For the last 19 years, Benjamin Lapidus has performed and recorded Cuban tres and guitar on film soundtracks, video games, television commercials, and albums with some of the most notable musicians in Latin music and jazz such as Ibrahim Ferrer (Buena Vista Social Club), Pío Leyva (Buena Vista Social Club), Orlando “CachaÍto” López, Juan Pablo Torres, Paquito D’Rivera, Cándido Camero, Larry Harlow, Ruben Blades, Típica 73, Pedrito Martínez, Roman Díaz, Adonis Puentes, Pablo Menendez, Bobby Sanabria, Ralph Irizarry, Charlie Sepulveda, Luis Marin, Humberto Ramírez, Harvie S. , Brian Lynch, Mark Weinstein, Chico Álvarez, Alfredo “Chocolate” Armenteros, Emilio Barretto, Eddie Zervigón, José Fajardo, Rudy Calzado, Jose Conde, Kaori Fujii, Roberto Rodríguez, Maurice El Medioni, and many others.
As the leader of the Latin jazz group, Sonido Isleño (founded in 1996), he has performed throughout North and South America, Europe, and the Caribbean while releasing five internationally acclaimed albums of his original compositions. In 2007, Lapidus served as musical director and arranger for “Garota de Ipanema” (JVC/Victor Japan) with Kaori Fujii and toured Japan twice. In 2008, he recorded “Herencia Judía” an album that Newsday’s Ed Morales called “thoughtful and passionate.” In 2014, he will release his eighth album as a leader, “Ochósi Blues” featuring Candido Camero, Bobby Sanabria, Pedrito Martínez, Gene Jefferson, Frank Anderson, and Enid Lowe, among others. This exciting new recording project was funded by a grant from PSC-CUNY.
Lapidus was born in Hershey, PA in 1972 to first-generation Brooklynites, Lapidus moved numerous times before returning to New York City at the age of 14. Trained in piano from a young age, he moved through a variety of instruments including trumpet and bass before concentrating on the guitar. Lapidus was exposed to music by his grandmother, a pianist and singer, and his father, who played in Latin and jazz bands in New York City and in the Catskill Mountains in the 1950’s. Through his father’s record collection and stories of his father’s visits with his Latin American relatives, the seeds of Latin music were planted. Yet it wasn’t until the 1980’s that the youngest Lapidus became immersed in Latin music, when he moved to a predominantly Latin neighborhood in New York City, where numerous important musicians also resided. Living a block away from Mikel’s jazz club, Lapidus still has vivid memories of practicing in Mario Rivera’s house or seeing Mario Bauzá walk down the street. Deciding he needed a complete musical education, Lapidus earned two degrees from Oberlin Conservatory and Oberlin College, becoming one of the program’s first jazz guitar graduates. In 1994, Lapidus started to play the Puerto Rican cuatro and Cuban tres. After leading his own quartet at festivals and clubs throughout Europe and winning a grant to study briefly with Steve Lacy in Paris, he returned to the U.S. and worked with Joe McPhee, Joe Giardullo, Tani Tabal, Thomas Workman, and other creative improvisers. At the same time, Lapidus began performing with Larry Harlow, Alex Torres, and other Latin music luminaries in New York and Puerto Rico. Lapidus earned a Ph.D. in Ethnomusicology at the CUNY Graduate Center in 2002. In 2008, he published the first ever book on changüí (Origins of Cuban Music and Dance: Changüí) among numerous book chapters and peer-reviewed scholarly articles on Cuban and Puerto Rican music, Latin jazz, and salsa. His travels to Cuba acquainted him with distant relatives and grounded him in the music of Eastern Cuba. He has taught popular music of the Caribbean, Latin music in New York, and world music at the New School University, Queens College and John Jay College of Criminal Justice, CUNY where he is currently an associate professor of music. In addition, he has served as scholar-in-residence with the New York Center for Jungian Studies and the Jewish Museum during several humanitarian missions to the Jewish communities of Cuba.