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Ray Vázquez writes:

People important in my musical development:

God, the Almighty Father, Jesus & Mary: I know He Is, Was and always Will Be with me…I’m still here because despite the operation (9/11/2002), I’m still functioning at better levels musically than I was before the operation…He still wants me here…still things for me to do…I’m trying not to let Him down…trying not to waste His gift of life to me…trying to make Him proud of me…I asked Her for permission to play well…She’s given me more than I dreamed for…I’m trying to make Her proud of me, too…

Mom (Adjuntas) & Dad (Orocovis-Barranquitas): I’m a direct heir and extension of their love for PR music. Mom’s dad (grandfather I never met, died mid 1950’s), was the “known” musician of the family, although he never left Adjuntas, or liked his picture taken (Neri Orta knew him in his early years). My direct influence comes from dad, who loves to sing décimas, and plays a bit of cuatro and guitar himself. Mom & dad took my brother and me often to the Teatros Puerto Rico, Boulevard, Commodore, and other theatres, and there I watched with my own eyes the many celebrities and stars of Musica Popular Puertorriqueña and Musica Jibara , and how the crowds responded in awe and ecstasy, amidst laughter, tears, and drowning applauses. Dad and his brother Ramiro (my godfather) were the musical family group I grew up listening to as a little boy, dad on cuatro and tio Ramiro on guitar. Dad had recordings of Ramito, German Rosario, Trio Los Condes, Odilio Gonzalez, and many others which I was allowed to handle (I guess I memorized the albums by colors, before I could actually read the notes). They are the best example in my life of the PuertoRican who comes to America and gets ahead despite the language barriers and discrimination, without losing identity.

Mom’s oldest sister and my godmother. God claimed her at 49, but she left (a) a deep impression on me because of her “family bond” attitude, humility & determination, as well as (b) every worldly financial possession so that I “must finish college”. She also let me handle her records, and gave me my very own turntable when I was about 6 or so (a small one, but functional…I can still hear Tobita Medina singing “El Juicio Final” in my head!).

Father Francisco “Pachi” Anduaga, CRL:
A wonderful spiritual adviser, and a consummate pianist and accordionist, he alone taught me how to decipher the “hieroglyphics” of reading music when I was 13.

Quique Otero: For his patience and confidence in my abilities at 14, to be his bassist (he played lead electric guitar and cuatro) , and along with a percussion section of timbales and congas, plus a singer, we played many, many Church dances, just the 5 of us. He fueled my initial enthusiasm for the cuatro with basic standard repertoire.

Iris: My aunt, and the person who, as a response to my new enthusiasm, gave me a gem of an LP as a present to “take wing” on my cuatro—“Danzas de Puerto Rico” by Nieves Quintero.

Juan A. “Tony” Nieves (“Moña”): Cousin to the great Modesto Nieves, cuatrista, guitarrista and excellent trombonist and arranger. After convincing my parents to let me, at 16 yrs old, stay out late under his protection, he took me to higher levels of involvement in the New York music scene, specifically in Salsa orchestras. His abilities on the cuatro made it possible for me to experience new and challenging repertorie, like the compositions of his cousin, Modesto, and other contemporary players such as Neftalí Ortíz and Edi Lopez.

Celeste Sanchez:
Pianist: she gave me the first opportunity on my Ampeg “Baby Bass” in her orchestra, as well as an exquisite Seth Thomas metronome (I still have it, Celeste!). We played the themes which were current Salsa hits (1978-1981), as well as old standards.

Juan Gonzalez and Neri Orta:
As I had already exhausted every possible instrumental recording available to me in NY, thanks to a meeting planned by Edi Lopez’s cousin, guitarist Victor Santana, we met in 1982, and it was as if I had met the legendary Maestro Ladí himself, a man who musically I am greatly influenced by. They selflessly opened up a glorious world of folkloric gems handed down to them by Maestro Ladí himself. I played extensively alongside Nerí and Juan, and they introduced me to other great cuatristas living in Puerto Rico and in the US, whom I eventually would meet and play with, such as Roque Navarro, Pepe Rodriguez, Sarrail Archilla, and Tito Baez. It was precisely Tito Baez who, at the Teatro Boulevard, introduced me to the other person to whom, musically speaking, I am deeply influenced by…the great Nieves Quintero (Tito Baez was his NY- based accompanist at the time).

Nieves Quintero: One of the greatest musical influences of my life, for whom I have great admiration for as musician and friend, and who I today have the honor of accompanying musically. His importance in my development as a cuatro player follows: Nieves Quintero is responsible for “setting the cuatro on fire”. He clearly and undisputedly expanded the harmonic, melodic and rhythmic propositions of the instrument, in all styles he executed, whether it be popular or folkloric, and especially in his jíbaro recordings alongside Claudio Ferrer and later Maneco Velazquez, with whom he formed a highly influential and notorious “binomio”, very danceable, and very progressive harmonically and rhythmically. Despite the obvious threats against the cuatro’s existence (the arrival of trio music, and subsequently pachanga, boogaloo and salsa), Nieves’ recordings were then, and are now, testimonials of an artist of the highest standards of musical excellence and which the likes had never been seen before, nor since (with all respects to today’s “big names”). Anyone playing a cuatro today is without doubt directly influenced by him

Yomo Toro: A warm, very friendly, very jovial human being. I very often go right back to his fiery arrangements for popular music sung by Odilio Gonzalez and José Miguel Class ”El Gallito de Manatí”, which still serve to me as part of the cornerstone of great cuatro arranging and execution. A stronghold of Puerto Rican music in the New York scene, and a much-in-demand instrumentalist, even to this day.

Sarrail Archilla and Polo Ocasio: The robust “macho” sound of Archilla’s cuatro resonates in my inner ear with a presence that will not leave me ever. Their exquisite arrangements for popular music, as well as international music reinforced in me the truth that the cuatro is a dignified instrument, capable of expressing all types of genres, and just as Maestro Ladí infused a great sense of class and respect in his musical endeavours with the cuatro, so did these two artists. They, as well as Neri and Juan, shared with me their experiences, and gave me much encouragement, even to this day when I have the opportunity to accompany Polo Ocasio on informal gatherings.

Modesto Nieves and Neftalí Ortíz: Their friendship is an inspiration for betterment as a musician and as a human being, selflessly sharing their experiences with me, as I with them. They are responsible for taking the cuatro to other levels of execution and expression, often incorporationg influences from classical music, South American folkloric music, as well as jazz and Brazilian themes. These are the most influential contemporary cuatro players of the new generation. They have influenced many recognized cuatro artists of today, and are the “binding tie” between now and the great masters of yesterday.

Arnaldo Martinez: For being the musical brother I needed next to me as I got used to living in Puerto Rico, and for introducing me to so many wonderful people…for sharing his experiences with me, a “forastero”, a newcomer to the Puerto Rico cuatro scene. He is a treasure of the 2nd cuatro tradition, and I dare to say that there are little or no cuatro players around today with his know-how for executing such a demanding role…a rightful heir to the Maestro Ladí tradition.

Nicanor Zayas: A “living legend” at 98 years of age, he was very influential to cuatro players of the mountainous regions of central Puerto Rico (Ciales- his native town, Morovis, Orocovis, Barranquitas, etc.). I would quickly reference him any day I am asked to produce cuatro music that sounds “authentically Puertorican”. His rapid triplet scales and punchy right hand execution is a very idiomatic style which I have incorporated into my “jíbaro-style” interpretations, which is also a trademark of Francisco”Pancho” Ortíz Piñeiro, his counterpart in the Musica Jíbara style (Don Nicanor leaned more toward instrumental and popular motives). He has shared with me a numerous amount of his compositions and advice, and I am honored by his friendship, as well as of his beautiful family.

Maso Rivera: The most “jibaro” personality of all cuatro players. His style of playing clearly reflects the Ciales tradition of “Pancho Ortíz Piñeiro and Nicanor Zayas, and with his tongue-in-cheek humor, instilled a very honest, grass-roots approach to the cuatro, with a very jibaro flavor. Maso gave the first recording “break” to many renowned trobadores of today. I treasure the times we spent together in his home going over his repertoire and listening to his anecdotes.

Eugenio Mendez, Angel “Wimbo” Rivera, Lucio Antonio Cordero, Ismael Santiago: For their patience in making for me the best cuatros they could, and for sharing their enthusiasm and ideas on creating a better instrument.