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Meet Luis Torregrosa

Tessa Souter and Andrea Wolper By

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The involvement of the younger generation is particularly encouraging. Listening to a good student ensemble gives me goose bumps, as it makes me realize that this music will still be here and thriving, long after I am gone.
Dr. Luis Torregrosa has been a Super Fan for as long as he can remember; you could even say his love of music is no less than a calling. Based in Trenton, MI (our first Super Fan outside of New York!), Luis has spent the last 45 years of his life not only enjoying the music he loves, but also helping to maintain and support it, something he feels is the duty of every super fan. If you're wondering just how you can help keep the music thriving, read on—Luis has no shortage of ideas!

Tell us about yourself.
I was born and raised in San Juan, Puerto Rico, where I started developing my passion for jazz. My "day gig" is being a rheumatologist for a major health system in the Detroit area. After graduating from medical school in 1980, I came to Michigan to do my residency, and never left. I am happily married with a 27-year-old son. Outside of music, I enjoy reading about current events and politics, and watching sporting events.

What is your earliest memory of music?
The Beatles changed my life! I was given a record player when I was seven years old, together with some Beatles records, at Christmas. They were totally different from the children's music I had been exposed until then.

Music was a passion even from early childhood. I was fortunate to live in a section of San Juan, Puerto Rico that was about five blocks away from Distribuidora Nacional de Discos, the largest record wholesaler in Puerto Rico. I would go there to listen and buy records once or twice a week. After a while, I got to know everybody at the store, and I was offered a job there when I was 12. The child labor laws kept me from accepting the job, but I maintained a great relationship with them for many years, giving them advice on what records to buy in exchange for being sold records at slightly over wholesale cost.

How old were you when you got your first recording, and what was it?
The first were the above-mentioned Beatles records I was given at Christmas when I was seven years old. The first record I bought with my own money was The Rolling Stones Out Of Our Heads, which I purchased at a department store in San Juan.

What was the first concert you ever attended?
Around 1971-1972, John McLaughlin (pre-Mahavishnu Orchestra) played a benefit concert for the Sri Chinmoy Center in San Juan. I found out about this concert at a shop called The Record Store in Old San Juan. I was already familiar with John McLaughlin from his work with Miles Davis and Tony Williams.

It was held at the Puerto Rico Bar Association Building, which was located a very convenient three blocks from my house, so I actually walked to my first concert ever. This was around the time of the release of his My Goal's Beyond record. The first half was an electric set where he was backed by some local musicians, and the second half featured acoustic duets with his then-wife Eve.

From what I remember, I must have been the youngest person in the audience, and probably the only person who walked to the concert.

Tell us more about growing up as a jazz fan in Puerto Rico.
During my freshman year at the University of Puerto Rico, I stumbled into the Producciones Don Pedro record store in Rio Piedras. It was a small basement store devoted to jazz, and it was my "finishing school" in jazz. I learned more from its visionary owner (my dear friend Ramon Soto) than I have learned from anybody else in this music. It was also the perennial hang out place for the Puerto Rico jazz crowd. Through the magic of Facebook, I have recently been able to reconnect with some of the wonderful friends from those times.

We were very fortunate to have had many mainstream jazz artists perform in Puerto Rico in the 1970's. Producciones Don Pedro also promoted concerts and helped bring an incredible wealth of talent to the island: Betty Carter, Gato Barbieri, Dexter Gordon, Eddie Gomez, Hilton Ruiz, The Heath Brothers, Mary Lou Williams, and Sonny Fortune. That was the beginning of my "super fan" involvement with this music. I did what was needed: drive artists, sell records, work the door, etc.

Was there one album or experience that was your doorway to jazz?
Miles Davis' Bitches Brew, which I picked up because of its cover art, was the record that opened my ears to improvisational music, and was my gateway to jazz. At the time I bought it, I had already gravitated to what I would call more improvisational rock (King Crimson, Grateful Dead) and was probably ready for that next step. Although it took a while to get into it, it had a panoramic sound that I had never experienced before.

How long have you been going out to hear live music?
For as long as I can remember. My parents were classical music fans, so I was exposed to live music during my early childhood.


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