Jesse Bermudez was all about music.
Born of a Puerto Rican father and Cuban mother, the late Bermudez is a legend in Philadelphia and beyond. He passed in September 2022, but is remembered as a visionary, mentor, and one of the all-time greats of Latin music. He was Best Latin Jazz Album Grammy-nominated in 2009 for his production of trombonist Papo Vazquez’s Marooned/Aislado recording and according to his friends and fans, “he was never far from a set of congas.”
“Jesse was the guy, the source, which meant that he had the opportunity to collaborate with many Latin music pioneers – the New York Fania label scene, musicians from Miami and Cuba as well as Philly’s Latin talent – and bring them all together,” says Rahsaan Lucas, co-founder of AFROTAINO. “It wasn’t off-brand for him to call on legends like Celia Cruz and Johnny Pachecho to show up. His was a legacy that he wanted to bring forward. There is definitely a hole in the scene and our hearts now that Jesse is no longer with us.”
The Kimmel Cultural Campus recently paid tribute to the Philadelphia Latin music and educational legend this week with the contribution of friends and admirers in the local salsa band, Orquesta La Paz, and AFROTAINO.
Currently celebrating its 18th anniversary with founders Marángeli Mejia-Rabell and Lucas, AFROTAINO is a curated, intercultural hub, something Lucas defines as an “HQ for all things Afro-Latin, Indigenous, Caribbean and all people within that diaspora, connecting all points of culture – music, art, film, education, dance, food – for the Philadelphia region, and up-and-down the East Coast.”
Few fit that bill as aptly as Bermudez.
“Jesse was a visionary, ahead of the curve when it came to the future of the Latin music industry,” said Lucas.
After working as an advocate for Latino musicians’ wages and working conditions, Bermudez formed the Asociación de Músicos Latinoamericanos and the Latin School for the Performing Arts (LSPA). Then in 2006, with Esperanza Inc. they created the first school of Latin music performance – AMLA, Artistas y Músicos Latinoamericanos.
“Be it funding, education and entertainment – he threw the best Latin jazz parties this city ever witnessed – Jesse had his finger on the pulse. He knew what his community needed and wanted. As far as AFROTAINO goes, he was our mentor – he personally blessed us with many opportunities, advice and good humor. Our moments with him were golden, just as they were to musicians, students and those who loved him.”
“Jesse used to say that there is no such thing as a party unless you are dancing to a live Latin band,” adds Lucas. “He was all about orchestrating harmony backstage as well as onstage and in front of the stage for his audiences. And make sure everyone has a good time.”