Ricky Gonzalez is a Grammy-winning producer, keyboardist arranger and composer specializing in the genres of Latin-tropical, jazz, Latin-pop and Latin-jazz music.
Among his most widely recognized productions is the Tito Nieves mega-hit, I Like It Like That – a single that not only broke the Latin charts but enjoyed extended success when major mainstream corporations like Burger King, American Broadcasting Company (ABC network) and Verizon adopted the stylish beat and catchy lyrics to use in their national promotional campaigns. Throughout an extensive career, he has produced, recorded or toured with such artists as Jennifer Lopez, Vanessa Williams, Marc Anthony, Celia Cruz, Mongo Santamaria, Willie Colón, Gilberto Santa Rosa, the Fania All-Stars and many more.
Ricky was born in Santo Domingo (DR) in 1964 He started playing drums when he was a child and continued his musical activities when he emigrated to New York with his parents at the age of six. As a teenager, he was accepted into the New York City School Music Program. While there, he assumed the role of orchestral percussionist in the Phase Band alternating with the String Orchestra of the same program, as a double bass player or percussionist (depending on the needs of a particular piece). Finally he moved to the most advanced music program in the whole city, where he occupied the first position as a percussionist.
Gonzalez studied for a period at the prestigious Juilliard School in New York, focusing on composition and orchestral percussion. He subsequently moved to New York City College to expand his studies of jazz and ethnic music as well as traditional classical forms. He enrolled in the formal music program (focusing on classical theory, history, and education) and also participated in the university's Davis Center Performing Arts program (which focuses on jazz theory, history, and performance). While studying with iconic jazz bassist Ron Carter and orchestrating with Pulitzer Prize-winning composer David Del Tredici. Another of his professors, the legendary jazz saxophonist Jimmy Heath, called Ricky's services as arranger for a concert at Carnegie Hall led and directed by Heath. The event was a tribute from George Benson to guitarist Wes Montgomery. The accompanying big-band orchestra included pianist Hank Jones, saxophonist Pepper Addams and other luminaries from the jazz world.
That experience culminated in a performance at the world-famous Carnegie Hall where he was the piano soloist featured in Gershwin's Rhapsody In Blue, despite never having taken any formal piano lessons. In spite of being a self-taught musician, González often quotes singer and percussionist Jimmy Sabater (of the fame of Joe Cuba Sextet) as a key figure in his musical development in Latin music. Through the guide of Sabater, he discovered the musicians, bands and arrangers who will finally configure their own musical identity. Other mentors along the way include band leader and producer Louie Ramirez, pianist Charlie Palmieri, Celia Cruz, Johnny Pacheco and iconic percussionist Ray Barretto.
At age seventeen, while pursuing his musical studies at the university, González got his first high profile appearance as a member of Ray Barretto's band, at that time reputed to contain one of the most challenging musical repertoires in the salsa scene . A well-respected artist, Barretto did the same time performing commercial dance music on the disco and Latin jazz circuit internationally throughout all the major jazz festivals in the world. Barretto prides himself on allowing his young musicians creative freedom to develop their skills as players, improvisers and arrangers. It was through these opportunities that Gonzalez was able to show off his game and organization on a much larger scale.
Joining the band, he was assigned to write half of all the musical arrangements on the album Todo Se Va 'Poder de Barretto, the first of many to record with Barretto. His association with Barretto led to collaborations with Celia Cruz (earning a Grammy win for the album Ray Barretto / Celia Cruz, Rhythm In The Heart in 1988), Fania All-Stars, French superstar Bernard Lavilliers and many others. Through the jazz performances of Barretto with the band, González won the highest exposure in that genre, playing behind legends like Dizzy Gillespie, Clark Terry, James Moody, Paquito D'Rivera and many more. González remained in the band until 1991, when he went to look for opportunities as a soloist and record producer. The two remained friends and Gonzalez occasionally joined Barretto for special appearances and concerts until his death in 2006.
In 1989, González headed Latin Pianos in concert along with Eddie Palmieri, Michel Camilo and other outstanding pianists. The event took place in the concert hall of Lehman College in New York and was the first of many presentations that González will continue to do as a featured artist.
Upon leaving Barretto's band, González became a very sought-after session musician, arranger and record producer, leaving very little time for his solo projects, producing successful productions and obtaining awards and recognition by many of the best artists of the band. Latin industry Throughout this period to the present, he has traveled extensively with Mongo Santamaria, Tito Nieves, José Alberto "El Canario" and Willie Colón. He currently travels with Marc Anthony covering the keyboard and vocal functions, a position he has held since 1996. From 2006 to 2011, he also made several international tours and television presentations with Jennifer Lopez.
His organizational credits include an impressive list of artists of the Latin music genre and his recordings as a session musician are substantial (see Discography). He has also written musical arrangements across genre lines for artists such as George Benson and more recently Diana Ross on his international tour more than yesterday. His brilliant piano and keyboard work can be heard in many movie soundtracks and underscores, notably The Mambo Kings (1992) and My Blue Heaven (1990).
In 2004, González's first solo album, Oasis, was an eclectic mix of traditional and contemporary Latin music with guests from Dave Valentin and Ray Barretto, Jimmy Sabater, Orestes Vilato and an A-list musicians and singers.
Gonzalez has gained recognition for musical excellence from an early age. Through middle and high school, his accomplishments were the John Philip Sousa Band Award, the Frederic Chopin Piano Award and the Adlai E. Stevenson High School Jazz Award. During the university, he participated in a contest of student composers. A performance of his original orchestral work (reviewed by a blind jury), Scapes, later earned him the Sydney Zolot Award for Composition. He graduated from City College in New York with honors from Pro Musica.
His professional work as arranger, musician and producer has won a number of awards and nominations, including:
-1988 Grammy Nomination, Best Tropical Latin Performance: Ray Barretto – Aquí Se Puede
-1990 Grammy Nomination, Best Tropical Latin Performance: Ray Barretto – Irresistible
-1990 Grammy Award, Best Tropical Latin Performance: Ray Barretto & Celia Cruz – Ritmo En El Corazon
-1993 Grammy Nomination, Best Tropical Latin Album: Ray Barretto – Soy Dichoso
-1993 Grammy Nomination, Best Tropical Latin Album: Celia Cruz – Tributo A Ismael Rivera
-1999 Grammy Award, Best Tropical Latin Performance: Marc Anthony – Contra La Corriente
-2002 Latin Grammy Nomination, Best Traditional Tropical Album: Nelson Gonzalez – Pa’ Los Treseros
-2004 Latin Grammy Nomination, Best Contemporary Tropical Album: Mickey Taveras – Sigo Siendo Romántico
-2005 Latin Grammy Nomination, Best Contemporary Tropical Album: Michael Stuart – Sin Miedo
-2011 Latin Grammy Nomination, Best Salsa Album: Jose Alberto “El Canario” – Original
-2013 Latin Grammy Nomination, Best Salsa Album: Gilberto Santa Rosa (G. Santa Rosa, Louis Garcia, Ricky Gonzalez – Producers)
-2013 Latin Grammy Nomination, Song of the Year - “Si Yo Fuera Tu” (composer: Jorge Luis Piloto; Producer & Arranger: Ricky Gonzalez)
-2014 Latin Grammy Nomination, Best Latin Jazzl Album: Luisito Quintero – 3rd Element
-2014 Latin Grammy Nomination, Best Latin Jazzl Album: Raul Agraz – Between Brothers