Tata Güines was born Federico Arístides Soto Alejo on June 30, 1930 in, the poor town of Güines east of La Habana in the province of Havana in Cuba. He made his first drums out of milk cartons and sausages. But, by the 1950s he was working with such top Cuban musicians as Arsenio Rodriguez, Luciano “Chano” Pozo, Bebo Valdes, and Israel “Chachao” Lopez.
In the late 1950s he formed a band with the pianist Frank Emilio Flynn called Quinteto Instrumental de Musica Moderna, which was later changed to Los Amigos. Güines moved to New York City in 1957 and quickly immersed himself in the jazz scene paying with Dizzy Gillespie, Maynard Ferguson and Miles Davis at Birdland. As a percussionist, he performed with Josephine Baker and Frank Sinatra.
Tata returned to Cuba in 1959 after Fidel Castro came to power in the Cuban Revolution which he helped fund by contributions from his earnings as a musician. For a while instrumentalists fell out of favor with the Cuban public and his popularity diminished. However, by 1979 his star began to shine once again with his work in the Estrellas de Areito sessions, recording for Egrem, the Cuban state record company, which revived the old descarga style.
By the 1990s, he was considered an old master and frequently toured. He recorded with the young conguero Miguel Diaz on the 1995 Pasaporte that garnered them the Egrem Album of the Year award, the equivalent of a Grammy in Cuba. He has played with pianist Bebo Valdes and singer Diego El Cigala Lágrimas Negras (Black Tears) that won a Latin Grammy, and has performed with saxophonist Jane Bunnett.
Conguero and tumbadora player, percussionist and composer Tata Güines, who during his career spanning six decades was known as the “King of the Congas” and who was important in the first generation of Afro-Cuban jazz, passed away on February 4, 2008 in his hometown of Havana.
Andrea Brachfeld was born on May 3, 1955 and grew up in a household where it was mandatory to take the piano. She began her study at age six for seven years but at age 10 she discovered she could I found out of class if she took flute. Adding the instrument to her lessons she entered the High School of Music and Art in 1969, majoring in the flute. There she met and played with, Noel Pointer, Nat Adderley Jr., Dave Valentín, as well as Angie Bofill, Kenny Kirkland, Fred Hersch and Rodney Jones among many other musicians. But it was Noel who taught her how to write music down.
She went on to attend the Manhattan School of Music and study with Hubert Laws, Jimmy Heath, George Coleman, and Mike Longo, who helped her develop her own improvisational style. She began her professional career as a musician at age 16, composing music for the quartet she put together. Her breakthrough moment came in performance as the flutist for the popular Latin band Charanga ’76, catapulted her into Salsa history and fame as the first female flutist to play this music in the United States.
Andrea has performed and recorded jazz, Latin jazz, Charanga, funk, country western, and devotional music. She received the Louis Armstrong Award, Chico O’Farrill Lifetime Achievement Award, the Pionero Award, and the Tribute to the Charanga Flutes. She has six CDs out as a leader, another 17 as a side woman and is a member of the Wallace Roney, “Universe” Orchestra playing Wayne Shorter’s long lost music originally written for Miles Davis.
She has presented her flute and composition workshops and has performed with Hubert Laws, Rufus Reid, Winard Harper, Paquito D’Rivera, Tito Puente, Ray Barretto, Nestor Torres, Wallace Roney, Dave Valentín, Wycliffe Gordon, Hilton Ruiz, Steve Turre and Wayne Wallace. Flutist, piccolo player, composer and educator Andrea Brachfeld continues to perform and record.
Tito Puente was born Ernesto Antonio Puente on April 20, 1923 at Harlem Hospital in New York City and spent the majority of his childhood in Spanish Harlem. As a child his mother sent him to 25-cent piano lessons and by the age of 10, he switched to percussion, drawing influence from jazz drummer Gene Krupa. He later created a song-and-dance duo with his sister Anna in the 1930s, intending to become a dancer, but an ankle tendon injury prevented him pursuing dance as a career. When the drummer in Machito’s band was drafted to the army, Puente subsequently took his place.
After serving three years in the Navy during WW II, Tito used the GI Bill to study music at Juilliard School of Music, taking conducting, orchestration and theory. During the 1950s, Puente was at the height of his popularity, and helped to bring Afro-Cuban and Caribbean sounds, like mambo, son, and cha-cha-cha to mainstream audiences. He moved into more diverse sounds, including pop music, bossa nova and others, eventually settling down with a fusion of Afro-Cuban and Latin jazz genres that became known as “salsa” (a term that he disliked).
Tito has received the key to the City of New York, the James Smithson Bicentennial Medal from the Smithsonian and been inducted into the National Congressional Record. He has won five Grammy Awards, and won a Grammy at the first Latin Grammy Awards for Best Traditional Tropical Album for Mambo Birdland. He was posthumously awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2003 and has his timbales on display at theSmithsonian.
He has had a post office in Spanish Harlem named after him, an amphitheater in San Juan Puerto Rico, performed at the closing ceremonies for the 1996 Olympics, appeared as himself on the Simpsons episode “Who Shot Mr. Burns?”, and has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame,
In early 2000, he shot the music documentary Calle 54. After a show in Puerto Rico, percussionist, timbale player and bandleader Tito Puente suffered a massive heart attack and was flown to New York City for surgery to repair a heart valve but complications developed and he died during the night of May 31 – June 1, 2000.
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Carlos “Patato” Valdes was born on November 4, 1926 in Cuba and learned to play the conga in his native land. Moving to New York in 1954 he began playing around the city working with Willie Bobo in Harlem. Known by his nickname “Patato”, he invented and patented the tunable conga drum in the late Forties that revolutionized use of the instrument as earlier drums only had nailed heads.
Since the 1950s Patato is among the Congueros that were in highest demand in the Latin Music and jazz world. He played, toured and recorded together with singer Miguelito Valdes, Perez Prado, Tito Puente, Machito, Herbie Mann, Cachao Lopez, Cal Tjader, Kenny Dorham, Art Blakey and Elvin Jones among others. He also worked in the bands of and toured Europe with Dizzy Gillespie, Quincy Jones and Mario Bauza.
Patato acted in and composed the title song of The Bill Cosby Show, contributed to the soundtrack of the film The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love, gave Bridget Bardot mambo lessons in the film “And God Created Woman, led his own band Afrojazzia and toured Europe once again and mastered to the delight of his audiences, the art of actually dancing atop his congas during his performances.
For over 60 years Valdes demonstrated in his conga playing how a musician could combine technical skill with superb showmanship, fusing melody and rhythm, and understanding the rhythm is rooted in dancing. Carlos “Patato” Valdes, whose spontaneity and charm enabled him to bring together audiences of varied backgrounds and cultures to the Afro-Cuban rhythms and who Tito Puente once referred to as “the greatest conguero alive today”, passed away on December 4, 2007 in New York City.
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Arturo “Chico” O’Farrill was born on October 28, 1921 in Havana, Cuba of Irish/German heritage. Attending military school in Georgia he learned to play trumpet and was exposed to big band jazz.
Although he played trumpet early in his career, he became a sought-after composer and arranger, and was one of many leading the emergence of the Afro-Cuban jazz movement in the ‘50s dubbed Cubop.
Best known for his work in the Latin idiom, Chico also composed straight-ahead jazz pieces and even symphonic works. He composed works for Machito’s Afro-Cuban Suite with Charlie Parker and Benny Goodman’s Bebop Orchestra’s Undercurrent Blues and composed the Manteca Suite for Dizzy Gillespie and arranged for Stan Kenton and David Bowie, among others.
Over the course of his career he has recorded for Norman Granz’s label, with Todd Barkan at Fantasy, worked with the count Basie, Gato Barbieri, and Cal Tjader and has recorded and performed as a leader in small configurations, a bandleader and a sideman on more the two dozen albums. His music has been featured in the film Calle-54 and in the ‘90s he led a big band that took up residence at Birdland in New York.
Chico O’Farrill, Grammy nominee, passed away on June 27, 2001 in New York City and eventually his son Arturo took over the band.
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