Luis Bonilla has been recognized by his peers as a master trombone player. Initially, he arrived at the trombone almost by chance and good fortune: “Making lamps and ashtrays in junior high school was what I thought beginning brass was all about. What a surprise when I found myself with a trombone in my hands!” Luis quickly found a talent for playing the instrument that was fueled by the urge to improvise. He received several prestigious scholarships, including the Zack Memorial Scholarship (1983–1984) and Friends of Music Scholarship (1984–1988), and later the National Endowment for the Arts and Pew Charitable Foundation: Jazz in Costa Rica (1999–2000) and the Music for Youth Scholarship (2002–2004) as a student at Manhattan School of Music.
Relentless dedication was the driving force behind Bonilla’s move from Los Angeles to New York in 1991. That same year, Luis began his many seasons of touring with Lester Bowie’s Brass Fantasy. “My experience with Lester contributed hugely to my sensibilities as a performer and served as an apprenticeship for creating and leading my ensembles as well as performing with other artists.”
Candid Records internationally distributed Luis’s two solo recordings, ¡Escucha! and Pasos Gigantes, which were lauded critically and acknowledged for their range and virtuosity. Both records found their way onto the Jazziz Top Ten List of Latin Jazz recordings, which singled out Bonilla’s leadership and “sophisticated use of broad ensembles and selections of music that celebrate his remarkable artistry in the marriage of Latin and Jazz.”
Luis has appeared in three films and can be heard in dozens of movie soundtracks and commercial jingles. He is featured live and on recordings with, among others, McCoy Tyner, Tom Harrell, Freddie Hubbard, Marc Anthony, Alejandro Sanz, Mary J. Blige, Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, Lincoln Center’s Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra, and Mingus Big Band. Luis’s trombone continues to create the modern sound for the Latin music genre and is considered a major contributor to the jazz community. Recognized for impeccable sight-reading, transposition skills, and seamless improvising abilities, Luis acknowledges, “I consider myself a versatile specialist in the field.”
He attained his Master’s Degree in Jazz Performance and Composition at the Manhattan School of Music, supported by a full scholarship, in 2004.
Manhattan School of Music Faculty member since 2007.