Places that Matter

JCR Percussion

Elena Martinez
Elena Martinez
Source for specialty percussion instruments for Latin music
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JCR Percussion, owned by Calixto Rivera, is where many Latin musicians buy the percussion instruments which form the rhythmic backbone of Latin music.

There is no other establishment like JCR Percussion in New York City. In a small unassuming workshop not far from Yankee Stadium, Caly, as he is known to his customers, makes his instruments by hand -- cowbells, congas, bongos, timbales, among other instruments.

These instruments are the foundation of Afro-Cuban (salsa) music, and before Caly started his business almost 35 years ago, Latin musicians were in a quandary about where to get something like a good cowbell. The varied sounds of cowbells provide the forward propulsion that a band rides on in the montuno (solo) section of a salsa tune. Many players would have to scrounge bells from junkmen or travel to farms in Connecticut to buy them from farmers who used them on -- yes -- cows. Caly, at the time was one of those musicians, and his drive to achieve the right sound motivated him to start making the instruments himself.

Caly doesn’t advertise his wares; word-of-mouth keeps him busy. Musicians come to him from all over the world to place new orders or repair broken instruments. The first thing you see upon entering the shop is Caly or an employee working metal to make timbales and cowbells. The far wall is filled with tools and implements used to make the instruments, while hanging from the ceiling are güiros, panderetas (hand-held frame drums from Puerto Rico), and other percussion instruments. The rest of the wall space is filled with photos and autographed promotional shots from most of the big names in Latin music. Downstairs is the wood workshop where Caly keeps his lathes and other woodworking instruments to make bongos, congas, and cajones (small wood boxes played like congas in Cuba). The best part is Caly's welcoming smile when one enters and leaves; "For that," he says, "I never charge."

Hours: Mon. thru Sat., 10am - 6pm (closed Thursdays), 718-293-6589. Public Transit: # 4 or the D to Yankee Stadium, walk west on 161st Street to Ogden Avenue, turn right.

Source:

Interview with Calixto Rivera by Elena Martinez for Place Matters, 2006.

[Posted, 2007]