September 15 – Happy Birthday Alex Torrez

Alex Torrez y Los Reyes Latinos
Alex Torrez y Los Reyes Latinos

Today’s featured Amsterdam Birthday celebrant is the most popular Latino resident in the city’s history. Unfortunately he doesn’t live here anymore. Alex Torrez came to Amsterdam with his family from the Bronx when he was just 14 years old. He credits his Mom for his love of music because she played the radio in their Bronx apartment 24/7, always tuned to Latino music channels that featured the the music of Latin legends like Machito, Tito Puente and Tito Rodriguez.

Then the family moved upstate to Amsterdam. For a community noted for its large Latino population, Alex was shocked by the total absence of the music he loved so much. He could not believe that there was no radio station or local music store he could turn to so he did the only thing he could. He decided to form a band of his own. This was in 1980 and though their were plenty of Latinos living in Amsterdam, very very few of them were musicians so in addition to teaching himself how to play bass guitar, Alex became a music teacher, introducing some of his neighborhood friends to the music and musical instruments needed to evolve into a Latino band. And when he couldn’t find fellow Latinos he called on some of his Anglo friends to join his group. They started practicing their instruments individually and then jamming and rehearsing together as a group from the time they got out of school till they had to get home for dinner. In addition to keeping them off the streets and out of trouble, they started sounding pretty good. They called themselves Alex Torres y Los Reyes Latinos and began accepting gigs at any and all kinds of community functions.

It wasn’t long before the band caught on big in Amsterdam’s Latino neighborhoods and soon thereafter in Latino communities outside of Amsterdam as well. Before you knew it, they began recording their own music and were getting invited to bigger and bigger events throughout the northeastern United States. They started winning awards and getting asked to play for bigwig public figures including New York Governor George Pataki and Bill and Hillary Clinton. They hit the big time officially in 1999 when the group’s fourth album entitled Entre Amigo was a Grammy Award semi-finalist.

In addition to Torrez, Los Reyes Latinos featured Nicholas Lue (assistant director, piano, vocals), Miquel A. Cruz (lead vocals), Jimmy “Pelu” Fontanez (bongos, tambora), Todd Fabozzi (congas), John Bronk, Kevin “Pan” Hendrick, Brian Patneaude, Terry Gordon, Mike Perry and Chuck “The Mime” Yurgans (trumpets), Ken “Snoopy” Olsen and William “Professor” Merkley (trombones), Juan Carlos Marrero (timbale), and Angel “Sweet Pea” Dueno (guira, vocals).

As his popularity grew Torrez became the unofficial spokesman for Amsterdam’s Spanish community on all sorts of issues. He also opened a popular Latino music store in the East End of the city, which became the base of operations for his band and a popular destination for Amsterdam’s Latino music lovers. As the band became more popular, its demands on Alex’s time grew exponentially. Then the Internet developed into everyone’s preferred source for the music they purchased and Alex decided to close the store and move his base of operations to the larger market around Albany. In February of 2015, he and his Latin orchestra were invited to tour and perform in the People’s Republic of China. The young man who bought the Latino beat to Amsterdam is now bringing it all over the world.

Torres shares his birthday with this well-known and respected Amsterdam jurist.

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