Celebrated Latin Grammy Award winning percussionist, composer, and arranger, Samuel Torres was born in Bogota, Colombia. He was artistically nurtured in this bustling and culturally sophisticated metropolis where jazz and classical music share the stage with salsa and an infinite variety of Colombian folkloric idioms. Torres’s earliest exposure to music came at home, thanks to an extended family of musicians and access to a wealth of Colombian music genres, from the infectious rhythms of the cumbia and vallenato to styles which reflect a range of African, indigenous and European influences, including the porro, bambuco and pasillo.
A major inspiration for Torres was Edy Martínez, his uncle who had risen to fame in the New York City salsa scene in the early 1970s as a pianist and arranger for acclaimed conga player, Ray Barretto. Torres further cites Barretto as a primary influence and credits exposure to two seminal Barretto albums that featured his uncle, the early Latin jazz classic The Other Road and the salsa powerhouse Indestructible, as a catalyst to spurring his interest in becoming a musician.
By the age of 12, Torres was performing with various Bogotá ensembles, developing techniques that allowed him to quickly adapt to the demands of jazz, pop music, and salsa. A classically trained percussionist, he earned a degree in Music Composition from Bogotá’s esteemed Universidad Javeriana. Before departing for the U.S. in 1999, the resourceful young artist had become an established figure in Colombia’s hectic music scene, backing leading Colombian performers while serving as an arranger and music director for his country’s highly regarded telenovelas (TV soap operas) and films.
Shortly after arriving in the U.S., his career took a dramatic turn when he was tapped by famed Cuban trumpet virtuoso Arturo Sandoval to join his group. Torres spent four years touring the world and recording with the jazz legend while polishing his ever-expanding talents and attracting the attention of a long list of renowned artists with whom he would eventually collaborate. Over time, he would perform, arrange, produce and/or record with a veritable “who’s who” of the jazz, Latin pop and salsa world, including such luminaries as Tito Puente, Paquito D’Rivera, Chick Corea, Alejandro Sanz, Ricky Martin, Don Byron, Richard Bona, Lila Downs, Jeff “Tain” Watts, Angelique Kidjo, Marc Anthony, Rubén Blades, Fonseca, Andrés Cepeda, Thalía, and his country’s own international superstar, Shakira. His talents have also been featured in concerts with classical orchestras such as Berlin Symphoniker, City of London Sinfonia, Boston Pops, Bogotá Philharmonic, Medellín Philharmonic, Delaware University Orchestra, Los Angeles Philharmonic and the Nashville Symphony.
Rounding out the Colombian musician’s resume is his show-stopping performance for the 2000 edition of the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition, where he placed second, and his association with Latin Percussion, Inc., for whom he produced the DVD Drum Solos Revisited. Martin Cohen, the founder of LP who has collaborated with most of the Latin world’s finest percussionists over the past four decades, lauds Torres as the most talented arranger and producer he has encountered in over 25 years.
In 2006, Torres released Skin Tones, his debut recording and an album that quickly solidified his reputation as one of the most creative percussionists in Latin jazz today. The effort was trumpeted by JazzTimes magazine as “at once intelligent, sophisticated and explosive.” Then came Yaoundé, the much-anticipated follow-up session. The recording is even more stylistically adventurous than its predecessor, with 13 invigorating tracks that draw from the seemingly inexhaustible reservoir of Colombian folkloric traditions Torres has cultivated, as well as African sonorities and shadings of funk and avant-garde jazz.
In 2010 Torres performed his first concerto for orchestra and congas entitled “Ciudad Oculta” with the Philharmonic of Bogota. After an acclaimed response, he was invited to perform the same concert with the Philharmonic of Cali as part of the jazz festival, Ajazzgo in 2011.
The same year Torres’ “Ciclica” premiered with a string and conga orchestra at Mansion House in London with the London Symphony, the concert was in honor of Juan Manuel Santos, the president of Colombia at the time.
In 2012 the multifaceted percussionist and composer was awarded a New Jazz Works Grant by Chamber Music America, for which he composed Forced Displacement (Zoho Music) a profoundly deep 10 movement suite that addresses tragic issues occurring in his beloved native country of Colombia.
In 2017 Chamber Music America awarded Torres for the second time the New Jazz Works Grant, under which his latest work entitled, Alegría (which means “happiness” ) came about. Torres has the distinction of being the first-hand percussionist to receive this grant. Alegría pays homage to the people of his native Colombia, as well as other Latin American nations. The music of this most recent body of work is a response to his previous album Forced Displacement (2015), which was influenced by the violence and unrest affecting his homeland. However, through Alegría, the response is one of hope and praise to the resilient spirit and remarkable ability of his people to make the best of a bad situation. Inspired by the vibrant urban and Latin dance music scenes of Colombia, the music in this latest album exemplifies how people use the language of music to express those feelings of optimism and faith. Musically, this latest work by Torres merges classic jazz traditions with more contemporary Latin urban sounds, as well as popular music styles such as boogaloo, cumbia, and Afro-Cuban jazz.
In 2017 Torres also recorded the album “Regreso” with the New Philharmonic of Bogota, which includes his two concertos “Ciclica” and “Regreso,” the latter which had premiered in Germany with the Berlin Symphony in 2014. “Regreso,” without a doubt one of Torres’ finest works was most recently awarded the prestigious Latin Grammy Award under the category of best classical album.
Having participated in a number of Grammy, Latin Grammy and Emmy award-winning and nominated productions, Torres continues cultivating a successful musical career that will no doubt have many milestones to come.
Currently Samuel Torres is performing his most recent project Alegría, which was released to great critical acclaim at the renowned Dizzy’s Club at Jazz at Lincoln Center.