With his dynamic piano playing and unique approach to salsa, Papo Lucca has led his band, Sonora Ponceña, to the forefront of Latin music. Inheriting the group from his father, Lucca has continued to inspire Sonora Ponceña with his innovative playing. While Rubén Blades called Lucca, “the best pianist in the world”, Cuban pianist Ruben Gonzalez explained, “of non-Cuban pianists, I most admire (Lucca) because his salsa is very close to son. Son piano is more varied than salsa piano which is more formulaic and holds on to a single riff much longer.”
Lucca has been involved with music most of his life. A native of Ponce, a small city on the southern coast of Puerto Rico, he began studying at the city’s Free School of Music at the age of six. In addition to being trained in solfeggio, he studied piano, clarinet, saxophone, and music theory. A month after he enrolled in the school, he performed a classical piece on a local radio station. Lucca simultaneously studied privately with pianist Ramon Fernandez. With his father’s encouragement, Lucca advanced quickly. Performing with Sonora Ponceña at the age of eight, he made his recording debut three years later, when the group accompanied bolero vocalists Felipe Rodriguez and Davilita on their album, Al Compas De Las Sonoras. At the age of fourteen, Lucca began an “official” member of Sonora Sonora Ponceña.
Throughout the 1950s, Lucca remained active as a musician. In addition to playing solo piano on a television show hosted by Ruth Fernández, he recorded with Obdulio Morales, Orquestra Panamerica, and Machito. Despite his busy schedule, Lucca found time to continue his formal studies. Graduating from the University of Puerto Rico, he went on to study at the Conservatory of Music. His first opportunity to showcase his talents came in 1976 when he co-produced Sonora Ponceña’s album, Musical Conquest/Conquista Musical, with Louie Ramirez. Two years later, he produced the group’s album, Explorando, on his own. Although he’s remained committed to Sonora Ponceña, Lucca has balanced his involvement with a variety of outside projects. In 1976, he replaced pianist Larry Harlow in the Fania All-Stars. He continued to perform with the group until the mid-1990s.
Lucca reached his peak in 1979. Together with Sonora Ponceña, he collaborated with influential Latin vocalist Celia Cruz on an album, La Ceiba, and appeared with Cruz in a television documentary, Salsa. The same year, he performed on an album, Habana Jam, along with the Fania All-Stars, which was recorded during a concert in Cuba. Lucca also recorded a solo piano album, Latin Jazz, in 1993.