Displacement,” was influenced by the violence and political unrest affecting his native Colombia. His new album is dedicated to the people of Colombia and other Latin American nations who are resilient and able to find happiness through any given hardships. For Torres, it’s about reconciliation, peace, love and forgiveness.
“I wanted to do something positive that inspired people to move through the language and Alegria does that,” Torres said.
When Torres is not on tour, he works as a music instructor at a private school in Manhattan, where he is developing the percussion program.
He hopes that people will enjoy the upcoming concert and leave with a feeling of love for life, dance, and happiness.
The Samuel Torres Super Band includes Torres (congas and percussion); Will Vinson (alto saxophone); Joel Frahm (tenor and soprano saxophone); Ivan Renta (baritone saxophone, bass clarinet and flute); Michael Rodriguez (trumpet); Alex Norris (trumpet); Marshall Gilkes (trombone); Luis Perdomo (piano); Rubén Rodríguez (bass); and Pablo Bencid (drums).
Tickets for “Alegria, Urban Latin Jazz Portrait” are on sale now for $30, or $20 for students and seniors with ID. Tickets can be purchased online at www.citycollegecenterforthearts.org, or in person at the Aaron Davis Hall box office Tuesday through Friday from 12 p.m. to 6 p.m. For more details visit the CCCA site or call the Aaron Davis Box Hall office at (212) 650-6900.
Reach reporter Carlotta Mohamed by e-mail at cmoha