Boricua Jazz Pioneer, Rafael Escudero


Here is an interesting piece by Tomás Peña. The article is part of the PR Project; it was first published in Now, it is also available through Centro Voices magazine. Here are a few excerpts with links to the sources below:

Among the first Boricuas to receive recognition in early jazz was Rafael Escudero. He was born in 1891 and well known in American jazz circles. Today Escudero is mostly forgotten. But this native of Manatí, Puerto Rico was an outstanding tubist and bassist and a link between the growing number of jazz bands and other orchestras in Washington, DC, New York and Puerto Rico.

Escudero was unique in that his departure for the United States predates World War I and the Jones Act (1917). At 21, he boarded the steamer Caracas in the port of San Juan and arrived in New York on June 13, 1912. An accomplished tuba player and (later) bassist, Escudero came to New York on a scholarship from the New Amsterdam Musical Association (NAMA).

Over the years he performed with the NAMA band, featuring the great Ethel Waters, also the Marie Lucas band at the Howard Theater in Washington, DC and the Wilber C. Sweatman band, for which he played the tuba and the string double-bass.

In the book, Early Jazz, It’s Roots and Musical Development, author Gunther Schuller refers to Escudero’s talents. In one instance, he describes Escudero as the one who put the “swing” in the popular tune, “Put it There.” [. . .]

After a long and successful career in the States, Escudero returned to Puerto Rico, where he performed, composed and maintained a busy schedule. He died tragically on April 10, 1970, the victim of a hotel fire in Old San Juan.

Today, the Boricua Pioneer and gifted tubist/bassist can be heard on over 50 recordings, including Louis Armstrong in New York (1924), Mc Kinney’s Cotton Picker’s Volume 1 (1928), Bessie Smith’s Yellow Dog Blues (as Bob Escudero) and the Fletcher Henderson Orchestra featuring Coleman Hawkins (1923-1927) and Louis Armstrong among others.

Tomas Peña is a specialist in the crossroads between jazz and Latin music. He has written extensively on the subject and has spent years applying his knowledge and writing skills to the promotion of great musicians.

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