Charles “Don” Alias was born on December 25, 1939 in Harlem, New York City, the son of Caribbean immigrants. Absorbing the lessons of neighborhood Cuban and Puerto Rican hand drummers, while in high school he played conga with the Eartha Kitt Dance Foundation, and in 1957 accompanied the singer at the Newport Jazz Festival.
Mothballing his musical career to study biology at Erie, Pennsylvania’s Cannon College, he followed those studies with a stint at Boston’s Carnegie Institute for Biochemistry. While there Alias regularly moonlighted at local clubs in the company of students of the nearby Berklee School of Music, among them conguero Bill Fitch and bassist Gene Perla, and played bass in a short-lived trio featuring Chick Corea on guitar and Tony Williams on drums.
When Perla landed a gig with Nina Simone, he convinced the singer to hire Alias to assume drumming duties. By the end of his three-year residency he was serving as musical director, and eventually captured the attention of Miles Davis, with whom Simone regularly shared festival bills. He would go on to record four albums with Miles Davis including sitting in to play the drums on the recording of Miles Runs the Voodoo Down on the album Bitches Brew in 1969, when neither Lenny White nor Jack DeJohnette were able to play the marching band-inspired rhythm.
Settling back in New York City in the late Seventies he along with Gene Perla formed the Afro-Cuban fusion group Stone Alliance, which would be resurrected in 1980 with pianist Kenny Kirkland and tenor saxophonist Bob Mintzer. Performing on hundreds of recording sessions, he can be heard playing with Carla Bley, Uri Caine, Jack DeJohnette, Roberta Flack, Joe Farrell, Dan Fogelberg, Bill Frisell, Hal Galper, Kenny Garrett, Herbie Hancock, Elvin Jones, Joe Lovano, David Sanborn, Philip Bailey, Joni Mitchell, Jaco Pastorius, Carlos Santana, John McLaughlin, Lalo Schifrin, Nina Simone, Steve Swallow, the Brecker Brothers, James Taylor, Weather Report, Lou Reed, Blood Sweat & Tears, Pat Metheny, Don Grolnick Group and Jaco Pastorius, on the short list.
Percussionist Don Alias, best known for playing congas and other hand drums, but was also a capable drum kit performer, passed away suddenly in his Manhattan home on March 29, 2006 in New York City.
Bebo Valdés was born Dionisio Ramón Emilio Valdés Amaro on October 9, 1918 in Quivicán, Cuba. He started his career as a pianist in the nightclubs of Havana during the 1940s, replacing René Hernández as pianist and arranger in Julio Cueva’s band. In 1946 the band recorded Rareza del Siglo, one of his most famous mambos and from 1948 to 1957 he worked as pianist and arranger for the vedette Rita Montaner, who was the lead act in the Tropicana cabaret.
His orchestra, Sabor de Cuba, and that of Armando Valdés, alternated at the Tropicana, backing singers such as Benny Moré and Pío Leyva. Bebo played a role in the adaptation of the mambo into the big band format from the previously performed charangas during the late 1940s and 1950s. He developed a new rhythm to compete with Perez Prado’s mambo, called the batanga. He was also an important figure in the incipient Afro-Cuban jazz scene in Havana, taking part in sessions commissioned by American producer Norman Granz during 1952.
By the late 1950s he was recording with Nat “King” Cole and in 1960, along with Sabor de Cuba’s lead vocalist Rolando Laserie, Bebo defected from Cuba to Mexico. He then lived briefly in the United States before touring Europe, and eventually settled in Stockholm, spreading the techniques of Cuban music and Latin jazz. His career got a late boost in 1994 when he teamed up with saxophone player Paquito D’Rivera to release a CD called Bebo Rides Again. 2000 saw him in the film Calle 54 by Fernando Trueba giving his piano playing a wider audience and in 2003, Valdés and flamenco singer Diego El Cigala, recorded the album Lágrimas Negras (Black Tears).
During his career Bebo won seven Grammy Awards, His last musical production was recorded with his son in 2008, Bebo y Chucho Valdés: Juntos para Siempre (Together Forever). For that recording they won the Grammy for Best Latin Jazz Album.
Pianist, bandleader, composer and arranger Bebo Valdés, who led two famous big bands, was being treated for Alzheimer’s disease, which he had suffered for several years, when he passed away in Stockholm, Sweden, on March 22, 2013 at age 94.
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Jorge Dalto was born on July 7, 1948 in Roque Pérez, Argentina. During the mid-80s Jorge led the InterAmerican Band featuring his wife, Adela, on vocals. He continued to build his internationally-flavored sound, and collaborations with his wife blended their Latin and Brazilian backgrounds. He served as arranger for the Percussion Jazz Ensemble with Tito Puente, Carlos “Patato” Valdes and Alfredo De La Fe.
As a leader he recorded six albums since his debut recording Chevere in 1976 and another dozen as a sideman performing and recording with Tito Puente, Grover Washington, Fuse One, Spyro Gyra, George Benson, Dizzy Gillespie and Machito, Grant Green, Heaven and Earth, Willie Colón, Gato Barbieri, Bernard Purdie, Ronnie Foster, Tom Malone, Jerry Dodgion, Ernie Royal, Victor Paz, Rubén Blades, David Sanborn, Eric Gale, Steve Gadd, Bob Mintzer, Alan Rubin, Dave Valentin, Jay Beckenstein, Carlos Valdes, Buddy Williams, Stanley Banks, Phil Upchurch, Hubert Laws, Michael Brecker, Randy Brecker, Anthony Jackson, Harvey Mason and Frank Malabé.
Pop, jazz and Afro-Cuban pianist and former George Benson musical director Jorge Dalto passed away of cancer at the age of 39 on October 27, 1987.
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Irvin Mayfield, Jr. was born on born December 23, 1977 in New Orleans, Louisiana, the youngest of five brothers, three half-brothers and a half-sister. He received his first trumpet when he was in the fourth grade, asking his father for one after seeing the success a friend of his was having with girls by playing the instrument. Early in his public school education, he befriended fellow schoolmate Jason Marsalis. As a young man he attended and graduated from New Orleans Center for Creative Arts, declined a scholarship to Juilliard School of Music to attend the University of New Orleans, then dropped out during his first semester.
Mayfield began his musical career during the latter half of the 1980s, playing with the Algiers Brass Band, shared a New York City apartment with Wynton Marsalis for a brief period and helped found Los Hombres Calientes with Bill Summers, Jason Marsalis, Victor Atkins III, David Pulphus, and Yvette-Bostic Summers. Signing with Basin Street Records, the groups debut album garnerd much success and Irvin received national recognition.
As an educator Mayfield would go on to be an artist-in-residence and establish the Institute of Jazz Culture at Dillard University, found the sixteen-piece New Orleans Jazz Orchestra, accept a one-year appointment as Artistic Director of Jazz at Orchestra Hall, the five-concert jazz series of the Minnesota Orchestra, received The Chancellor’s Award from the University of New Orleans, and awarded an Honorary Doctorate from Dillard University,
Over the course of his still vibrant career, Mayfield has been a part of the Higher GroundHurricane Relief Benefit Concert in the aftermath of Katrina, and was nominated to the National Council on the Arts by President George W. Bush and was subsequently appointed to the post by President Obama in 2010, serving through 2014. He has performed at the White House and festivals around the country, was made a Cultural Ambassador of the City of New Orleans, has a club named after him in the Royal Sonesta Hotel and has recorded to date, twenty-five albums.
Grammy and Billboard Award-winning trumpeter Irvin Mayfield currently serves as Jazz Artist in Residence for the Apollo Theater, is Artistic Director of the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra and continues to perform, record and tour with his small groups and occasionally with Los Hombres Calientes.
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Robby Ameen was born on December 7, 1960 in New Haven, Connecticut of Lebanese origins and studied drums with Ed Blackwell and classical percussion with Fred Hinger. He would go on to graduate from Yale with a degree in Literature.
In 1985 he became a member of Ruben Blades’ Seis del Solar band, winning a Latin Grammy for best Salsa record Todos Vuelven Live, Vol. 1 and 2. He would have long-term residencies with Dave Valentin, Conrad Herwig’s Latin Side of…All Stars, Kip Hanrahan, and Jack Bruce and the Cuicoland Express. As a sideman he has recorded on other Grammy winning records including Ruben Blades and Seis del Solar’s Escenas and Brian Lynch’s Simpatico.
Robby has played with Dizzy Gillespie, Eddie Palmieri, Paul Simon, Mongo Santamaria, Carly Simon, Hilton Ruiz, Kirsty MacColl and Steve Swallow among others. As a session musician Ameen has recorded numerous jingles, film scores, and TV music, including the popular HBO series Sex and the City. In 2012, Ameen was the subject on an episode of the Emmy Award-winning Detroit Public Television series Arab American Stories.
As an educator, he co-authored with bassist Lincoln Goines the best-selling instructional book Funkifying the Clave: Afro-Cuban drums for Bass and Drums. He is an international clinician, percussion/drum festival participant and is currently on the faculty at Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University. Drummer and bandleader Robby Ameen is best known for the unique and powerful Afro-Cuban style he has created and is regarded as one of the world’s most prominent drummers in the area of Latin Jazz.
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