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Puerto Rico jazz guitarist Richard Peña reveals influences and musical goals
(Published: March 16, 2019)

Puerto Rico-based guitarist Richard Peña has just released an energetic, captivating new single, "Cognition."

Q: What was your introduction to music? How old were you, and how did it affect you?

A: As any other kid, music was always around me one way or another: dancing at home, listening to it on the radio on my way to school or just hanging out with my friends while we listened to the newest hit. I guess it became more serious and personal when I enrolled at the Escuela Libre de Música of San Juan to study music. Around the age of 13, music became my real passion, and studying at this school gave me my first introduction to music formally. It was jamming at the jazz gigs later on at the age of 15 that really did a number on me. I had discovered a profound sense of happiness and liberty that this art form we call jazz can provide. It made me feel so full of life.

Q: Did you grow up in a musical environment?

A: I come from a family of tobacco farmers and business men, so you could imagine their reaction when I told them that I wanted to be a musician. But even though I'm the only musician in my family, my parents had made sure that I was provided with all the tools necessary to succeed in music. They surrounded me in a rich musical and academic environment when they enrolled me at the Escuela Libre de Musica of San Juan. There I was exposed to many genres of music and musicians who were very deep in these styles of music. Later on, when I went to study at the Conservatory of Music of Puerto Rico, my musical environment had expanded tenfold. At CMPR I was able to experiment with a diversity of musical styles and even perform with most of the professors of the Jazz Department, which eventually lead to meeting and performing most of Puerto Rico's top local jazz artists. Thankfully, I was always surrounded by good music and musicians.

Q: What styles of music had the greatest impact on you creatively?

A: I believe that because jazz is such a versatile genre, it makes an excellent provider of melodic and harmonic creativity. When it comes down to writing and creating music, jazz gives me the freedom and the tools I need to create any musical canvas I please. Jazz can be found in any style of music: Latin, rock, pop, R&B, fusion, Latin, soul, funk, hip-hop, you name it. Where else could you find such a vast source of musical material?

Q: How would you describe your musical style?

A: Personally, I believe that being an artist, especially a jazz artist, involves a non-stop passionate search for constant creative evolution. As to where I stand now musically, my latest album Hey, Don Rey is a powerful point of view of the Latin side of jazz guitar. With an astonishing blend of the traditional sounds of international Latin music, the modern colors of post-bop/fusion jazz and the soothing warm sound of the guitar, the intent is to deliver a refreshing pallet of melodic and harmonic ideas that can renew the tradition of Latin jazz, especially the role of the guitar in this genre. As to where my musical style is heading, I'm recently more inclined to write more post-bop and contemporary jazz, like my single "Cognition."

Q: What are your goals, artistically speaking?

A: Artists have many goals, such as performing in gran concerts, writing inspirational music, collaborating with famous artists, and so on. Apart from these, I find myself wanting to achieve goals greater than myself. As a creator of art, I feel a responsibility to embed human feelings, thoughts and history into notes and sounds and through this creative process become an ambassador of humanity, someone who can recreate what makes us human through this art we call music.

Q: When did you decide to be a musician, and what fueled this passion?

A: I think somehow, I always knew I was going to become a musician. Everything I've done has always been about or around music. The official decision was made when I decided to study my bachelor's degree at CMPR, but I had felt the calling long before. What really fueled my passion, and still does, was the constant astonishment and feeling of complete freedom that jazz gave me as an artist. I'm still drawn to the fact that I can create anything in anyway at any given moment while I perform. I'm in complete control of the music when I play jazz, meaning that I have the power to express anything I want.

Q: What artists influenced you the most growing up?

A: There are many jazz artists that have influenced my creative and performance process. To sum them up is a hard one, but I'd definitely include musicians such as Pat Metheny, Kurt Rosenwinkle, Chick Corea, Miguel Zenón, Bill Evans, Coltrane, Julian Lage, Angel David Mattos, Wes Montgomery, just to name a few. There are so many more artists I'd love to mention, but it really is a long list.

Q: How have you evolved creatively?

A: I think that the depth of an artist's creative evolution can be measured in many ways. One way this process can be weighed is evaluating elements such as the music you listen to, what you practice and study, the amount of music you release or work on, etc. In my case, I recorded my first award-winning album at the age of 15 (Ready For Departure by the Guess Who Jazz Quartet; Fox USA Latin Music Awards for Best New Production). At my current age (22 years old), I've recorded three albums and two singles, have played in over seven countries with many artists, so that's a lot of different music that I've worked on. As for the music I listen to, it varies from classic jazz like Parker or Davis from complex polyrhythmic and harmonic stuff like Miguel Zenon and even Debussy. This has a direct affect on my creative writing process, which, as most jazz artists, starts out simple and becomes more and more in depth with the style you choose as you progress. Aside from all this, I feel that I've just begun to learn. There is so much room for growth that, as Chick Corea said, I'll always consider myself a student.

More Information: http://richardpenamusic.com

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