J02: The Latin Jazz Beat

Last week I had a chance to sit in on Jaime Flores’ exciting new show, “The Latin Jazz Beat,” heard every Friday from 7 to 11 p.m. on radio station WICN 90.5 FM. The program, “takes you on a wild ride through the intoxicating sounds of Latin jazz,” as the hype reads. “Dance and party the night away to music from Poncho Sanchez, Arturo Sandoval, Paquito D’Rivera, Tito Puente and more.”

Flores is one of the most recognized voices in Worcester radio – especially if you understand Spanish. For more than 30 years he’s hosted a variety of shows at community radio station WCUW 91.3 FM. He was one of the first Spanish programmers of “La Voz del Pueblo,” heard at the station back in the ’70s, when shows were broadcast in the basement of Sanford Hall at Clark.

Flores is also one of the more familiar faces in local TV. For more than 40 years, he’s been involved in Spanish programming for television. His latest project is hosting “Worcester Latino,” a 30-minute segment, which airs on WCTR-TV3. A little man with a big voice, Flores is the perfect choice for “The Latin Jazz Beat.” Although, the “Beat” has only been aired five weeks (it was a year in the making), it is rapidly finding an audience. “I get as many Anglos as Latinos listening,” Flores says.

Besides being a popular personality in town, his passion for the music is deep and undeniable. Sitting in front of the console at the Portland Street station, Flores surrounds himself with CDs that he spins throughout the night, some from ‘ICN’s library, most from his own collection.

After cuing up a cut, he takes time to just sit and listen. Like taking sips from the 16 oz bottle of Coca-Cola that he brought along to quench his thirst during the four-hour radio drive, he appears to drink in the sound of every track he plays. When his favorite conga drummer or “conguero,” hits an evocative rhythmic groove, Flores shouts, “Hear that? Unbelievable!”

Flores is particularly fond of drummers. As a kid he played the instrument. “The battery,” as he calls it. “I know all the rhythms — cha-cha, the clave, guanguanco, you know. Poncho Sanchez is my favorite.”

As much as he was excited about doing the show, Flores says he comes to it with a certain reluctance. “I’m used to playing salsa music,” he says. “Mostly three-minute cuts. I have my favorites, but I’ve never done a Latin jazz show before.”

Flores says he works without a script, playing what he likes and feels. He reaches back to the architects of the music like Tito Puente, Machito, Mario Bauza and Tito Rodriquez, and forward to new artists as well, like the Caribbean Jazz Project, Ray Vega and Alex Garcia. In between, he takes listeners on a tour of the Spanish-African Diaspora in music. The names on the CDs scattered on the console read like a who’s who of Latin Jazz – Bebo and Chucho Valdes, David Valentin, Mongo Santamaria, Bobby Sambria, Eddie Palmieri and Ray Barretto. He also plays artists and friends from the Boston scene like Mili Bermejo, Claudio Ragazzi and Mango Blue.

“It’s a shame there’s no place to go and hear Latin jazz live in Worcester,” Flores says cuing up another track. “People would love it.” As a group of all-stars on the incredible disc called Jam Miami: A Celebration of Latin Jazz unwind their tribute to Tito Puente, Flores says, “There’s some players in town like Cecilio Elicier. He plays salsa and jazz. Of course, there’s Miquel Almestica. It would be nice to bring in guys like Eguie Castrillo from Boston, but that’s going to take some bucks.”

Flores’ style is relaxed and surprisingly brief when rapping on the mike. For those used to the rapid fire delivery of his Spanish shows, this is quite the departure. Using a bed of the ballad “My Way,” played lushly by trumpeter Arturo Sandoval, Flores gives the time, a little color, list the tunes and gets out of the way.

After a public service announcement and underwriting sponsorship for the Latin newspaper Vocero is aired, Flores returns to the music. “I don’t want to be talking all the time,” he says. “What’s the point? I want to hear the music.”

Returning to the conversation of live music in Worcester, Flores says he hopes to influence the decision making process in determining who plays the Jazz at Sunset series that WICN produces at the EcoTarium every summer. He also talks about suggesting ideas for the annual Latin Festival. He says, hearing pianist Enrique “Papo” Lucca at last year’s festival was a major highlight.

Over the years Flores has had the opportunity to interview some big names in the world of Latin music. He recalls capturing a conversation with Jose Feliciano at Clark on an old eight-track recording device and also mentions interviewing Larry Harlow of the Fania All-Stars.

Flores has been in town so long, locals take him as one of their own. He is actually from Columbia, but grew up in the Boston area in a family of four children. He has a brother still living back home, another in Venezuela and a sister in London. Flores stays in touch and visits when he can. He’s especially excited about WICN’s feature of streamlining shows on the world wide web — that way his siblings can tune in.

When asked if he gets many phone calls from people tuning in to his show Flores says, “Not really. I’m just getting started. I think they don’t call when they are content.”

As if on cue, the phone rings in the middle of a beautiful rendition of “El Manisero,” or “Peanut Vendor” by Paquito D’Rivera. The popular Cuban song is a standard throughout the world. It is essentially a call and response piece between the seller and his potential buyers. It’s a wonderful metaphor for the relationship Flores is trying to establish with his developing audience.

Tune in. You’ll be sold on “The Latin Jazz Beat.”

YouTube clip tip: Machito & Graciela En Japan, pt. 1

It should be noted that great Latin jazz can also be heard every Sunday from 9 to 11 p.m. at WORC 1310 AM. The show is called “Ran Kan Kan: The Best of Latin Jazz at Night.” In addition to playing the hits, host Edwin Cancel presents news, commentary and interviews. On Sunday, March 11, tune in to hear a phone conversation with percussionist Paoli Mejias, whose latest CD is called Transcend. For those outside of the Central Massachusetts area, tune in at www.power1310.com. Call-in at 508-791-1310, or write to rankankan@power1310.com.

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