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Boricua Pioneer: Dr. William Cepeda



William Cepeda

Dr. William Cepeda is a highly regarded trombonist, percussionist, shell player, composer, arranger, bandleader, producer, and visionary. In 1992 he revolutionized Puerto Rican music when he introduced the sub-genre Afro-Rican Jazz, an innovative blend of traditional Puerto Rican rhythms, folk, dance, progressive jazz, and World Music.

A protégé of the late, great Dizzy Gillespie, Cepeda was a member of the United Nations Orchestra. Also, he has traveled the world and performed with Lester Bowie and his Brass Fantasy, David Murray, James Moody, Steve Turre, Bobby Watson, Miriam Makeba, and Slide Hampton & the Jazz Masters. And on the “Latin Side” with Tito Puente, Paquito D’Rivera, Arturo Sandoval, Eddie Palmieri, Celia Cruz, Marc Anthony, Rubén Blades, Oscar de León and Humberto Ramírez among others .

Dr. William Cepeda – Photo credit: Tomas Peña

In 1997, Cepeda founded Casabe Records and produced a series of seminal recordings by Isabel Albizú (Matriarch of the Bomba, 2011), proclaimed by The National Foundation for Popular Culture as one of the best of the year. Also, with Féelix Alduen (leader of the Grupo Afrocuba and expert in the Bombas of Mayagüez, 2015), Los Hermanos Ayala, Angel Luis Torruellas (2017), Bomba Sinfónica (2017), and his group, Afro-Rican Jazz.

Cepeda is also the creator of the 4-volume Encyclopedia: La Música de Puerto Rico: Raíces y Evolución (Spanish Edition, 2012), which provides a comprehensive understanding of Bomba, Plena, La Danza, and La Música Jíbara through teaching materials, high-quality recordings, videos, monographs, songs, a curriculum, and teacher guides for elementary, middle, and high school levels. Currently, the encyclopedia is out-of-print however an updated bilingual, interactive edition is in the works.

In 2019, Cepeda launched the Lo Nuestro Tour, whose goal was to travel to Puerto Rico’s 78 municipalities and educate youth about the roots and evolution of Puerto Rican music. In 2020, when the pandemic struck, the tour went virtual and is ongoing. The same year, Cepeda received a historic grant from Chamber Music America, which included performances at The Ponce Museum of Art, The Culebra Foundation, and The University of Puerto Rico (Río Piedras). The grant and the performances marked the first collaboration between art institutions in Puerto Rico and the United States.

Unknown to many of his followers, William Cepeda holds multiple academic tiles, including Doctor of Music, Major: Jazz Performance and Composition (Berklee College of Music), Master of Arts in Music (Aaron Copland School of Music), Major: Performance (Trombone) and Composition (Queens College, CUNY), Major: Music Education and Trombone (Puerto Rico Conservatory of Music), Bachelor of Music (Berklee College of Music). Also, his artistic excellence, authenticity, and advocacy, research, and documentation of Puerto Rican music, dance, and culture has earned Cepeda multiple awards and grants.

Cepeda appears on over fifty recordings as a leader and sideman. Also, he is the composer of roughly 150 original compositions. In addition, he is the subject of the 2003 documentary film, El Trombón de Bomba and El Jazz de William Cepeda by the French filmmaker Louise Ernst.

When I spoke with Cepeda last, he was taping a series of virtual concerts, composing the score for a play, putting the final touches on two upcoming recordings.

In this writer’s view, two of Cepeda’s most significant achievements are, putting Puerto Rican music and culture on the world stage and creating a genre that is unique to Puerto Rico. William Cepeda represents the past, present, and future of Puerto Rican music!

Artist website:


  • Casabe Records
  • Cepeda, William – Website, Página Oficial (Facebook)
  • Cepeda, William -Encyclopedia: La Música de Puerto Rico: Raíces y Evolución (Spanish Edition, 2012)

© 2021 Tomas Peña

A graduate of Empire State College with a dual major in journalism and Latin American studies, Tomas Peña has spent years applying his knowledge and writing skills to the promotion of great musicians. A specialist in the crossroads between jazz and Latin music, Peña has written extensively on the subject.

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