Take 5: Nestor Torres

nestor torres
Nestor Torres

Though separated from his audience at Festival of the Arts Boca, the Latin jazz maestro aims to bring us together

A Latin jazz fixture around the world but especially in his home base of South Florida, Nestor Torres won’t have to travel far on March 14, when he takes the stage at the glittering Boca Raton Resort & Club to close out Festival of the Arts Boca. Nor will his audience, which will be tuning into a free livestream of the concert, owing to the damn pandemic.

A consummate professional with a passionate command of the jazz flute, Torres will make the best of the situation, with or without the synergy of an in-person audience. “Life is creativity,” he says, of COVID-related challenges. “Whether artists or not in terms of music or visuals or drama, in a sense we’re all artists of life. This is our opportunity to create and re-create our lives in a way we’re able to endure and persevere.”

A Grammy nominee and Latin Grammy winner, Torres has brought his mellifluous mastery of the flute to a range of genres, collaborating with artists as diverse as Herbie Hancock, Gloria Estefan and Dave Matthews. At his headlining show at the virtual Festival, he’ll be accompanied by a four-piece band, and is expected to perform his interpretations of jazz flute and American Songbook standards, as well as original compositions with a spicy Caribbean flair.

What is it like playing virtual concerts, and not having the energy exchange of an audience in front of you?

It’s certainly a different experience. At the same time, the awareness that there are people [watching], combined with the opportunity to interact with musicians—which has become a rare occurrence in and of itself—really makes up for it, so we can create excitement and the magic of the music-making.

How has COVID affected your creativity, being isolated for so long?

The way that my creativity has been bolstered or ignited through this whole COVID thing has been beyond the purely compositional element. It has been about how do you create a new reality? How can I activate my creativity to seize this moment and do my work as an artist with the resources available, via technology and so forth? So in that sense I’ve had no choice but to begin to rethink how to convey messages. I have written a few compositions. There is one specifically that came through very naturally. In the beginning of the pandemic, I created a series of haiku poems, which I then improvised [musically].

What attracted you to the flute at a young age?

My father was a musician, so I have been around music my whole life. In middle school, I had the opportunity to study music, in an after-school program. When it came time to decide, they asked me in the application, what instrument do you want to learn? I had been playing the drums since I was 5. But I didn’t see me studying the drums and percussion in the context of music; I wanted to learn notes and scales. I was surrounded by saxophones and trombones and trumpets, and they were fine, and then I looked up at the blackboard and saw a photograph of the flute. I said, ‘oh, that’s different. Yeah, I’ll try that!’ … I haven’t looked back since.

You’ve written music, like the “Dances, Prayers and Meditations for Peace” album, in response to tumultuous events such as 9/11. We’re in one of the most challenging times in our history right now. How can music help heal us now?

As it always has. Music is a universal expression. I was tempted to say that it is the most human way of expression, but when you think of it, throughout nature, birds and dolphins and all kinds of different creatures have songs and sounds to express themselves and communicate. To me, it’s almost a shame that the phrase can become so trite, when we say that music is a universal language. But it just really is.

You tour often in normal times, but are the South Florida shows special for you?

Always. When I was getting started here in South Florida, I always remember the Boca Raton audiences to be the warmest and the most embracing. And to this day they continue to be so.

This story is from the March 2021 of Boca magazine. For more content like this, subscribe to the magazine.