Jack "El Oso" : You were born in New Jersey, right ? Can you describe for us the musical environment in which you were born and where you grew up ? Any early influences, what did your parents listen to ?
- Jimmy Bosch à la sortie de la sieste
- Photo : Jack "El Oso"
JB : There were many. My parents listened to salsa music, and typical musical from Puerto Rico, trios, quartets from the Puerto Rico ballad groups. When my mother was a teenager she used to sing ballads with small groups from Puerto Rico. They would sing the hits of groups like Trio Los Panchos, groups from Puerto Rico back in the day. Of course there were salsa records always playing. In my home, there was always a festive environment when it came to music. Around that time the Beatles were a big thing, so I listened to a lot of the Beatles, believe it or not. I listened to a bit of hard rock at school, because that’s what the other kids listened to. I listened to salsa music and traditional Puerto Rican music at home. Very little jazz, whatever I was exposed to at school. Mostly rock and salsa. Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, because there was always music on the TV and the shows and the movies that I saw, so I heard music that way, and classical music due to the cartoons when I was a kid. Those were the earliest influences.
jsalsero : How do you manage to rehearse and work with a backing band at a distance ?
JB : Sometimes presenters and producers want to hear the music of the records but cannot afford to bring my entire band from New York. So sometimes I travel around the world and I put a band together, or there is an existing band where I go, like Athens, Greece, or here in Europe. Mercadonegro is a very very good band, great musicians and they often back up not only myself but other artists. So we come in from out of town and we bring our books. The best case scenario is that we rehearse that band for a day before the performance, and usually the lead singer of the band will learn 6-7-8 pieces of my original songs from my records and we put a show together that way. Or I travel with my lead singer. The most authentic show that is labeled the Jimmy Bosch show is my band, of course. It happens for budget reasons more than for anything else that people that still want to bring me but cannot afford to bring my entire band. In Japan, in Osaka, I use a japanese band and I bring my singer. It usually works, it’s a lot a fun. It’s never really the same as bringing my own band because as a musician you know that when you have a band that you work with on a regular basis, it’s not just the music, it’s a chemistry, and it’s magic that happens between musicians on stage show after show after show. So tonight, not only did I not rehearse the band for this show, I came in and did a sound check, so tonight we will peform the music and hope for the best. I will sing a little bit tonight because they’re my songs and I know the lyrics, or Armando, the lead singer of Mercadonegro, will sing some of my songs that he knows from doing shows previously. I think it will be exciting, because my commitment is to always keep it exciting and they’re great musicians. In a situation like this what I focus on is the descarga jam session element because that’s part of what defines a Jimmy Bosch show anyway. So there will be a lot of soloing and I’ll look to shift the energy where I feel it on stage, and either way whether it’s my band or any other band, it’s an exciting night because that’s what I do. I’m an expert at delivering energy and the element of surprise, improvisation, moñas and making up moñas in spots. One of the things that we did rehearse today was to rehearse the brass section about how I think as a brass player, and how I execute the whole process of playing moñas, because it’s an art form that not everybody understands and not everybody does in the same way. The way I do is a unique approach, and that’s the way we’ll do it tonight.
Jack "El Oso" : How about a few words on Manny Oquendo ?
JB : Manny Oquendo is one of my all-time teachers. Manny Oquendo is the leader of a group that was once called Conjunto Libre, and then he left, and now many people just know that the band’s name is Libre. Libre is an institution of this music. Many salsa artists have come through that band and have been schooled in that band in so many ways. One of the things that artists like myself have absorbed by playing in Libre with Manny Oquendo is the commitment to keeping the music authentic in its expression. Manny Oquendo plays afro-cuban music today like the way he played it forty years ago. He has never looked to reinvent the wheel. He fell in love with Cuban music and then he started to express that music by way of his experience as an artist, from New York from Puerto Rico. The energy that Libre has is a format that includes a great deal of freedom of expression. There’s a lot of improvisation, a lot of solo playing, it’s raw, intense, there’s a lot of passion, a lot of freedom in the expression. That’s what I have learned from Manny Oquendo, that’s what I deliver with my band. I’m creating an extension of what Manny Oquendo has been putting out for so many years. I am a student of Manny Oquendo and I say it proudly because I learned to play with him. One of the things that I learned is to never lose the love for the music and always keep the dancer in mind. All of the music that Manny plays is dancer-centered. If you listen to my records, no matter what music I’m performing, it’s dancer-centered, all of my songs, all of my music and all of the rhythms that I play, that is the same for Manny Oquendo and Libre as well. Same thing for Cachao. There is a particular group of artists in this business, you can hand-pick them, and say, this guy, like Andy Montanez, like Manny Oquendo, Hector Lavoe, there’s something very unique about our makeup, the way we are made up, the way we play this music and deliver it and express it. If you really really know the business and know the music you can say, you can put all these guys together, and no matter what they perform, it will be magical.
jsalsero : How do you see the future of this music ?
JB : The future is what we make it. Clearly, there are cats like me, who refuse to blow in the direction of the wind because the wind is blowing in a different direction. I do what I do because I love what I do because I believe in what I do and I believe in how I do it. There are many many genres of music that evolve and spring up, like reggaeton for example. All of those genres are important because the youth cling on to new genres and they use a genre or a new rhythm or a new style of dance as a form of their personal expression to the world. And so for me all of that music and all of those genres are important. But I also believe that it’s important for me to maintain my commitment as an artist to a music that we love. Salsa music has been important for what, a hundred years maybe, I don’t even know, but I can tell you that a hundred years from now, some of those other genres that spring up will be gone, and salsa will still be here because of cats like me. I continue to record salsa authentically, without diluting it with other rhythms. A lot of salseros do that. If reggaeton for example were making millions of dollars for some artist and some record labels, guess what happens, everybody would want to play reggaeton, why ? Because they want to make money too. But I refuse to record reggaeton in one of my salsa songs because I don’t believe that it is necessary. I think that if I do that I cheat my art, my following, my salsa community. I think salsa music is important enough and, at least for me, it should remain authentic in its expression and its documentation. So when I document my next record, it will be a salsa-descarga record, why, because it’s what I do, it’s what I love, and it’s what I’m committed to putting out.
Jack "El Oso" : On your three albums, we have 99% of your own music. Don’t you think that there is a lack of creativity in the salsa revival today ?
JB : Yes, no doubt.
Jack "El Oso" : ...everybody just remakes old songs.
JB : Here’s what I think. To some extent, yes. There is a lack of courage to put out original music on the business end of it.
Jack "El Oso" : Why ? Why does it take courage ?
- photo : Jack el Oso
JB : Because it takes big balls to do what I do. You gotta have big balls. (laughs)...to do what I do. I started to compose or write songs about my own life, not to make a million dollars. I started writing songs to heal. One of the things that I discovered is that there is a huge healing power in lyrics, and rhythm. With all that I’ve experienced in my life, songwriting became one of the ways that I shared my pain with the world. Pain shared is pain lessened, you understand ? And we all listen to music from childhood - we all listen to music and what happens, we feel good. So I’m very clear today that lyrics and rhythms and sounds are used by the listeners, us, humans, to feel better, to heal, to cry, to share, to communicate, to say things that otherwise we can’t say ourselves. Sometimes we hear a song and say, that’s exactly what’s happening in my life, and we use that song to communicate a feeling to someone else that we need them to know, about what’s going on in our life. So not only did I write songs to heal, because of that healing element, but after awhile I had enough songs to make a record, and I embraced that challenge. And then I discovered that the world uses my songs for healing too, to feel good, and to dance, and all of that magic happens. So, I continue to do that. For me, it’s worth more for one person to come up to me in tears, which has happened often, and say, thank you for this song that you wrote because it touched my heart, because this has happened in my life. In one of the songs I talk about losing a brother to drugs and alcohol. There are millions of people around the world who identify with that experience and a song like Otra Oportunidad allows them to feel their pain, and process their pain, and feel better, and create permission for us to move along with life.
Jack "El Oso" : And isn’t making new versions of old songs part of this music ?
JB : Well, here’s the second answer to your question. The thing is, that, thank God there are instrumentalists like George Delgado, Jimmy Delgado, Chino Nuñez, Spanish Harlem Orchestra, all of these bands, Frankie Vazquez, record after record of Soneros del Barrio, remakes of all these songs that they particularly love, or loved, when they were growing up as musicians in the salsa business. These were the songs and the tracks that moved them. And for them to be able to make a fast record and re-record their favorite salsa tunes and put them out again as band leaders is still a good thing for salsa music because it is re-introducing great songs that the young people of today are really not familiar with because they didn’t get to live while we lived, growing up listening to those songs. It’s like salsa 101 hardcore, on new records. Now my hope is that after one or two records by each of these artists, that they start blending in original songs with some of the remakes, until they get to the level where they do entire records with original material. For me it’s original material for the entire record because that’s my way.
jsalsero : Can you tell us about your favorite trombone players and composers and songwriters in particular ?
JB : Wow, well clearly one of the important songwriters whose music I ended up playing with many groups like Fania All Stars, maybe the best in New York, was Tite Curet. He was probably the most significant of the composers of salsa music that I really got to enjoy, on many records and by many artists. Trombonists ? Barry Rogers, José Rodriguez, Reinaldo Jorge, Willie Colon, and my all-time favorite trombonist, dig, is Papo Vazquez, I’ve been saying that for years. He’s one of the trombone players that I got to play with and share the stage with who I believe is really really capable of playing not only salsa authentically, but afro-cuban music, Puerto Rican music, jazz music, hard core jazz, straight jazz. Steve Turre, another big influence in my life as a trombonist. For me, all of my main influences are definitely within Latin music, salsa music. For bands : I think of singers. When we talk about singers, Hector Lavoe, Ismael Rivera, Pete el Conde Rodriguez, Rubén Blades, all the soneros, the real soneros, the cats who always have a unique ability to use their voices as instruments, melodically in a very interesting way, and who really sang freely. Every night they sang, something magical came out of their mouth. They sing about people they see in front of them, about things that happened in their lives that day, they turn it into a joke… The real soneros are my biggest influences. Who do I imitate as a trombone player ? Soneros and percussionists, lead singers who improvise, not just pretty pictures who sing the same shit all the time… and percussionists, who are they ? Manny Oquendo, Ray Barretto, Roberto Roena, and why ? Because these guys never played with speed and rapidity, (imitates a machine gun) they played : bap, do do, bap, ou, black black boom blackadap da bap, and so what do I do ? Bee, do bap, doo doo bing bing bap, the communication that I feel and experience from these guys is very simple, and the best way of complimenting in music is imitation. So that’s what I’ve done. For me, simplicity as a trombonist is to play like a percussionist, but to tell a story like a singer. That’s my magic, that’s the secret, that’s what I do.
jsalsero : we’ll need that for the transcription.
JB : [laughs, and sings :] bing bap bap
Jack "El Oso" : today you’re considered by many people as the ambassador of salsa dura.
JB : thank you.
Jack "El Oso" : Now, in the 1990s, you were not only part of Marc Antony’s orchestra, you were also his musical director for a year. I respect Marc Antony...
JB : Me too.
Jack "El Oso" : ...but for many of us hardcore salsa fans, he represents very much the opposite of salsa dura. How did you go from musical director of Marc Antony’s orchestra... to becoming the ambassador of salsa dura today ?
JB : Because I never left my commitment to playing aggressive salsa. When I was with Marc Antony, I had my band together, so my primary focus was still my band. I would be on tour with Marc Antony for three months, and in those three months I left the tour six or seven times to do shows with my band. And then I would fly back and continue the tour with Marc. Why ? Because my real love has always been salsa dura. I’m a lucky guy, because I’ve always been connected, even when salsa romantica took over, when even the hard salsa bands started shifting their format because they were desperate, I was one of the guys that was still working with Ismael Cachao Lopez’s descarga band, I was one of the guys who was still performing with Fania All Stars, even while the salsa romantica stuff was happening. It was my frustration with that era that resulted in me finally launching my solo career and I put my own band together to do Soneando Trombone, my first record. It was not that big of a shift. It was harder for me to do salsa romantica, than it was for me to leave Marc Antony to do salsa dura and become the ambassador. I think the main reason why people refer to me as the ambassador of salsa dura is that I’ve been doing it for 35 years. One of the things that happened with the Marc Antony band, is that I injected more solo space to feature some of the artists in the band. I was one of the people that kept the pressure on for Marc to start announcing the names of the artists who soloed. He never did that. And when he started doing that the audience appreciated that, said "wow that’s cool that you acknowledge the band" and now he does it regularly, at all his shows. I’m a salsa dura guy. I always have been.
Jack "El Oso" : This is a related question : you spent almost 20 years working as a side man either for shows or in studio recordings. Why did it take you so long to start your solo career, what happened, what triggered it ?
- photo : Jack el Oso
JB : I think for so many years, I was having too much fun as a side man. (laughs). If you look at my discography, if you listen at all the records I recorded on, I have recorded as a soloist on 90% of the 16 records I recorded on. My comfort, for 25 years, was simply to go and play for the love of the music. I was one of those guys who enjoyed firing up, energizing, any band that I was working with. When I was with Ray Barretto, I played four or five moñas in every song, and with Libre, nothing but moñas and solos, all night long. Cachao, Fania All Stars, all those groups that I worked with, and more, Charlie Rodriguez, back in the day, I have 76s, in all those charanga bands from those days, there were very few cats who would blow moñas, and I would come in and blow moñas all night long and solos all night long. I was having too much fun. When that romantica thing happened there were fewer settings for me to be able to do that. So I started to get frustrated. I was playing with groups like India, and I didn’t have very much space for solos. It was just what it was. Marc Antony was the same thing, it was a high profile gig. He was very successful very quickly, he got a great deal of support from the record labels, it was a comfortable gig as a sideman, I got paid very well. But I used all of that to always feed what I really loved, salsa dura.
Jack "El Oso" : But what made you start your own band ?
JB : I don’t know.
Jack "El Oso" : Was it just... growing up ?
JB : Here’s what happened. There’s a woman named Ana Arais,
Jack "El Oso" : Ana from SOBs ?
JB : ...at SOB’s. She managed Monday nights at SOBs, and I performed there many times with many groups. One day, I said to Ana, "I would love to perform at SOBs with my band if you would give me a date on the calendar." And she looks at me and she says, "but you don’t have a band." I said "yeah, I know." She said, "well you don’t have music." And I said, "yeah, I know." And she said, "So why should I give you a date to perform at SOBs ?" I said, "well, you give me a date to perform at SOBs with my band and I’ll put a band together in fifteen minutes on paper and I’ll have the music ready." That’s exactly what happened. And she looked at me and saw that I was serious, and she said, "ok, let’s look at the calendar, what about March 26, 1996." And I said "ok, great, give me a yellow pad," and I started. I thought about my first choice for piano, my first choice for bass, and I went right down the line and put a 14-piece band together, and then I had second choices, second and third depending on whether not people might be available. And when she saw the list she said, "oh my God, that’s a spectacular show." And you know how I knew ? Because I knew the guys that love the music, who play the music like I do. It was easy to put a band together of superstars, so to speak, superstars for me are just guys who have the same fire, the same passion and love for the music, and who were hungry to perform in that setting. It was easy. That’s how it started.
jsalsero : Why is a songo featured on your latest album ? Is there an interest in what happens in Cuban music today, or is it the influence of Papo Vazquez ?
JB : Well, clearly, that’s one of the influences, that’s a great record. The first record that Batacumbele put out, is their greatest record. Songo, why not ? It’s one of the influences that I was exposed to. When I record a record and document a record, I don’t want to record 11 tracks of the same rhythm, I think that’s cheating my audience, and so I record a little bit of everything that has been a part of my journey. For my next record I want to have an aguinaldo, which is a rhythm from Puerto Rico, these are all just rhythms that fall under the umbrella term of salsa music, every one of those rhythms have their own name but because it’s a band like mine they fall under the umbrella term of salsa music. Why, because I say so, that’s it, end of story. (laughs) Songo is one of those rhythms that I actually like very much, I didn’t even plan it, it’s how I experienced the song when I wrote the song. I said to the arranger, Angel Fernandez, I feel this like a songo in this section, and he records that, and as he’s writing the arrangement for that piece, he incorporates songo because that’s what I experienced when I was writing it, that’s what I feel, and that’s what we put out.
Jack "El Oso" : What are your opinions about today’s modern Cuban music ?
JB : I don’t really listen to a lot of it. I like timba, there’s a group in Miami called Tiempo Libre, it’s a high-energy, fun band, but I can’t really speak about the music responsibly. And I probably don’t listen to a lot of it because I don’t really care for it too much. I can enjoy a little of it some of the time, like I enjoy a lot of different genres of music. I don’t believe that timba is the only definition for modern Cuban music. I think that modern Cuban music is timba and a whole lot of other things. So you have to be careful that you don’t define or limit contemporary Cuban music as just timba, because I think that’s a mistake. Just like salsa music today is defined by many different elements - one of the reasons I have been stuck under salsa dura terminology is so that people can easily separate me from the rest of the pack, people know exactly what they’re getting from me when they say, or when I say salsa dura. I think that by now, most people are educated to say, Jimmy’s just a hard-core crazy guy, but he gives it to you right…
Jack "El Oso" : what music do you listen to in your car, in your home ?
JB : I listen to…
Jack "El Oso" : For instance, what’s the last cd you listened to in your car ?
JB : well, here’s a surprise for you. As you know I own my own record label now, so as a record label, I am producing now a record for a group called Momposónica, a rock en español band, that I happen to enjoy and like and I believe in them. Six Colombian musicians who live in my neighborhood back in New Jersey, who play original music, they have a unique flavor, they include a lot of different rhythms from Colombia, and different Spanish-speaking countries into their rock delivery, rock expression. So that’s one of the things that I listen to lately, rock in espanol, because I’m entering that world as a producer. When I listen to salsa music, I still listen to the old records more than anything else, I don’t really listen to the new stuff. I hear the new stuff when it comes out, like George Delgado’s album I might listen to a few times. I don’t buy much music because I have relationships with a lot of distributors and I get my hands on the new stuff that way. Some stuff I put on and I take it off before I finish listening to the record and I never go back to it. Other records like George Delgado’s record, I will listen to from the first track to the last track and then I listen to the tracks that I care for perhaps some more and the tracks that I don’t really care for I skip over (laughs). What I brought with me on this trip to listen to on the plane for example, is Bebel Gilberto, some Brazilian music, some classical, because sometimes I need to hear different melodic and harmonic interpretations and a softer music for my nervous system. My life is so high-energy that I use music when I travel for meditation more than anything else.
jsalsero : is there a musician that you haven’t worked with that you’d like to work with, or anyone from any period in the past, who would you play with ?
Jack "El Oso" : any dead musician, for example ?
- photo : Jack el Oso
JB : Oh, travel to the past ? Wow, If I could travel back in time I would want to play more with Barry Rogers, the trombonist. I would love to play more with Pete el Conde Rodriguez. Those two people stand out in the area of trombone and vocalists the most. And I worked with those people, but if I could go back in time I would want more of that, just because that was very powerful to me and special to me, and those people still are special to me. Who have I not worked with that I would work with, that are still alive ? (hesitates). I have to get back to you on that one. (laughs) It’s an interesting question, I haven’t really thought about it. I guess one of the obvious answers, as someone who is committed to passing this music along, would be to continue travelling around the world with musicians from different countries who have fallen in love with this particular style of salsa dura, to pass on this information and experience. One of the things that I enjoy a lot, when I use a band like this [Mercadonegro], when I use a band in Greece, they’re mostly Greek musicians, or when I go to Japan I use a band from Japan and they’re mostly Japanese musicians, is to create a night of moments. I like to call it moments, where those musicians take those moments and are so inspired that they continue to to learn how to play this music authentically, and document in their own countries this style. As a teacher, that’s important to me. Playing with musicians in general, around the world.
Jack "El Oso" : Quote : Aunque la radio me lo niega, Salsa Dura es la que va any comments on that pregón ?
JB : It says it all, it says it all. That’s a direct statement to record labels and to the radio people. It’s my way of keeping it real. When you hear something like that on a record like mine, you say once again, Jimmy Bosch has balls, because I dare to say what’s on my mind. As a composer, as a producer, if I’m going to document my life experiences on record, I’ve got to keep it real. Since this record came out and that statement has been heard, some radio stations are in fact playing my music now. I think that when you look people in the eyes and are able to them the truth, people respect you more for it. And sometimes it works, and people change, the system changes. I think radio is changing, I think that salsa dura is now showing up on radio stations that did not honor this genre and that’s a good thing. In Puerto Rico for example, Z-93 is playing my record, there’s a station called La Voz that is playing my records in Puerto Rico. Most people are in shock when they hear my music on the radio in Puerto Rico because those radio stations and many big ones around the world are involved in a system that involve payola and money, and that is not the case now. I think that a lot of these radio stations are playing my music because it’s great music, and that’s a good thing.
jalsero : Do you teach music, do you run master classes ?
JB : I do, but not very much. I charge a lot of money, (laughs) because I just don’t have time time to dedicate to that area. However, if I find a trombone player who has burning desire to play in the style that I play, then I embrace that student and I will make time for him, because again that’s my way of passing it on. The style that I perform, the way I think, my approach to creating moñas, is what I like to teach. I don’t particularly like to teach how to play the trombone in a standard way. I prefer to work with students who feel what I do and the way I do it and want to learn about that. When I give trombone lessons to those kind of students, a lot of it is dialogue, it’s discussing,we listen to music and we’ll listen to something I recorded and we’ll talk about how they experienced it, how they feel it, how they hear it. And then I’ll explain how I experienced it such that I delivered what I did and how I think and how I thought. I might play with that recording and then get them to play. So usually when I teach it’s about improvisation right off the bat. It’s about expression. I always talk about feeling the music, that’s the magic.
Jack "El Oso" : A few words about Oscar Hernandez ?
- photo : jsalsero
JB : Oscar Hernandez has put in so many years of contribution into this business on so many records and so many projects. I’m very happy for Oscar Hernandez that he’s having the success that he’s having with Spanish Harlem Orchestra, which I am a part of. It’s a great book to play. Oscar Hernandez runs a very tight ship, as the band leader and musical director of Spanish Harlem Orchestra. He’s very committed todelivering great music and great performances to audiences around the world. He works very hard, and he very much deserves the rewards of having a great band and puttingoutgreatrecords and I hope that things continue well for him.
Jack "El Oso" : Any projects for the next couple of months ?
JB : Momposónica, who I’m recording, a rock en español band, and I’m already starting to formulate ideas and concepts for my next record. And I’ve said it before, my next record on JRGR records, as my fourth salsa record, will be leaning a little bit more to the descarga format. There will be a lot of surprises by way of guest artists on the record, and I’m hoping that I’ll pull together a really exciting group of the remaining great heroes of that format and capture them in a studio all at the same time and we’ll record together live in a studio a record that will be one of the most exciting descarga records of the present time.
Jack "El Oso" : Between writing, recording, performing, which is your favorite ?
JB : It has always been performing.
Jack "El Oso" : if you had to drop two, and keep only one, it would be performing ? Do you see yourself performing in 40 years ?
JB : No. Absolutely not. I’m 45 years old now. I want to achieve financial independence in this music by the age of 50, and I will retire from performance, that is my plan. From that point on I will actually produce young artists to continue this style of music, and I will continue to write for other artists to record my songs. But after 40 years of travelling around the world and performing in front of audiences around the world, I’m pretty much wiped out. (laughs). I think from that point on I will probably continue to perform, but not like I’m doing now. I will do a few shows a year, big productions, and I will be happy with that. I figure I have another four or five years of actually touring around the world and performing and then hopefully I’ll be able to stay home by the pool. (laughs).
- Jack el Oso and Jimmy Bosch. Photo by jsalsero.