The cofounder and musical director of the legendary Puerto Rican salsa orchestra El Gran Combo, Rafael Ithier, denied on Tuesday firing a fellow original member of the group, saxophonist Eddie "La Bala" Perez.

"Last Friday, on a news segment, I saw with great surprise and sorrow how one of my companions announced that I had fired him. ... I'm telling you that's completely false," Ithier said at a press conference in San Juan.

Perez, who is convalescing after having part of his right leg amputated, told the press last week that he had received a letter that he interpreted as constituting the end of his working relationship with the band.

"I never fired Eddie Perez nor did I think about doing so. I'm asking him to recover quickly, to take care of himself and when he feels recovered to return - the doors are open in El Gran Combo," Ithier said Tuesday.

He said that he and other band members drafted a letter to Perez in which, he said, they questioned if he was able to continue with the group and if he thought that his physical condition would allow him to remain with the orchestra.

"He interpreted that letter wrongly. The interpretation is that they fired him, but no. He has always been ... a member of El Gran Combo," said Ithier at San Juan's Pavia Hospital, where he is recovering from an operation for throat cancer. EFE