The beautiful island of enchantment Puerto Rico has always given birth to many of the best salsa exponents of all time and the source of talent that has come out of that place has been inexhaustible. It is always a pleasure to be able to talk with a boricua of those who continue to leave their Latin heritage on high and, this time, it was the turn of the arranger, composer, sound engineer and trombonist Félix O. Rodríguez from Santurce.
It was very kind of the artist to give us a few minutes of his time to answer some questions for International Salsa Magazine and then we will be elaborating a bit on the topics we discussed with the salsa exponent.
Félix’s beginnings in the music world
Félix’s first contact with music was at home, as his parents listened a lot to salsa, merengue, bachata and Latin music in general. While listening to this music, one of the things that attracted him the most was the sound of the trombone, especially in artists such as Willie Colón, Oscar D’ León, Gilberto Santa Rosa and many others.
Once he reached the seventh grade in school, he decided to take music lessons and chose that instrument to start his training due to his fascination with it, something that today he does not complain about because he assures that he has done very well.
In this learning process, noticing Félix’s interest in the trombone, his father, who was a professional orchestra musician, invited him to rehearsals so that he could soak up this whole atmosphere from an early age. It just so happened that the trombonist of this orchestra could not attend a rehearsal, so they gave the opportunity to the young boy to take his place for that night.
After two or three shows, Félix was selected as house trombonist when he was only thirteen years old. Although he was not old enough to enter nightclubs, he was allowed to be present because he was part of the orchestra that would play there.
Orquesta Innovación and musical arrangements
When he entered high school, Félix began to study a bit about music theory and related topics such as chords, writing for a specific instrument, percussion and other subjects.
The young man worked so hard to train that, at only 15 years old, he was already perfectly capable of making musical arrangements, starting with transcriptions of music existing so far and copying notes from those songs. After several years on it, he finally started writing his own original music.
In fact, he went on to record a couple of songs with Orquesta Innovación (the second orchestra he was in), a couple of original songs that unfortunately were never released, but served as experience for what would follow.
University of South Carolina
Félix acknowledged with laughter that this was the only university he applied to, so it was almost an obligation for him to be admitted. Fortunately for him, it was.
He had to perform some tests with instruments and show examples of material of his own authorship to prove his musical skills. Everything he had learned so far was mostly based on salsa.
Thanks to his effort and dedication in previous years, he was admitted to the University of South Carolina, where he studied music theory and trombone for five years. While there, the musician learned everything necessary about the historical aspects of all variants of classical music, jazz, marching band, orchestral symphony and many more.
The formation obtained in his studies is still useful to Félix in the arrangements he makes today. However, he made it clear that his passion was and still is salsa and Latin music in general.
Military life and musical activities during those years
Upon graduating from the university, Félix was commissioned as an officer in the U.S. Army, following his father’s example, who was perfectly capable of meeting his obligations in the military and continuing to exercise his passion for music without having to give up either.
As fate would have it, the artist met up with a former colleague from Orquesta Innovación, which led them to revive their passion for music and to create Orquesta Ideal, with which he spent eight years at Fort Bragg (U.S. military installation), North Carolina, his first stop as an officer.
Over the years, he was assigned to units in Spain, Germany and Korea. It didn’t matter where he went because there were always Puerto Ricans and Latinos eager to get together to make music, which Felix took advantage of to be in touch with music, whether as a trombonist or a DJ.
When asked if these events in which he was involved in were open to the public, he said yes in most cases, as military bases allowed entry to anyone, but unfortunately that changed with the Twin Tower Bombings on 9/11.
Berklee College of Music
During the last years of his military career, Felix studied production, mixing and remastering at Berklee College of Music in order to go preparing for his return to music once his retirement was official.
In addition to playing the trombone and arranging, the musician also loved production, editing, mixing and mastering, so he wanted to learn much more about all of these areas and thus have more control over his own work.
Given that the Covid-19 pandemic was starting at that time, his hours at the military base where he worked were significantly reduced, which he took full advantage of to dedicate more time to school and continue growing as a professional musician.
‘‘Con La Música Por Dentro’’
In the year 2021, Felix released his first EP titled ”Con La Música Por Dentro”. In a world still hit by the pandemic, the artist found it very difficult to record and promote his first solo musical work.
He wanted to record with live musicians, but because of this same situation, it was not possible, so there were endless backing vocals he had to do and instruments he had to play himself in order to make the EP happen, so his name is the one that predominates in almost all the credits of the material.
Fortunately, he succeeded to establish a recording studio at home and was supported his friend and singer João José, who recorded voices, piano and bass for the three tracks that make up the EP.
When we wanted to know why he chose Atlanta as his final destination to settle permanently, he told us that he did it to support his wife, who has got a good job in that city. He remembered the time when he started in the army and his wife and daughter always followed him wherever he traveled for his military duties, so he considered that it is time to return everything his partner has done for him and decided to follow her this time.
He had to look a little to meet musicians and re-weave those connections in the industry and the Latino community in Atlanta, so he had to start from scratch in that sense. The good thing is that everything worked out for him and, as soon as he arrived in Atlanta, he was contacted to play with Willie Gonzalez. The bandleader liked his skills as a musician and offered him to continue playing with them, and so it has been to this day.
Read also: Four nationalities united in Ladama
- The Rumba Madre and its roots in Basque culture - November 28, 2023
- Producer and saxophonist Martin Franco talks about his passion for music - November 16, 2023
- We bring trombonist Félix O. Rodriguez from Santurce to ISM - November 12, 2023