Saturday, June 20, 2020


A couple of weeks ago I was honored to be part of a Jazz composers roundtable, organized by the Jazz Education Network. There were a few “older” (meaning established, hehehe) composers: Ryan Middagh, Greg Yasinitsky, Roxy Coss, and myself; and the younger composers, past Young Composer Showcase selectees Phillip Ryan Goss, Annie Booth, and Gabriel Severn.

The hang was great! A lot of insights and sharing. It made me reflect on the importance of the mentor/mentee relationship. 

Everybody needs somebody! All of us have had at some point people who helped us become who we are today.

For artists that relationship is very personal and meaningful because those people who become mentors help develop our artistic personality into the kind of artist and people we are today.

As influences, I could mention every teacher, student, and friend I have had over the years. I’ve learned a lot from so many people but today I want to mention a few souls that changed my musical life and helped me become the musician and person I’m today. Those mentors who helped me see the roads (or helped me paved them to make it possible to walk on them) when I needed it.

When I was beginning my musical studies I had the privilege to study with Sonia de Piña. She was the sub-director at the National Conservatory of Music of Santo Domingo. With her I learned how to read music and basic theory. She was also responsible for taking my hand into the Conservatory, which changed my musical path big time. I went from being only a heavy metal guitar player to becoming interested in other styles of music.At the Conservatory I was into classical guitar, and it was my first time playing jazz, big band jazz with the Conservatory Big Band. I like to call Sonia my “musical Mom.”

While I was doing that, I began working with a phenomenal singer, Junior Rodriguez (another rocker who also transitioned to Latin music). The musical director was Dante Cucurullo. A super musician who became my role model and best friend. Dante a classically trained pianist and composer, opened the doors for my professional career as guitarist/keyboardist. He is responsible for most of what I did in DR as an instrumentalist and I consider him my older brother.

In my quest for more jazz knowledge I met a great pianist/arranger l, who had studied at Dick Grove School of Music, Gustavo Rodríguez. A super kind person who got me deep into the world of Jazz theory and arranging. I remember waiting for him to come home (sometimes for hours, literally) to get that weekly lesson. Gustavo taught me Dick Grove’s methods, which showed me the path to pursue studying directly with Mr. Grove himself. 

Dick Grove (d. 1998) organized my musical thinking. He was one of the most inspiring persons I've known and I have to thank him for so much in my musical development. Grove was a super teacher and musician. I studied the CAP (Composing and Arranging Program) with him and still today, the way I think musically I owe to him.

In my first couple of years in the United States I emailed Fred Sturm (d. 2014). He invited me to come to Lawrence University in Appleton, WI., to take a lesson with him. It was supposed to be a 1 hour thing and $100.00. We ended up staying together for two whole days. He introduced me to everyone there and at the end, did not charge me for the lesson! After that, he checked every chart I wrote and gave me his comments, gave me his scores to study, and became the person who opened the doors for me to do my Master's Degree at MTSU. 

At Eastman, Fred had been the professor of Jamey Simmons, who at this point was the jazz composition professor at MTSU. He introduced me to Jamey who became a very close friend for me and my family. Jamey, a fantastic composer and trumpet player, soon became my next mentor and one of the greatest inspirations for both my personal and musical lives.

Just after graduation from MTSU, in 2008, Jamey and I went to a Jazz Composers' Symposium in Tampa, FL. There I met a person who changed my life in so many ways. Mr. David Caffey. He not only became my mentor, but also my jazz composition professor, friend, and boss at UNC. At the time David was the Director of the School of Music and he opened the doors for me to come to this amazing place to do my doctorate. He also gave me my job as Director of Music Tech at UNC. Now retired, he has been one of the biggest influences in the way I see and approach life and music.

As I have had the chance to be a mentor to so many students myself, I can see the relationship from both sides and appreciate the importance of those people in our lives. I'm looking forward to meeting more people and serve as mentor for them; at the same time I'm eager to meet the person(s) who will be next mentor(s) for myself. 

Everybody needs somebody to help them navigate the life turbulences and, for artists, help them grow and discover their own voice.



Sunday, May 24, 2020



I hope you are staying safe during these crazy times and that you and your family are healthy.
It's been hard for me to keep the blog updated but here I am today.

These last few weeks have been really busy online for me.

Strandberg Guitars
The Latino artists for Strandberg Guitars had a great .Stranded* live Zoom with the one and only Ola Strandberg. It was great sharing with the amazing Lore Paz Ampuero and Koke Benavides (Chile), José Macario (Mexico), and Liam (my son) and I
We had a fantastic conversation, which you can watch at the Strandberg Facebook and Youtube pages (

We own three of these amazing instruments now and love them all!!

Fun Challenge
Just for fun (and responding to a challenge from my friend Scott Burstein's from Little Kids Rock) I took a shot at Iron Maiden's "The Trooper" solo on the Classic Malta Blue (right on the picture above). Since he did the first solo, I took Dave Murray's and it felt really great to play it on a "strat-ish" type of instrument. I had't bent strings in a while, hehehe. Here it is:

Conversations in Isolation
I started a live conversation series online, "Conversations in Isolation" (Conversaciones en Aislamiento). I'm inviting a friend every Thursday to talk about music, life, or whatever else. This has been done through Instagram Live, so far. The first guest was the incredible saxophonist Jeff Coffin (Dave Matthews Band, Bela Fleck, and too many others), then we had one of the greatest musicians coming out of the Dominican Republic, Waldo Madera (Ricky Martin, Ricardo Arjona, Juanes, and many, many others). These conversations have been super fun and we are open to questions from the audience. You can watch them on my Instagram and I will upload them to my youtube channel soon.I hope to have alternate between English and Spanish. We hope this helps alleviate the situation the entire world is going through.

Other guests will include many other friends, composers, producers, guitarists, etc. I have some already confirmed that will blow your mind. For next week I'll have the great composer Ron Jones (Star Trek, Family Guy, Fairly Odd Parents, and many others). This one will be on Zoom at the same time (8:00 pm Eastern; 7:00 pm Central; 6:00 pm Mountain; 5:00 pm Pacific). If you are a movie fan or composer, don't miss this one!

Mezclando en Casa (Mixing at Home)
My great friend Allan Leschhorn and I gave a mixing workshop for invited guests on Zoom. Allan is a great musician and one of the best engineers I know. We have worked together since our teens and are still doing things together. Multi Grammy winner, Allan owns a recording studio in Dominican Republic and is the recording and live monitor engineer for Dominican superstar Juan Luis Guerra. The clinic was incredible! Super fun! We had guests from the United States, Spain, Argentina, Chile, and many from the Dominican Republic. Thanks to everyone who attended!!! We hope to keep doing more in the future. 

Frank Gambale Online School
Recently I affiliated with the great Frank Gambale. Frank has been one of my biggest influences andd inspiration for many years and it is an honor to be affiliated to his amazing online school. You can check it out (and get discounted prices on his courses) at: 

Well, that's it for today and I hope I can keep sharing more in the coming weeks. 

Blessings and stay safe,

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