Written by Grant Jackson from NPR
Pianist Carli Muñoz’s musical journey has taken him from Puerto Rico to the studios and clubs of Los Angeles and back to the island of his birth. His musical career has followed a similar trajectory. He left jazz to perform with big names in pop such as The Beach Boys and Rickie Lee Jones, then returned to his first love, filling the role of a jazz-club owner. Muñoz plays his tune, “Mia,” and joins host Marian McPartland for Cole Porter‘s “So in Love” in this session from 2006.
Muñoz grew up hearing a wide variety of music, much of it from the BBC, where he heard American jazz, country and pop music. Though he didn’t immediately take to the family piano and refused to take lessons, Muñoz became curious in his preteen years and began picking out tunes on his own. Despite his lack of musical training, he gathered some neighborhood friends and put together a band. Most of the kids had little or no experience playing music, but Muñoz had the musical ideas in his head and began teaching his friends how to play their instruments. The group evolved into one of the most popular dance bands in San Juan.
At 15, Muñoz was invited to play with a jazz group led by Monchito Muñoz; it included percussionist Sabú Martinez, bassist Freddy Thomas, trumpeter Juancito Torres and occasionally Marian McPartland’s former drummer, Joe Morello. A year later, Carli Muñoz formed a rock band called The Living End (also known as Space) with a colleague, Jorge Calderon. The group relocated to Manhattan and became the house band at a club called The Rolling Stone.
In 1969, after four years with The Living End, he headed west to Los Angeles. What was originally intended as a weekend trip with a friend turned into a 16-year freelance career working with Wilson Pickett, Jan and Dean, Peter Cetera and The Beach Boys. At this time, Muñoz also led his own jazz trio and formed a fusion band called Your Own Space. In 1982, he made the decision to return full-time to playing jazz and went back to work with top names such as George Benson, Les McCann, Chico Hamilton and Charles Lloyd.
Muñoz returned home to San Juan and formed a new jazz trio — along with a new club and restaurant, Carli Café Concierto, in 1998. The club features live jazz from Muñoz in both solo and trio settings, as well as guest appearances from visiting jazz artists.
Carli Muñoz’s recordings include his Live at Carli’s series and his latest album, In My Soul, in memory of Beach Boys Carl and Dennis Wilson.
Originally recorded August 9, 2006.